Virtute et Veritatem

-A A +A
By John Pawlak

Did I ever tell you about my being one of the soldiers raising the flag over Iwo Jima?  Or that I received two silver stars?  And five purple hearts for being wounded in battle multiple times?  I was awarded the US Navy Cross, the US Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, and I received the US Marine’s Medal of Honor for throwing myself on a grenade and saving the lives of my platoon.
Oh yeah, I also defended the Alamo, fought in the Battle of Verdun, and led the charge up San Juan Hill.
Well, maybe I’m stretching the truth a bit.  Okay, outright lying is more like it.  But I’ve got justice on my side!
Or more accurately, Justices.
Recently, the US Supreme Court dissolved the “Stolen Valor Act”, a federal law that made it illegal to falsely claim to have received a U.S. military decoration or medal.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for people to boast that they fought in Vietnam or Iraq, and to “prove” it they can even show you the medals they received.  You really have to love the internet.  The going rate for a Bronze Star is $22.  An Iraq Campaign medal runs $11.75.  You can get a Purple Heart for $39.50.
For $11.99, you can even have a set of dog tags manufactured to your specs.
Naturally, false claims of military service outraged veterans who didn’t buy their medals from eBay or “Medals R Us.”  And so they petitioned the government to outlaw theft of valor.  The Stolen Valor Act passed in the Senate unanimously.
Soon afterwards, Xavier Alvarez (a California politician) lied about being a decorated veteran.  He claimed that he was a retired Marine and had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Wearing a military uniform adorned with medals and ribbons, Xavier recalled how he had been wounded in battle several times.
Well, it turned out that Xavier hadn’t received the Medal of Honor.  Or any other medal or ribbon.  In fact, he never even served in the military.
Xavier was charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act.  His defense claimed that false statements of military service were protected by the First Amendment.
The US Supreme Court agreed.  Explaining this decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy said,  “The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true.”
It sounds to me that the remedy for false speech is a high paid lawyer.
Justice Kennedy added, “Some false statements are inevitable if there is to be an open and vigorous expression of views in public and private conversation.”
This is why I majored in math and not in law.  I never could make the distinction between lying and misrepresentation.
Some false statements are inevitable?
Mathematically, I suppose that’s true.  Given an infinite number of monkeys typing for an infinite amount of time, you’ll get the entire works of Shakespeare.  You’ll also get monkeys claiming that they received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The interesting thing is that the Supreme Court’s decision is not limited to lying about military heroics.  It protects lying in general.
If you’re accused of lying to your boss, remind him that false statements are inevitable.  He’ll get over it.  If your spouse accuses you of cheating, have her go talk with Justice Kennedy.  Trust me, it’ll all work out just fine.
There are of course benefits to this ruling.  You can now “legally lie” to your children about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and about how Aunt Mary Ann’s face looks that way because she was attacked by a bridge troll.
But the real benefit is enjoyed by our leaders.  Seriously, can you imagine how many Senators and Governors would be imprisoned if lying were a crime?  If lying was illegal, political campaign speeches wouldn’t last more than three minutes (allowing two minutes for applause).
Hmmm, let me give this a try.
My friends!  Vote for me and I’ll stop wasteful spending, lower the National Debt, create jobs, restore harmony, protect your children, and bring back the pride this country deserves!
Hey, that was kind of fun.  Are you going to vote for me now?
Virtute et Veritatem!  Valor and Truth!
John Pawlak
Los Alamos Columnist