Who Does It Really Hurt When People Fake Military Service? Part III – The Role of Recognition

I am very privileged to live near the city of Gainesville, Texas. There, every year, they have numerous reenactments and even play host to the annual Medal of Honor Parade. It is a celebration in honor of the 67 living Medal of Honor recipients, 16 of which, were present at this year’s parade. To those who have been, it is a spectacle like no other small town has ever endeavored to achieve. Between the recipients in era vehicles commemorating their wars from World War II to Afghanistan, to the rebuilt bombers, fighter planes, and attack helicopters buzzing California Street and the Braums Ice Cream store, it is a truly memorable day for anyone lucky enough to grace it.

Parades like this have fallen out of fashion for most of America. Memorial Day is little more than a good time to go to the lake and enjoy a three day weekend. The sales are also really great, I hear. Veterans Day, more of the same with a simple nod to those guys who did stuff most people don’t care to question somewhere “Over There”. To veterans, though, it is a time to reflect and be rejuvenated. They get to experience that sense of community with fellows like them. They get to look back with nostalgia at that moment when they first became a Marine, or a sailor, an airmen, or a soldier. Ceremonies like this renew their pride in themselves and their continued worth as individuals to society. They look at those young warriors, those marching along in their old uniforms and they see everything good about their time in service. They see those young guys and they know these are important individuals, which reminds them that they are too. They feel all this, simply because they see the uniform they once wore, marching proudly down the street.

That said, I do get the temptation to attach yourself to the few moments of appreciation a year that veterans are afforded. Many of these people who go so far as to fake military achievements are pretty worthless. I’m not saying that as just a harsh attack. People like this feel very little self-worth because they truly have very little to offer to society. That’s why they lie. That’s really why anybody lies about anything. They’ve done nothing with their lives and no one appreciates them for anything. They want to feel heroic for once. They want to feel pride for once. They see people thanking us and think it must be great to feel like that. In truth, our feelings are far more complicated than that, but I can understand what they think. We all want to feel like someone we admire, but we don’t cross the line to feel that way.

People want to get as much of the warrior experience now a days as they can, without actually being warriors. They recognize certain qualities of troops and want to distill it and harness that for their own use. Yes, fraudulent people who dress in military uniforms do this, but so does everyone else. Consider how often you’ve heard of physical training courses. What used to be called “X-treme” is now called “Boot Camp”. Housewives and office jockies attempt this training because they think two hours of strenuous exercise with a clown yelling at them is synonymous with the boot camp experience for military recruits. It’s the same with programming boot camp. Is that the three month course where you are completely transformed into a new mindset and frame of referrence? No – it’s just an overpriced two week intensive training session on a new programming language. That’s not a boot camp. I was even recently askedHow do I train myself like a Navy Seal? and the details of the question:

I’m not planning to join the army but I’m trying to study and adopt the mindset of those people, since they have totally mastered themselves and be able to overcome almost any situation with intense focus, dedication and discipline. If we could learn from them, we can apply the same to reach any kind of goals, dedicate ourselves to some great ideals and become a better person of values.What are the some of the practices a normal person can include in everyday life which can replicate the mind and body of a Navy SEAL? Like Mediation, Reading, Workout?

I made a very clear point that if you want to be a SEAL, or a warrior in general, you pretty much have to accept the need to kill people, and endeavour to do so. All the other attributes come as secondary. After you say things like that, the air in the room changes. Still, questions like this will never stop coming. “How can I get the best version of the military experience, without actually doing all the military stuff they have to do?”

Of course, then there are always those who want to capture the sense of awesome that is associated with those who do great things.

It isn’t that I don’t understand why this sort of thing happens. People draw false comparisons, particularly among professional athletes and celebrities. Pictured above, you see 50 cent who took the short lived “military cliche” to its absolute most extreme. I say short lived, because he and dozens of other celebs were publicly accosted for the affront to military sensibilities their poor judgement brought about. Another case I remember was of an NFL commercial where a CG player dressed in a cammie jersey pattern ran through explosions and bombs dropping or some other nonsense, to reach the touchdown. That made no sense, either.

I feel that the real reason that there is so much “branding” going on is that these groups and individuals prize certain aspects of the military experience and want to attach themselves to the military’s brand. That brand, to many if not most people, means things like “dangerous” or “aggressive”, or even “killer”, among other things. Such a brand really stands out to those wishing to promote those lower brain functions and gain an audience wishing to see just that. Others associate the military experience with ideas like “high achiever”, “hard worker”, “heroic”, or “brave”. Though positive at least, people want to borrow these attributes to augment their personal brands. Celebrities like 50 Cent and Justin Bieber do this by comparing themselves to “soldiers” fighting in a “war” or “battle”. They want to borrow the image of dangerous men or of those who suffer to lend that image, and some fallacy of depth, to their music. Even Tom Cruise’s press secretary compared the struggles he faces when making a movie “like being on a military deployment to Afghanistan.” Professional athletes do it all the time by comparing a sport where the whole world stops if they twist an ankle to the battlefield.

Veterans don’t appreciate this. Borrowing something like the idea of the military isn’t something people should do lightly, especially when it involves the wearing of the uniform. These are earned and it would be comparable to the feeling these individuals get when they get their first major contract or are accepted into a team that few people ever get to play for. Frankly, even considering this, the comparisons are actually incredibly shallow. If you are successful as a celebrity or athlete, your college or hometown will build a statue for you, a practice few in the military have enjoyed since about the time professional sports became mainstream. You pretty much have to die to get that honor in the military. Celebrities are also part of an elite group which almost no one in the general population could ever hope to be a part of because they enjoy a rather miraculous and inequitable doling out of specific talents. Veterans aren’t this way. They are simply ordinary people who have elected to do extraordinary things- for mediocre compensation, I might add. Celebrities have every wish carried out by an army of support staff dedicated to ensuring that they are adequately happy enough to sign a new contract. They play a sport… a game… sing songs… or professionally play make believe. They entertain. Sometimes injuries are common in sports, but if there is ever a death it is National news. Same for if Angelina Jolie were to actually break her leg. They are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions to stand in people’s way, catch or throw a ball, run, sing, act, or dance on a stage. Many of them are little more than spoiled brats with no virtue other than one single inhuman talent which has driven them to an unprecedented level of success and arrogance. This in no way compares to what a member of the military feels on virtually every level, so celebrities should just never try to aggrandize themselves further by drawing the false comparison that they are in any way comparable to a true warrior.

I get that people want to be recognized. They want to appear special, and everyone, no matter how special already, want to feel more so. One of the easiest ways to do this is to borrow something special from someone else. People can feel special by doing just about anything military like and get that sense of, “Now I’m special too.” Everyone wants to be thanked for something special and everyone wants the parade to be for them. So some steal the recognition. It can be overt and explicit, such as the jokers who try to receive thank yous and recognition at parades; or it can be more pernicious and subversive, such as aggrandizing difficult training as a “boot camp”, or wearing a Marine Corps jacket and calling yourself a soldier as a fashion statement to “show respect to troops” who have made it abundantly clear that they despisethis form of acknowledgement. Either way, all of these diminish the role that recognition plays in our lives as veterans. It helps continue negative, or at least incorrect stereotypes about us and undervalues the worth we have. Dan Rosenthal said it marvelously in his answer to this same question.

… You end up with a public that doesn’t understand, nor has any concept of the daily life and routine of the average soldier. They end up thinking that every soldier is on the front lines and faces death every day, and as a result, the IT technical specialist who works from an air conditioned bunker on an air base feels devalued.

When the military and veterans can’t be recognized as valued individuals with unique and useful skills, mentalities, and a history of service because they don’t have enough medals, or their story isn’t cool enough, how can they ever rejoin their society again? How can they ever build on it, when society doesn’t understand them and is always bombarded with these fake versions of valor and what it means to be a modern day warrior? This is the role of recognition. It makes warriors feel like real people again, valued, and even necessary again because they have an honored and important place in this world. If that place is diluted with false accounts of what the military experience is, than the hole that society wants them to fill will never fit, and the veterans will continue to fall through the cracks.

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