Gene Weingarten: I'd be honored to be able to speak freely

WASHINGTON — I don't often talk about my two tours in 'Nam, because I don't want to brag. But one day in 1971, in a foxhole outside of Khe Sanh, all hell broke loose. I remember it in slow motion: I flung myself on a grenade to save the lives of three buddies — one white, one black and one Aleutian Islander — as well as a Vietnamese orphan we'd befriended and her puppy. The kid's now a prominent cancer researcher in San Diego. I won the Medal of Honor, posthumously.

Okay, I added "posthumously" so there would be absolutely no doubt that I made all that up for this column. I don't want to go to jail for violating the Stolen Valor Act.

Since 2007, it has been a crime to lie about having received a war medal — even if you're just bragging and aren't after personal gain. The law applies not only to con men but also to your average barroom jackass, the same sort of guy who will claim he's endowed like a Clydesdale. The penalty is as much as a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

For some darned reason, liberals don't like this law: They seem to think it's goofy to make bulldoodying a federal offense, where the more appropriate punishment might be to just let the lying dweeb live the rest of his life in his parents' basement with his Doritos, elastic-waistband wardrobe and blow-up dolls.

Well, I disagree. It's not as though the Stolen Valor Act was some sort of dangerous, slippery-slope abridgement of the right to free speech that was rammed through a spineless Congress afraid of being called unpatriotic. If that were the case, then we would have seen it sail through the Senate unanimously, without debate!

Oh, wait. It did. Well, that's probably just because it was such a swell bill.

As it turns out, the Stolen Valor Act is being challenged in federal court, which is a shame. I think legitimate war heroes have every right to get back at these poseurs. My only problem with the bill is that it doesn't go far enough. What about guys who are endowed like Clydesdales? We have feelings, too.

There are many other aggrieved constituencies that deserve redress.

What about those of us who actually were at Woodstock?

What about the users of voice mail systems that claim to be operating "for your convenience"?

What about the co-workers of the guy who claims to be "working from home"?

What about the spouses and families of the people who commit an indiscretion and blame the dog?

Defenders of the Stolen Valor Act point to a statement George Washington made when he created the Purple Heart, the nation's first military decoration: "Should any who are not entitled to these honors have the insolence to assume the badges of them, they shall be severely punished." I understand that. But there's also this quote: "If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." Yes, Washington said that, too, but it was probably on a bad-teeth day.

Anyway, as I said, I'm for this law, with the proper amendments. One of them should be a year in prison for any member of Congress who votes for something stupid and hurtful to freedom just because it's politically advantageous.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. You can chat with him online at noon March 23 at www.washingtonpost.com.

Gene Weingarten: I'd be honored to be able to speak freely 03/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 5, 2010 5:40pm]

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