Craving the Right CredentialsI use the term fake warrior, to describe a person, overwhelmingly male, who lies about having had military service or, having served, embellishes his record.
Lying about military service is an easy way for an elected official to be seen as tough, disciplined and patriotic.
There are many psychological, social and cultural questions that this pervasive syndrome raises, but the most challenging one is: Why do public officials, who are highly visible and easily discredited people, lie about their military service? After all, it’s not just Richard Blumenthal who got caught falsely claiming that he had served in Vietnam. Policemen, councilmen, presidential candidates, congressmen, state legislators and superintendents have all been found to be fake warriors.
The reasons for lying are varied and reflect a wide range of human psychology. Obvious motives among ordinary citizens include financial gain, loneliness, a desire for notoriety, even comradeship.
But in the case of public officials, there is something else — something that stems from a need peculiar to their circumstances. Whether a policeman or presidential candidate — or a state attorney general, seeking a Senate seat — they all want to be seen (whether they are or not) as tough, disciplined and patriotic.
Those characteristics inhere in no calling more than the military, which is why public official fake warriors don’t claim to have invented a cure for gout or once caught the largest shark. Instead, they almost always fictionalize their military service.
Henry Mark Holzer, a professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School, is the co-author of “Fake Warriors: Identifying, Exposing, and Punishing Those Who Falsify Their Military Service.”