Does "pre-judicial misconduct" mean you're not supposed to engage in
misconduct until you're a judge?
> Tin soldiers
> For years it was the war that nobody wanted to remember. But now
> thousands of Americans who have never seen combat are claiming they are
> battle-hardened Vietnam veterans. Duncan Campbell reports on the wannabe
> heroes and the men and women who hunt them down
> by Duncan Campbell
> Tuesday August 21, 2001
> The Guardian (UK)
> His mission had been a dangerous one, acting as a CIA operative working
> underground in Laos during the Vietnam war in the late 60s. And he had
> been awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in the groin by stray
> shrapnel during combat. All of which, along with his distinguished legal
> career and outstanding academic qualifications, made Patrick Couwenberg
> ideal material for the position for which he had applied: judge in the Los
> Angeles County superior court. There was only one problem: it was all a lie.
> Last Wednesday, Judge Couwenberg, aged 55, was sacked after an
> investigation discovered that he had lied during his application to the bench
> and had lied again during the subsequent investigation to check his claims.
> The commission on judicial performance ordered his removal for "wilful and
> and prejudicial misconduct".
> The judge's economy with the truth had first come to light three years ago
> when a colleague on the San Diego bench, who was a genuine military
> veteran, read a newspaper profile of Couwenberg and smelled a rat. He had
> claimed that between 1968 and 1969 he had worked for the CIA in Laos. He
> had also claimed to have carried out other missions for the CIA in Africa in
> However, the commission's investigators discovered that not only was
> Couwenberg never in the CIA, but during the time of his claim to be working
> for them, he was actually a social worker in Orange County, California. His
> military service had been carried out in the US Naval Reserve. Couwenberg's
> explanation was a poignant one: his wife had typed out his application and
> he had been unable to tell her that the service career he had invented for
> himself when they had first met was bogus. His lawyers argued that the
> judge was suffering from a condition called "pseudologica fantastica".
> But what is remarkable about Couwenberg's case is that it is far from
> isolated. Last Friday, Professor Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer prize-winner, was
> suspended for a year without pay from his post at Mount Holyoke college in
> Massachusetts because he had also invented a Vietnam war past for
> himself. He had told his students that he had been a platoon commander
> near My Lai when he had, in fact, spent his service time teaching history at
> West Point. Yesterday, Professor Ellis said in a statement: "I intend to find
> time for self-reflection." He has already apologised to his students and to all
> Vietnam vets.
> Another judge, Michael O'Brien from Chicago, has been exposed as having
> falsely claimed to be a winner of two Medals of Honour, while the Toronto
> Blue Jays baseball team manager, Tim Johnson, was fired from his job after
> his claims to wartime heroics proved bogus. Almost every week it emerges
> that some public figure has invented a fictional war history for himself. The
> Unknown Soldier has been eclipsed by the Non Existent Soldier. Derring-do
> becomes derring-didn't.
> While truth has long been accepted as the first casualty of war, what had not
> been apparent until this year had been just how much of a casualty it had
> been, especially in Vietnam. But now a combination of dogged researchers,
> disgruntled veterans' organisations and the internet is exposing dozens of tin
> soldiers who have strutted at the head of their veterans' parades or used a
> bogus war record to parlay their way into a job or a relationship.
> "They are multiplying like cockroaches," says Mary Schantag, who logs the
> phoney war heroes on a website from her home in Skidmore, Missouri. "It's
> an epidemic. I had another eight calls only yesterday." She and her husband
> Chuck, a computer programmer and Vietnam vet who was wounded as a
> marine, came across the phenomenon by chance after setting up the PoW
> Network, a project that chronicled all former prisoners of war. People would
> call them having looked at the list of PoWs to ask why, say, their neighbour
> who had told them stories of his time in a Vietnamese prison camp was not
> listed. The Schantags would investigate, a relatively simple procedure, and
> discover that many of the claims were untrue. So they started a special
> section of their website dedicated to exposing "phoneys". Soon the trickle
> became a flood.
> While some of the phoney soldiers claimed to have served valiantly in the
> second world war, the recent rash of exposures has concerned service in
> Vietnam. "The Vietnam war is not the no-no it used to be," says Mary. "I
> think a lot of people feel that they missed the chance to face their demons,
> to sleep in the jungles in Vietnam, to face that psychological test. This
> country is so deeply in need of heroes that no one is willing to check out
> their backgrounds, they want to believe it is true. When you have someone
> who says he rescued people in darkest Cambodia, people are so desperate
> for it to be true that they don't check. It's a morality problem. It tears us
> The first phoney, as Mary calls them, came to light in 1998, and since then
> the Schantags have constantly been asked by employers, local newspapers
> and by neighbours if they can check out people's claims. All too often they
> turn out to be nonsense.
> "They often make the mistake of choosing to be in elite units like special
> forces (much like the SAS in Britain) or Navy Seals or the CIA which are very
> easy for us to check - and I am a detail freak," she says. "There are now so
> many books and so much information about the war that we are able to find
> out more about a battle than the people who were in it. The people who were
> in it only know what was happening in their vicinity, but the phoneys, the
> wannabes have all the details."
> The Schantags have no hesitation in exposing people, saying that they are
> "stealing the honour and glory" that others have fought for. The number of
> those who have invented a military past keeps growing: so far 740 bogus
> PoWs have been listed but they represent only a tiny minority of bogus
> veterans. When confronted, some of those exposed claim that their operation
> was so secret that there is no official trace of it - but even if
> operations were
> secret, a service record is not. Some threaten to sue but none has yet done
> The Schantags are by no means the only way of tracking the bogus vets. In
> 1998, BG "Jug" Burkett wrote Stolen Valour, a book that has become the
> bible for the phoney-hunters. And a former Navy Seal, Larry Bailey, runs a
> website, cyberseals.org, which has a wall of shame with hundreds of names
> on it. Bailey, now a schoolteacher, reckons that more than 100,000
> Americans have invented military backgrounds for themselves, often using
> them to get benefits.
> "Epidemic is an understatement," says Bailey. "It's the craziest thing I've
> ever come across." He had first been alerted to the phenomenon when
> teaching at the Seals' training school in California. Many police departments
> contacted him to check out applicants' claims to have been Seals: "They
> were all fake." He says that "pseudologica fantastica" was "putting a big
> name on someone who has a vacuum inside them that they have to fill.
> These people are absolute scum. How do they get away with it? Well, you
> know how gullible and how lazy we are."
> Bailey's wesbite also supplies handy tips for spotting bogus Seals, who tend
> to be the kind of person who "wear camouflage clothing with multiple patches
> and ribbons . . . Talks about his medals. (Seals don't talk about their
> medals.)" For people who have asked why they bother, Bailey gives many
> reasons, one being that many women have been "emotionally swindled" by
> men claiming a war record: "There are literally thousands of lascivious
> Lotharios who prey on the unsuspecting and trusting women who believe
> their lies and misrepresentations. If we can save one such lady by exposing
> these liars, then all our time and expense will have been worth it."
> The irony behind this spate of inventions is that, 20 years ago, people were
> more likely to have told lies in order to cover up their involvement in the
> Vietnam war. While many may have embellished their part in the first or
> second world wars, the Vietnam war was not one that seemed likely to
> attract claims of involvement, because of its association with failure and
> humiliation. It is only in the last few years that Vietnam veterans have
> to emerge as heroic figures in the American media and with that realignment
> have come the stories.
> In the presidential election, Al Gore frequently used his service in Vietnam -
> which was brief and as a reporter - to contrast himself with George Bush,
> who had taken the rich boy's option of staying at home in the Reserve. Not
> that "pseudologica fantastica" is peculiar to America. There are plenty of
> fantasists in Britain who claim to have served in the SAS or the commandos
> in the Falklands or the Gulf war or to have been in bomb disposal - a popular
> fantasy - in Northern Ireland. But nowhere seems to have acquired so many
> cardboard heroes as the US, a country in the midst of a new romance with
> the second world war: three of the books on the New York Times bestsellers
> list this week are odes to second world war heroics.
> What the phoney-hunters have found is that few of those exposed show
> much contrition and some continue to protest their involvement regardless of
> the evidence. One or two, such as Professor Ellis, have apologised. "Denny"
> appears on the cyberseals website to say sorry for the "shameless pit" into
> which he has dug himself. But these are very much the exceptions. The truth
> has turned out to be even more painful than shrapnel in the groin.
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