Re: [sixties-l] Tin soldiers

Date: Tue Aug 28 2001 - 22:04:02 EDT

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    Does "pre-judicial misconduct" mean you're not supposed to engage in
    misconduct until you're a judge?
                                    Bill Mandel

    radtimes wrote:
    > 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
    > 1984.
    > 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
    > apart."
    > 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
    > so.
    > 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,, 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
    > started
    > 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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