Friday, January 6, 2012

False Heroes - Revisited

Back in October 2010 I did a post, False Heroes, about men who had faked their military service, mostly lying about being Vietnam War veterans. Most of these men had psychological problems, resulting in bad behavior, which they attempted to justify based upon their (supposedly) traumatic experiences during the war. The overriding tragedy is that this MYTH of the psychologically deranged or homeless Vietnam veteran has instead taken hold in the country as practically a cultural meme... even though there is little truth to the belief.

Recently I was listening to old Podcasts of American Public Radio's "This American Life" programs when I discovered they had done a story on this very subject which I blogged about in my False Heroes article. If you haven't already, I invite you to go back and read it. But in either case I recommend you listen to the 3-minute segment of the Podcast prolog below. If you have been following my blog for any length of time you will recognize the reoccurring theme in my blogging which is that things (and often people) are not always what they appear to be.

This American Life, Episode 138: "The Real Thing - Prolog" (Runtime: 3m:30s)


Paul said...


Rubye Jack said...

I read your previous post and listened to the podcast, and it definitely gives me reason to wonder. I've always been skeptical about PTSD but then you never know because most of the young men who went to Viet Namn were from the fringes of our society. No one close to me went there because they all had resources to avoid the draft. So many of those who did go may have had serious problems to begin with.

Anonymous said...

"False Heroes" is an interesting and well-written post. I was not aware of the issue. It reminds me of a prominent Mormon General Authority who was once held in high esteem. His name, Paul H. Dunn. He often told harrowing stories about his military experiences where he was always the reluctant hero and some poor soldier "died in my arms."

Turns out someone did some fact checking and discovered that Dunn's stories were all B.S. The revelation (pardon the term) went viral in the Mormon world and the once beloved hero fell into disgrace and near obscurity -- except his infamous "he died in my arms ..." is still repeated tongue in cheek to mock anyone who lacks integrity.

Nance said...

I love "This American Life," podcast them all for the past few years. Can't remember how long they've been available for podcast.

I had a few old, prolonged PTSD cases and I wondered seriously about a couple of them because they worked so hard at looking the part...long, gray ponytail, camo jacket with peace sign, etc. I never looked them up, though.

PTSD is the real deal, even if all of those who claim it aren't suffering it. There are now fMRI scans that confirm the diagnosis and point to clear brain anomaly.

Anne said...

I had a good friend who was a true Vietnam vet but who often told widely different stories of his war-time experiences. Sometimes he spoke of seeing blood and gore and atrocities, but he told me he never actually saw any combat, just suffered from behind the fighting boredom. He lived on disability payments for PTSD. I was never sure which version was true.

He won $50,000 in the state lottery, but died of lung cancer before he had a chance to spend it.

adrielleroyale said...

It's so irritating that we have to verify everything we hear because so much of it is lies. It seems like it happens more and more these days, but perhaps it happened just as much back 'then' too it just wasn't in the news. Either way, truth seems to be quite the rare commodity in the world.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul It is.

Rubeye I recall hearing that also, that a lot of those men had problems before they were in the service. I managed to maintain my student deferment but a lot of the guys I knew who did not go on to college ended up being drafted. There there were those who volunteered because they didn't have anything else promising going in their lives. Today's military is pretty choosy who they admit into the ranks.

Dissenter I wonder how much of what people make us is just "wishful thinking", needing to create the self esteem they lack based on their own accomplishments?

Last weekend my father-in-law's brother Gordon came to visit him, he's 87. Doug was a tail gunner on a B-17 over Europe during WWII and flew 36 missions. Knowing that 20% of those bombers were shot down on every mission I asked him if he had any interesting war stories I asked him if he had ever shot down any German fighters. He told me he never fired his guns except to test them, not once in combat. The big danger was Flak, but he survived 36 missions without a scratch or a shot fired in anger. Amazing.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Nance I didn't want to imply that PDSD is not real; however Pankratz asserts that those actual cases are a small percentage. What prompted him was why some of these people did not respond to treatment and were not cured; the answer was that they were faking it. People do suffer horrible traumatic experiences but that may not necessarily result in PTSD. My wife dealt with PTSD in Children's Services with children who had been severely abused at a young age.

The media makes it appear that almost everyone retiring from Iraq and Afghanistan is suffering PTSD. But most people get better over time because they want to.

Anne One of my friends was in the Air Force stationed in Vietnam; he actually said he had a great time there. Of course he was on an air base and not in direct combat.

My wife had a boyfriend before she and I married who had a leg injury from Vietnam. Like the person you mention this guy collected a disability pension. His injury was not enough to keep him from working but he used it as an excuse. My wife dated him a couple of months then figured this guy was not going anywhere in his life.

Adrielle Oddly I was just listening to another "This American Life" about how the new media takes things out of context; Al Gore inventing the Internet, for example. If you listen to the actual speeches, no such assertion is made. Sometimes I read outrageous headlines on a story, but in the body of the story, the comment is far more benign. Hype, exaggeration... even the "trusted media" is suspect.

KleinsteMotte said...

The background music of the podcast was distracting to me but I gathered from it that many people chose to create fantasy lives and get others to believe them. Being what others hope we ought to be, some will assume to be. It is a very sad reality and we actually teach it.
What I wonder about is how deceit was developed and why it is such a powerful tool. Spying depends on it. Homeland security depends on spies.
Actors are able to role play so well that we accept what they portray.
False heroes appears to be a much bigger issue.
Whom does one trust and how can one be sure?

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Interesting. We all want to believe people and their stories. I'm often naive - just fascinated and follow along.

Robert the Skeptic said...

KleinsteMotte Regarding spying, the deception is intentional, a tactic required to gather intelligence supposedly in the interest of national security. In such a context, "ethics" really does not enter into the picture. But individuals lying negatively reflects on their personal ethics, particularly since the motive, unlike spying, is for personal gratification.

JobHunter This can be as benign as people padding their resume' or embellishing their experiences for whatever persuasive value or personal gain. At some level most of us are guilty of putting our toes across that line at times.

Paul said...

My heroes are my Mother and Grandmother who raised me when my father deserted us. They never were in the military. They loved me when few others did and never asked for a dime of help from anyone.