I've Told You a Million Times Not to Exaggerate

Julie Marsh

Flickr: Photo by Bernt Rostad
I'm proud of my military service. I spent four years as a communications officer at the Pentagon. I wore the National Defense Service Medal because I served in the military during the Gulf War, but I was never deployed. Therefore, I could not accurately claim that I served in the Gulf War, only during the Gulf War.

Apparently other former service members and their families like to play a little more fast and loose with such claims than I do. The latest example is Arizona governor Jan Brewer.

In an interview with the Arizona Republic where she defended her decision to sign SB 1070 (Arizona's new immigration law), Brewer lamented: "Knowing that my father died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany, that I lost him when I was 11 because of that...and then to have them call me Hitler's daughter. It hurts."

To be sure, it's a sound bite that prompts sympathy. Problem is, it's not exactly accurate.

Brewer's father worked in a naval munitions depot in Nevada during World War II. He died in 1955 "after a long and painful battle with lung disease, contracted following years of exposure to hazardous chemicals and toxic fumes while working as a civil servant at the base."

He never served in the military. He never went to Germany. He was one of many civilians who worked hard back home in the United States supporting the war, but he did not fight the Nazi regime, let alone die in combat, as Brewer's statement implies.

Other politicians have recently exaggerated or lied about their military service, including Mark Kirk and Richard Blumenthal. Kirk, a Republican seeking the Senate seat formerly held by President Obama, claimed to have been named Intelligence Officer of the Year by the Navy for his service in Kosovo. Instead, his unit received an award from a civilian professional group, the National Military Intelligence Association.

Blumenthal, Attorney General of Connecticut and Democratic Senate candidate, has often referred to the time that he served in Vietnam. In fact, Blumenthal never served in Vietnam. He was a Marine, but he sought and obtained multiple deferments to ensure that he never went to Vietnam.

Even military service members exaggerate their service. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda killed himself in 1996 in anticipation of a Newsweek story questioning the "V" for Valor worn on his Vietnam service ribbons. A well-respected officer and "the first enlisted man in the history of the navy to rise to the post of chief of naval operations," Boorda could not bear his impending dishonor.

Therein lies the difference between politicians and military service members. While their motivations may be similar -- a desire for prestige and power and justification of position -- politicians mince words and split hairs and quibble endlessly about what the meaning of the word "is" is.

Of course I don't think politicians should shoot themselves over misstatements. But they certainly ought to think twice about the words they choose when boasting about military service.

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