Military Life

The story of Billy in the Bar: A case for borrowed valor?

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borrowed valor at bar

Photo by Aleksandr Popov on Unsplash.

Those who serve in the military come from all walks of life. They span ethnicities, come from different regions of the country and have various socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Likewise, veterans are a diverse group who reflect a wide range of opinions. There is one issue, however, upon which veterans universally agree: anger over episodes of stolen valor. You’re familiar with the scenario. An individual passes themselves off as a veteran to obtain some sort of benefit. Often it is for financial gain, or recognition and approval. Some of them don’t even put in enough effort to make a believable case. They typically present themselves in a wildly heroic light. This is unacceptable.

In the spirit of being open minded, though stolen valor is to be condemned, is there room for borrowed valor? Maybe a guy really wanted to serve but had to stay home and take over the family business. Perhaps he was born with a serious medical condition that prevented him from taking up a rifle. Should he be denied a small feeling of glory because of fate or his circumstances? What if he doesn’t make outright claims of being a veteran but makes vague references that others might assume him to be one. Any harm in that?

Listed below are a couple of potential scenarios for borrowed valor.

Scenario 1:

After a long week working a blue-collar job in a small, patriotic, Midwest town Billy is at the local tavern with some buddies. They shoot pool, throw darts and have a few cold ones. Billy and his friends are trying to gain the attention of some ladies at the adjacent table. Billy’s turn comes at the dart board, and he hits the bull’s eye. On cue his buddy yells out “Center mass!” Billy nonchalantly replies “One shot, one kill. Just like I was taught back in the day.” Now Billy didn’t tell anyone he was in the military, nor claim to be a sniper. In fact, he was referencing his grandfather who took him squirrel hunting as a kid. There just happens to be enough knowledge about the military in general (and many false views thanks to a string of bad movies) to know the phrase “one shot, one kill” either applies to marksmen, snipers, or Marines. Suddenly Billy now seems to have a rugged mystic and dangerous allure which is attractive to a certain young lady sitting with her friends. Billy now has the confidence to approach Susie and strike up a conversation. So long as he doesn’t spin the tale any further, this case of borrowed valor could result in new love.

borrowed valor
Former NBC anchorman Brian Williams aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa in the Persian Gulf, March 13, 2003.

Scenario 2:

Similar to the narrative described above, a couple regular Joes are in a bar hanging out after work. On this occasion there also happens to be a couple of bikers in there, too. They’re not from an OMC (Outlaw Motorcycle Club) but they are leather clad, boisterous, and rude enough to pose a potential problem. Billy and his buddies are not only locals, but they are also regulars. They don’t want any trouble but certainly aren’t about to get run out of their own place. Billy read somewhere that homes with signs saying something akin to “This property is protected by Guardian Security Systems” are less likely to experience burglary even if they don’t have cameras and alarms in place. This knowledge gave ole Billy an idea. As he makes his way to the bar, he calls out loudly to his friend 

“Hey Flamethrower! You want another cold one?” Flamethrower replies, “Sure thing Master Chief.” There’s no need to explain the backstories, that the moniker “Flamethrower” came from too much lighter fluid on the barbecue grill last July; or that “MasterChief828” is his screen name for online video games. If the bikers want to think they are a couple of Navy Seal veterans and decide not to start a fight, perhaps borrowed valor helps keep the peace?

Scenario 3:

Weeks later Billy and the boys are once again at the local tavern shooting some pool. A couple of loudmouths in the corner are glaring at them. Though not a veteran Billy has some good situational awareness, sees them, and would prefer not to throw hands. He starts a new game. As the balls break his buddy says “Look at them scatter!” Billy casually replies, “Reminds me of Fallujah, those boys were running all over the place.” What Billy means is that it reminds him of what he saw on a documentary about Fallujah, with footage of insurgents scattering through the rubble. Billy however is a man of few words. Let the loudmouths draw their own conclusions. If this off-hand comment staves off another barroom brawl, borrowed valor may have served a useful purpose.

Given the scenarios described above could we give Billy, the hardworking man with an American flag sticker on his pickup truck, a pass on borrowed valor? He doesn’t wear any medals, he’s made no outright claims, and he isn’t making any money. He just wants to take it easy and enjoy life a little. A case could be made that no harm has been done. No veteran’s memory has been disgraced, no one has been disrespected. Maybe we veterans shouldn’t be so sensitive about such things.

Then again maybe Billy needs to stop hanging out in bars.