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When it comes to military service, words matter

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As a member of the Massachusetts National Guard, Scott Brown spent two weeks in Afghanistan in 2011 as part of his voluntary guard training. That time may have given him a better sense of the war effort, but he did not face the Taliban. So he was wrong to state, in last week’s debate against challenger Elizabeth Warren, that he “served in Afghanistan.” It might have been excused as a slip of the tongue, except that Brown himself has sought to make it a crime to exaggerate claims of military service.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled against the 2006 Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to lie about military awards or service. The court said the act was too broadly written, and infinged on free-speech rights. At the same time, the justices suggested that a more carefully crafted statute would pass constitutional muster. So Brown introduced, last month, a law that would penalize the “faux-fighter” who lies to “obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.” The purpose is to protect those who have sacrificed, and penalize those who would use war to buttress their resumes.

Whether or not one thinks it should be a crime to lie about time in the military, Brown is surely right that exaggerating the extent of one’s service is an insult to those who put their lives on the line. Brown’s words may have been technically accurate — he did, in fact, spend a brief time in Afghanistan — but they gave the impression that he was a combat veteran. Candidate Brown should clarify his statement out of respect for those who have fought there. Senator Brown would probably agree.

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