Military Medal Myths

It has never been illegal to wear military medals and uniforms to costume parties or while portraying a soldier in a movie.

Reacting to yesterday’s ruling striking down Stolen Valor laws as unconstitutionalBruce McQuain observes,

So – this means that you can expect to see the uniform you revere and the medals hard earned, sometimes at the expense of the lives of our military heroes, again relegated to the realm of costume parties where fakes and frauds will openly drape our nation’s most hallowed medal for heroism around their necks and make claims on the valor of those who actually earned the award the hard way.

Wearing medals to costume parties wasn’t illegal even under the Stolen Valor law.   Depending on the intent, it might be tacky.  (It would be fine to go as, say, General Patton or General Petraeus.) But wearing medals to a costume party isn’t meant to deceive.   Unless they’re extremely intoxicated or mentally challenged, no one thinks a guy wearing a Barack Obama mask or a Batman costume is really the president or the Caped Crusader, after all.

Similarly, contrary to widespread misconception, it was never a violation of laws against “impersonating an officer” for an actor to wear authentic military uniforms while filming a movie.   If they were wearing their uniform incorrectly — as they seem invariably to do — it wasn’t to stay clear of charges but because of sloppiness on part of the costume department.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Quick Takes, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughers. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. This strikes me as an issue where the law doesn’t really need to be involved.

    Someone who is caught lying about their military record of the awards they received while serving tends to be treated rather harshly in public, and I would imagine their fellow service member aren’t very pleased with it either.

    Social approbation is sometimes more appropriate than criminal punishment and this is one of those situations.


  2. Juneau: says:

    @ Mataconis

    “Social approbation is sometimes more appropriate than criminal punishment and this is one of those situations.”

    Approbation? Approbation means approval, so your statement is a bit contradictory; “Social [ approval ] is sometimes more appropriate than criminal punishment…?

    What does this mean?