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LJ Idol week 4: current events
Man accused of impersonating Marine at Martinez high school reunion.

How often do we want to be someone else?

How often do we daydream about living another life, about the way people would respond to us if only we drove a different car, had a different job, had received an award for “extreme gallantry in combat”?

Daydreams are beautiful, exhilarating, empty things. They let you imagine receiving the prize without doing the work, receiving the respect without sweating to earn it.

Steven Burton claimed to be a marine. He blogged about his combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and wore a uniform with medals and honors to his 20-year high school reunion. Imagine what that night must have been like for him. The surprise and respect on the faces of his former classmates; having stories to tell that no one in the room could match.

But he’d made it up. All of it. He hadn’t won any medals. He wasn’t even a marine. He is a banker, living what I imagine to be a quiet, ordinary life. We don’t know when his military daydream began. We don’t know when he decided to step inside his dream and make believe it was true, or when he started telling other people about his made-up past and present. We don’t know when he gave himself medals for bravery in a combat he had never seen.

Where is the line between daydream and reality? When does wearing clothes that in some way aren’t meant for you cross the line from costume fantasy to fraud? With self-help gurus telling us that ‘the secret’ is to imagine your life the way you want it to be and it will happen, aren’t they telling us to make-believe just as hard as we can? Why should we stay stuck in our everyday lives when we can be extraordinary? I can imagine any number of different worlds where I’m stronger, prettier, richer, more respected, more popular than I am now. Does that give me the right to pretend to be something I am not? Who gets to decide what I am?

I think that to wear a military uniform is to claim membership in a brotherhood that is earned only through service, not just the wanting. To wear a Navy Cross and a Purple Heart when you’ve never been in combat is reprehensible.

But, Burton just wanted to be someone else for a while, to play dress up and make-believe and have people look at him like he was a soldier, not a banker. I understand that impulse, and that I cannot condemn.

Steven Burton appeared in federal court yesterday to answer to the charge of “unauthorized wearing of military decorations”. He pleaded not guilty.

What do you think?

@@@This is my entry for week 4 of LJ Idol - the topic I chose is “current events”. I will post a link to the poll once it is up on Saturday. Thank you for reading.@@@

I really wonder about his mental state over all. Does he believe that he did what he wrote about? It seems like his grasp on RL as appose to his Internet life seems not great.

I have seen this sort of thing happen on the Internet more often than I care think about. We talk about Munchausen by Internet and the effects it has on people who get drawn into it.

Then there are the BNF (big name fans) who seem to have an "in" with the objects of the fandom's focus who later turn out to be making the whole thing up.

I don't think he should have done it. I have seen too many families in my town that have family in the military. It was disrespectful for those who have been there but I can see why he did it.

It intrigues me that he pretended to something that can be so easily tracked down. I really do wonder how long before that class reunion he was doing this, the article doesn't give an exact time line. Because most people wouldn't have questioned the military service record of someone in uniform, so it could have been a long time.

I intend to keep following this case, I am curious to know what his basis for the not guilty plea is, since it seems pretty cut and dried. I'm not sure he deserves jail for this, but pretending to be in uniform is not okay.

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I think there has to be a mental health something in there, once this moved off the internet and into real life it was too easy to verify that he didn't belong in the uniform.

I think if he wanted to wear that uniform, he should have gone about it the right way and actually joined the military. If he wasn't qualified, then he wasn't. Your life is what you make it, he didn't have to be a banker, that's what he chose to be and he should have lived with it.

I agree if he wanted the uniform he should have served. Doing it his way was a cheat.

Well, bad on him for dressing up.

But I'm mostly just sad for the guy. We can talk forever about what he should have done, but he didn't and probably felt like he couldn't. And now he's gone and built his whole life around this pretend thing.

And now he's going to jail for it and all the people who admired him are, at best, shaking their heads.

He's in the wrong, sure.

But talk about sad, y'know?

This neatly expresses how I feel. He was utterly wrong, but I can't bring myself to feel angry, just sad. And I really wonder on what basis he's pleading not guilty because it seems so cut and dried.

I don't know how to feel about this one. As a writer, I know it's probably disingenuous in a way for me to explain Alaska to you, when I've never been, but at the same time, I can put myself there, inside my own head, I can google and wiki it and I can extrapolate from others as close as a representation as I can. I understand using the imagination. But at the same time, this situation seems like a really intensified version of what I was talking about. It almost feels like there should be bigger consequences for it. Even if it does open us all up to those same consequences if we follow a similar route.

It seems as though we're making the line between reality and make-believe thinner by giving everyone the tools to make the imaginary stuff so detailed and accurate.

I think he should be found guilty and punished, but I'm not sure jail is appropriate for something that is so obviously a mental issue.

I'm going to y ten year reunion next year and I could not even imagine!

I'm thinking about bringing a fake date, but wow, this just...

Exactly my 20 year is officially next year, and I was concerned about what I would wear, not about reinventing my entire life.

Wow. That's a HUGE thing to make up, such an enormous facade to keep going with. I love to daydream and pretend ... but I could never take it so far, not into the public. It'd be just so much worse when you get found out -- and the truth ALWAYS comes out.

That's the thing, I have trouble beliving that he thought he'd get away with it, especially given how detail-oriented and record keeping the military is.

I am all for make-believe too, but other than occasionally talking to myself in public it never gets out of my apartment.

If he hadn't been in the military, exactly how did he obtain a uniform and medals? I can't imagine a Navy Cross or a Purple Heart would have been easy to find.


That or family members?

That is absolutely insane. He must have been a bit deranged. No one of sound stability does such things!

Yeah there's obviously a mental issue there that runs deep.

*there are many reasons why I don't get involved with role play*...

I know there's certain types of psychosis...when people can't tell the difference between a role they're playing and them...

I'm thinking he's probably mentally ill - or just a pathological liar...but I'm thinking it's not the latter than he really didn't have a sense of reality...

I hope he gets help....

Yeah the line between reality and his role got way too blurry.

Now that he's been arrested I'm concerned that it'll just be jail instead of the therapy he obviously needs. He won't be the first person that's happened to, but not so helpful.

To me the sacrifices of those who have actually served is worthy of more respect than what he gave them. Playing dress up and make-believe is fine, I do it too. Heck, I did it yesterday and I'm working on putting together a costume for that. But, I don't do it for unearned respect that others have died for. I think he's making a mockery of the lives that have gone before in service.

I agree. The military is such a specific thing and to claim that service is an insult to everyone who actually served. Especially to claim medals.

I'm just not sure jail is the best place for him, I think he needs a lot of therapy.

I have a friend who claims to have flown F14 fighter planes in Desert Storm. Most everyone just ignores him, since, one, he's 6'4", and we can all just tell he's full of shit. He's an interesting storyteller, though, and very entertaining. His delusions harmless, if not a little sad. I think even he, though, knows not to take it the extreme of donning medals he didn't earn. That's just a slap in the face to the men who did deserve such accolades.

It's really the medals that get to me. If he had just told stories like your friend does that's one step, putting the uniform on was another step, and putting on medals was over the cliff. Especially a Navy Cross which isn't awarded very often.

I'm still intrigued that he has pled not guilty, I wonder what is going through his mind. I hope whatever happens that he gets help - slamming back to reality is likely to be painful for him.

Guilty. Plain and simple. His actions... though as you say are understandable... are still reprehensible. He did not earn the right to wear that uniform or those medals. And for him to do so, in my opinion, is offensive to those that have actually earned that right and that distinction. I do understand the want to be somebody else... and it's fine to daydream about it. But to cross that line? No, sorry... he has earned whatever punishment comes his way.

That's why his not guilty plea has me intrigued, because how sick (mentally or actually unstable) does he have to be to think he did nothing wrong?

Interesting entry this week, thanks for posting.

Yeah, one of my friends had this ex who pretended he was a police officer. He did a great job in fooling everyone for the longest time. He even won this police car in some kind of auction. He used to leave the house to go to "work" in his uniform and car. I think that's when my friend left her home state, after she found out he was in jail for impersonating a law enforcement officer. They really can manage to fool everyone, till someone gets in on them. I hope he goes to jail for a while. Though his lawyer will probably try to plead insanity...

I am amazed that anyone can get away with this. But I suppose if you truly commit to the pretend, given that people tend not to question something in front of them that looks right it can happen.

I think he needs at least some jail time to shake him out the place he is in.