In his self-published book, Stolen Valor, Vietnam veteran B.G. Burkett exposes scores of men who pass themselves off as war heroes. He digs through stacks of military personnel records and outs city councilmen, prominent businessmen and even presidents of veterans groups as frauds. Some had served in the military and finagled paperwork that bumped them up several ranks and turned them into battlefield legends. Purple Hearts, Silver Stars, Medals of Honor. Others hadn't spent a day in uniform but conjured equally dramatic tales of daring and sacrifice. The imposters, he says, had become some of the most vocal and visible veterans. They influenced the public's perception of war and even guided legislative agendas, a disservice to those who did the fighting and the bleeding.
How could they get away with that? Moral authority. So few Americans have actually walked and sweated on battlefields that they defer to those who say they have, and assume those men and women speak the truth.
This also explains why The Hurt Locker is up for a Best Picture Oscar. And why it shouldn't win.
Present a movie as a hyper-realistic look at today's wars and those fighting them, and you have a responsibility to deliver because—for better or worse—without first-hand experience, we rely on our storytellers to fill in the those gaps with texture, and meaning and context. That was director Kathryn Bigelow's intent. She wanted the audience to experience war as the soldiers do and used shaky hand-held camera shots for a documentary-style effect. And she was rewarded for it. She won over the critics, nearly all of whom wrote breathless and fawning reviews: Overflowing with crackling versimilitude; One of the defining films of the decade; Impressively realistic; A near-perfect movie about men in war; The film about the war in Iraq we've been waiting for.