Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Woman Who Wasn't There: 9/11 and Stolen Valor

Stolen valor. It's common enough thing, people claiming that they were some kind of "war hero" when they've never even been there. I'm not talking about the kind of "résumé enhancement" that occurs when someone wears, say, a Unit Presidential Citation ribbon when they actually served in the unit after it received the citation. Everyone has done that kind of thing to some extent in their lives -- it's called résumé enhancement for a reason.

No, I am talking about the thousands of so-called Vietnam veterans who never spent a day in uniform, let alone in-country in Vietnam. It's a big enough problem that the Vietnam Veterans of America have a page devoted to it, A Legend in Their Own Minds: Poseurs, Fakes, and Wannabes.

It's despicable, but it's also kind of understandable. These guys feel like they missed out, and now they want to be seen as part of the biggest adventure there was for men of my generation to have. Regardless of the fact that war was unpopular, and many of us who were there would  have really rather been doing something else somewhere else --  all of us had "other priorities", in the words of our draft-dodging vice president, Dick Cheney.

But it didn't occur to me that other events could have their own fakers. I just watched a documentary movie called The Woman Who Wasn't There, about someone calling herself Tania Head, who went to far-reaching and elaborate lengths to present herself as a survivor of 9/11. She constructed such a convincing back story that real 9/11 survivors embraced her and elevated her to the position of president of the survivors' group.

Ultimately her story, elaborately constructed though it was, just couldn't stand up to the smallest bit of scrutiny. As soon as a New York Times reporter started digging into it, the whole pack of lies collapsed and she disappeared.

Watch the movie for an eye-opening look at an obviously disturbed woman and the skillful manipulations she worked on the real survivors. Oddly enough, it appears that she never made any money off her impersonation, which makes it even more weird.

Watch it streaming on Netflix, but hurry because it won't be around after April 16.