Truth Can Be An Intangible Asset, Or Not!

Truth, the integrity to speak it, the necessity to demand it, and the requirement it be firmly rooted in objective, evidence-based reality, no less,…should never be consigned to being a mere business or political intangible which fluctuation, relative to a speaker’s circumstance, situation, or emotional state is permitted. Similarly, one should not filter their truth to accommodate ill conceived perspectives.

When my older brother and I served as combat infantry soldiers in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 respectively…he in a mechanized unit with the 25th Infantry Division in south central and eastern provinces, and Cambodia, and I with the 173d Airborne Brigade in Bin Dinh Province’ central highlands.  There, then, at our respective platoon level, truth, fact, and reality, ala non-fiction, were requisite demands and always present.

In many instances, which us brothers witnessed…if-when a combat soldier engaged in embellishing their role, contribution, or observation about a combat action, verbal corrections would be frequent and quick and included no variance for misunderstanding, i.e., there was not option to truth and variances would seldom if ever be tolerated, i.e., self-aggrandizement, embellishment, and/or exaggeration.

Generally, when combat soldiers did embellish, it invariably involved some variant of...their, or others’, contribution to and/or hesitancy to be alert to our adversary’s wiley ways or engage the adversary with sufficient aggressivity relative to the circumstances, conditions during, and the preludes to a combat action, i.e., number – size of the adversary, type – kinds of weaponry the adversaries used, and whether the adversaries were Viet Cong, North Vietnamese Army regulars, young, old, male, or female, and countless other combinations of intelligence.

Speaking truth, about what did or did not occur while engaged in a combat variously attributable, in our judgement, to…

  • the close-quarters (proximity) conditions which a high percentage of combat actions commenced.
  • this proximity contributed to minimizing most ‘margins’ for embellishment or fictional accounting because others could readily observe others actions and reactions.

It’s not difficult to imagine soldiers entering the military with…predispositions to embellish or fabricate, and perhaps did so regularly without repercussion, behaviors which may have re-commenced upon returning home where, for some, there were curious audiences, some eager to ask, listen, and believe.

In our view…albeit embedded in our respective Vietnam War experiences, there is no ‘post-truth or alternative facts’, there is only truth.  There can only be truth, that is specific to each combat action.  Some chose, at least in the immediate post-action, to ‘tune the embellishments out’ applying the time-honored cliché of ‘consider the source’.

Sadly, but interestingly, it may have been inevitable that a percentage of combat soldiers…perhaps one or two per squad or platoon, would choose to import fiction to their role in or contribution to a combat action.  Their versions of ‘truth and reality’ seldom became the basis for broad discussion, aside from the swift and corrective rejoinder who’s legitimate or felt responsibility it was to do so.

‘First person singular’ embellishments in combat units…could also be interpreted as rather rational gestures to seek a sort of ‘kinship’ with those soldiers already experienced in combat.  We recognize there are professionals who actually know the presumably various emotional – intellectual – psychological influencers that prompt soldiers to embellish, and we suspect, still exist in the wars following Vietnam.

Other observations suggest some...experienced – ranking combat soldiers may elect not to confront those who engage in (braggadocios) embellishment, due to the personal humiliation it would cause and disrupt the necessary requisite of humanity for a combat unit.  Such conscientiousness, or perhaps ambivalence to another’s embellishment, was routinely understood by others ‘for what it was’, and how other’s reacted to it, was individualized.

Close quarters combat remains a unique personal experience and force…which, as far as us brothers are concerned, probably contributed to mitigating our temperaments to not engage in ‘calling people out’.  It’s worth noting, not unlike those in other wars, combat infantry soldiers, i.e., those who were consistently prepared (emotionally, intellectually, and physically) to engage or be engaged in combat actions, were relatively small in number in relation to the total number of soldiers deployed, perhaps only 10% – 12%.

Calling combat soldiers out for embellishing…could occur in various ways, aside from direct verbal-physical confrontation.  We suspect, of the combat soldiers who entered Vietnam, some percentage did so with predispositions to embellish. But some, may, through combat experience, modify such predisposition away from using ‘first person singulars’, at least those still exercising rational thinking.  What they did upon returning home, well that’s between them and their audiences.

But, just as frequently, there would be an immediate, corrective, and uncompromising rejoinder in content, tone, and intent…usually executed by a squad or platoon leader which unequivocally described the embellishment and the soldier’s failure to recognize events and actions of participants, ala necessity for comradery in an objective and truthful reality.

Based on ‘us brothers’ collective memories – experiences of combat in Vietnam, rejoinders held similar themes…(1.) there is no first person singular here, it’s we, (2.) embellished or fictionalized accounts of one’s conduct during combat circumstances is seldom tolerated for long, (3.) the use of terms like ‘woulda, shoulda, or coulda’ that conflict with reality and (human) emotional-behavioral maximums are often deemed irrelevant after the combat as ceased, ‘it is what it is’!

We suspect then and today…those who persist in engaging in embellishment, lying, and/or the manufacture of ‘alternative facts’ about war and combat, yes, may hold emotional – psychological predispositions for doing so, which perhaps manifest, at least in part, as self-coping mechanisms as humans find themselves in extraordinary and emotion laden circumstances which, truth be told, barely one tenth of one percent of the U.S. population have and, hopefully will ever have to experience.

Still, there should be no confusion or equivocation about…one’s reaction to those who purposefully and consistently lie or embellish about their roles, contributions to events, or the realities that fill our world.  It may be worth noting again, and we suspect its fair to say, such human inclinations – predispositions were likely in place long before an individuals’ statements – remarks become a matter of public record and whether or not they may endeavor to leverage embellishments or lies to advantage themselves in some manner or for some purpose.

Sadly, the phrase ‘post-truth’…was assigned Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 word of the year. It is explained as a condition where facts are less influential in shaping opinion than emotion, and personal belief. Those who are inclined to engage in ‘post-truth thinking’ are likely to minimize…

  • the value of experience and expertise.
  • the centrality of fact.
  • personal acceptance of humility in the face of complexity.
  • the need for study, and
  • the respect for ideas – perspectives, other than their own.

Readers who may interpret this post, as true as it is, as having relevance to the current administration, may be correct.

Note: Perspective for this post is attributed to General Michael Hayden’s recent Op-Ed published in the New York Times.

Michael D. Moberly May 4, 2018 St. Louis [email protected] ‘The Business Intangible Asset Blog’ since May 2006 where attention span, business realities, and solutions meet!

Readers are invited to explore other papers, books, and blog posts I have produced – published at 


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