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Is PTSD Really an Excuse for Plagiarism?

I’ve never been to a war zone. I don’t know what affects PTSD can have on a person, and the negative ways it may effect someone’s actions. But I’m still a logical human being, and I know what makes sense and what doesn’t.

According to the New York Times, John Walsh (D), a U.S. Senator from Montana who is currently running for re-election, lifted entire passages from other authors’ journals, papers and books and included them – without citation – as his own in a thesis titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy.”  His thesis earned him a masters degree from the United States Army War College. Apparently, a good deal of his paper was actually the work of others, including his six recommendations at the end.

In a follow-up article, Fox News reports that Walsh, who served in Iraq, has pointed to PTSD as a possible root cause of the offense, saying “I don’t want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor. My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment.”

Further, Lauren Passalacqua, a spokesperson for his campaign, said in a statement, “There were areas that should have been cited differently but it was completely unintentional.”

Wait – what? Are spokespeople just supposed to defend the indefensible regardless of the cost to their own credibility, or does there ever come a time when they say, “Listen, buddy – I can fluff up a certain amount of bullshit, but when it gets to a point where even I don’t believe the words coming from my mouth, I have to walk away.”?

If so, Lauren, I think that time is now. ‘There were areas that should have been cited differently‘?  Don’t you mean “...that should have been cited – period.“? There is no “differently” because the citations didn’t exist in the first place.

And the word “areas” is also a little misleading. The Times pegs it at about 25% of the entire paper being written by other people. This isn’t just a sentence or two – we’re talking about the outright theft of other people’s work – not just their words, but their research, their philosophies and their viewpoints that they’ve likely put time into and defend to others – and calling that work his own. It was the foundation of a paper he put his name on – including the final recommendations – and readily accepted his masters as a result of. Are these the “areas” you’re referring to?

And the claim that the plagiarism was unintentional? What strikes me here is that the Times points out that lifted portions of the thesis have been copied “nearly word for word.”  Nearly is the operative point here.  Walsh didn’t lazily lift entire passages to pass off as his own – at least if he did that, there could almost be a case for him simply having forgotten to give appropriate credit.  But by being nearlyword for word, the implication is that Walsh knowingly read through the plagiarized pages and went out of his way to change up a few things in an effort the cover up the theft of their ideas.  It’s hard to believe that, if even one word was changed, the inclusion of other people’s work into his own was “unintentional.”

More bizarrely, his campaign has called on Walsh’s Republican rival, Steve Daines, and stand up for Walsh in the face of the backlash.  As Fox reports, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said, “…it’s disgusting that Steve Daines and Washington Republicans are going to try to denigrate John’s distinguished service after multiple polls show him gaining.  Steve Daines should immediately denounce these latest smears and call for and end to all attacks on John Walsh’s record of protecting Montana and serving his country.”

Smears? Attacks on his record?  Your guy did this to himself, Justin. Nobody forced him to plagiarize.

Oh, wait – the PTSD excuse.  As I said, I’ve never been to war, but I’m more likely to understand how someone could snap and become unexpectedly violent due to PTSD.  I’m having a harder time using it to justifying an inability to write your own thesis.  Does this mean if he happens to see someone else’s grocery list, he may accidentally buy someone else’s products?  How does the trauma of going to war make you pick up someone else’ss book, and steal their writing?  I may not have PTSD, but I respect our soldiers, and I think blaming his theft on the horrors of war is belittling every one in our armed forces who has ever struggled to deal with the effects of the battlefield after they’ve come home.

When Walsh was in Iraq fighting for our country, he wasn’t just fighting for our protection – he was fighting for our ideals and our Constitution, including our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.  By stealing others’ works, Walsh in effect trampled on those authors’ freedom of speech, and took away their voice and thoughts by passing them off as their own. It’s beneath a soldier, and it’s certainly beneath a U.S. Senator.

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