(Update, 28 Apr 04) Welcome to all the readers from the Cox&Forkum weblog, and enjoy your visit. Comment on anything you'd like, I'm like every soldier over here, wanting more and more mail.
On the Instapundit site, the professor links to a transcript where Senator Kerry tries to defend his use of the words "ribbons" and "medals" interchangably.
I would like to say that it is common among the Army personnel that I know, that these terms are sometimes used interchangably, but not at all in the manner that he is implying.
Let me explain. You can say to a friend, while holding a picture of your wife, "This is my wife" and he would understand that the actual picture is not your wife, but a representation of your wife. If days later you threw that picture of your wife over a fence, and said to the same friend, "I threw my wife over the fence" he would probably not think that you had thrown just the picture of your wife over a fence. Ribbons represent medals the way photos represent people. But when you talk about doing something with the physical person, you usually don't mean the photograph.
Here's how I've noticed soldiers use the terms interchangably. If you were to look at a soldier's uniform, Class A or Class B, or even Dress Blues, the uniforms on which we wear our ribbons (or sometimes our medals), and point to that soldier's ribbons, and ask them "so what is this medal for?", they would know what you are talking about, and would likely not tell you that you were pointing to "ribbons", while asking about "medals". The ribbons do represent medals recieved, and yes, when we are talking about the actions that we did to earn our awards and medals, we use the terms interchangably.
But there are times when soldiers rarely use the terms interchangably. Personally, I've never heard a soldier refer to the physical items that are ribbons, or the physical items that are medals, interchangably. For example, it would be unlikely that a soldier would go into the clothing supply store, where we buy our ribbons, and ask to purchase a medal, knowing that he needed a ribbon (and that the medals, which the ribbons represent, are not for sale at the clothing sales store.) They would likely say, "I need to get some new ribbons for the upcoming inspection" rather than "I need to get some medals for the upcoming inspection." Another soldier hearing the first example would understand that the soldier needed to go purchase some new ribbons, while the second example would clearly be understood that the soldier expected to be recognized for outstanding achievement and be presented with some additional medals, all for an upcoming inspection. Patently absurd, but I use it to show how it would be highly unusual for soldiers to use the terms interchangably in all situations.
Obviously I can't speak for Senator Kerry, but I do know how soldiers speak, and I doubt a soldier would say that he had thrown his medals over a fence if he had thrown his ribbons over a fence. And vice-versa. When we talk about the actual physical item, we know the difference between the two, and would use the correct term. This is too close to the other very fudgible statements that Senator Kerry has made over the last few years for me to just ignore as mis-speak. Like his recent statement that he never actually said he was Irish, he clearly allowed the voters in the heavily Irish areas to assume that he was. If he truly believes that he can use the terms of ribbons and medals interchangably simply because he feels there is no difference between the two, then he needs to explain how he could be so cavalier about his ribbons, and then say that the medals meant so much that he couldn't throw them away.
(Update) I've earned all my medals and I'm damn proud of them. The ribbons I wear on my uniform, that represent those medals, also represent the pride I feel in what I do for a profession, the sacrifices my family has made during my deployments, and the recognition I've received for being a good soldier.
Throw them away?
Hell, I better be buried with 'em on.