When we came across the photo yesterday of Lindsey Stone raising her middle finger at the Arlington National Cemetery, we decided to pass on making comment or adding to the viral storm around it. Gawker's refreshingly reasonable question was, should the woman in the picture, Lindsey Stone, have her life ruined over the photo?
We figured she had enough on her plate without us adding to it.
When my reporter Geoff and I, both military veterans, closed the page, we rolled our eyes and got on with the day.
But as outrage grows — leading to posts across the Internet and Facebook groups devoted to getting her fired — I feel compelled to defend her.
Stone was at the cemetery on an office trip. She's pretending to be neither silent or respectful next to a sign that demands she be both. As in, "Look it says I can't. But I am." I get it. I remember standing on the wall of a deep gorge in high school that had the words Do Not Stand here painted on it. I took a picture of my shoe beside them. These are silly, immature, little rebellions.
Stone also apologizes in a followup Facebook post: "Whoa whoa whoa... wait. This is just us, being the douchebags that we are, challenging authority in general. Much like the pic posted the night before, of me smoking right next to a no smoking sign. OBVIOUSLY we meant NO disrespect to people that serve or have served our country."
More importantly, if Lindsey Stone wants to rip on the Tomb of the Unknowns, me, my service, or the hundreds of mutilated troops I served with at Walter Reed Medical Center, she should be able to do so without fear of retribution. Freedom like that is what we fought for, and respecting other opinions is part of what the military tried to teach all of us who served.
The blind adoration of the military and its personnel is getting creepy, and I'm talking from the inside looking out. While correcting the ugly way Vietnam veterans were treated is good, the over-compensation needs to stop. Putting on a uniform doesn't change who you are, and questioning institutions and individuals, including the military and its troops, is good and healthy.
Aaron O'Connel, a Marine officer and instructor at the Naval Academy, had this to say about the topic in a NYT op-ed a couple weeks ago that definitely warrants a full reading:
Like all institutions, the military works to enhance its public image, but this is just one element of militarization. Most of the political discourse on military matters comes from civilians, who are more vocal about “supporting our troops” than the troops themselves. It doesn’t help that there are fewer veterans in Congress today than at any previous point since World War II. Those who have served are less likely to offer unvarnished praise for the military, for it, like all institutions, has its own frustrations and failings. But for non-veterans — including about four-fifths of all members of Congress — there is only unequivocal, unhesitating adulation. The political costs of anything else are just too high. ...
Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.
Stone has genuinely apologized, and so has her father. Her employer also publicly responded, distancing itself from the situation. Maybe a little gracious dignity is in order and the lady should be taken at her word.
If anyone thinks that's asking too much, check out the comments on the Fire Lindsey Stone Facebook page to see that just maybe this " Uncritical support of all things martial" has gone far enough.
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