There is a sign that says “Silence and Respect, Arlington National Cemetery” that was featured in a picture that has gone viral. Also featured in that picture is a woman flipping the bird at the sign and with her other hand, she is cupping her face as if she is yelling. She did this in front of the sign at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. To say that photo has caused an uproar is an understatement of epic proportions.
I have to admit I agree with the outrage, though expressed less than eloquently by some, but I disagree with some of what has happened since this picture began to make the rounds of cyberspace. I’ve checked and have been unable to find out for certain who found the picture and how, but I did see it featured prominently on the woman’s Facebook account, a page obviously not set to ‘Private’. The fact that her name and employer were on her page probably expedited the finding of her address and phone number, though there is rumor that someone who knows her personally both started the furor over what they found to be an offensive picture and published her home address and phone number. Publicizing her real world address and phone number is just one of the things about all this that have, in my opinion, crossed a line. Because of this, I will not name her, her employer or even from what part of the country she hails.
As I write this, there is one site that has over 2,500 comments about her and the picture, many of which suggest she perform anatomically impossible acts upon herself. While that may be in poor taste, the posts I have issue with are those that threaten, and even promise to do her serious harm. A few not only wish her dead but offer to do the deed.
The online threats don’t stop with her. Her employer’s Facebook page was found and listed, and on that page there are now over 6,000 comments. While that may seem unfair since there is no evidence she did this on company time or the company dime, who does not know that employers regularly check the online activities of prospective and current employees for behaviors that may reflect badly on the company?
In this case, this woman is directly responsible for vulnerable people whose families may be concerned that a person involved in the care of their loved ones finds this kind of behavior not only appropriate, but suitable for posting on Facebook. Her actions themselves, her decision to capture the moment in a photo and post it online, call into question her judgment and is worthy of a conversation at least with her employer, given her position. This is a sentiment I expressed on the company’s Facebook page.
In the interest of fairness, this woman did respond at the onset of the uproar. She stated this was intended as humor, as satire and no different than taking a picture of someone standing on the grass next to a “Keep of the Grass” notice, or of someone lighting up a cigarette in front of a “No Smoking” sign. It’s safe to say she has gotten the hint that there are lots of people who find a significant difference in what she did and the other two examples.
However, that is where this should end. The public humiliation many are hoping to heap on her is only effective if she is ashamed of what she did, which she assured the world she is not. Consequences with her employer are appropriate, again only if they feel what she did and the resultant uproar reflects badly on them.
Many of the comments have made reference to the brothers and sisters in arms the posters visit at Arlington. For them, this place is where they go to honor the sacrifice that literally saved their own life. For these men and women who have honorably served themselves, this is personal; this is their family, place of worship and God all in one space. The appropriateness of their reaction to others may seem extreme, but put in this context, not having an extreme emotional response would be inappropriate.
The importance of Arlington National Cemetery in general and that of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier specifically cannot be overstated. Millions of people from all over the world have come to this place and been awed at the solemnity and respect shown for these ultimate protectors of all we hold most dear as Americans. Here is where the true cost of freedom is most visible, in the verdant rolling hills spotted with the markers of all those who chose honor over their own personal safety, liberty over life.
I want there to be no misunderstanding here, I completely understand and agree with the disgust and outrage expressed at this woman for the disrespect and dishonor she has shown at the most hallowed resting place of our heroes. Generations of the best and brightest, the most valiant and courageous men and women this nation has ever produced are honored by being placed in this sacred ground. These men and women risked, and sometimes lost all for the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, one of which is the freedom of speech.
So, calls for violence, even if it is just words spewed in cyberspace, are too much. The fact that some of the most extreme posts, granted these are few, literally call for the death of this woman, her family and all who agree with her idea of satire, are so far over the line it can’t even be seen in the rearview mirror. Sadly, some of these are the words of a few who claim to be ex-military.
You heard that right. Some of the most extreme posts and threats are by those who claim to be ex-military, though those I know who are actually ex-military seriously doubt those claims of service, as do I. It is a simple fact that most who at any time in their lives put on our nation's uniform and swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States are the first to admit even the most despicable acts and speech fall under the rights they fought to defend. They do have some of the most inventive and interesting derogatory descriptions for people who abuse those rights and are not hesitant in sharing them, but that is one of my favorite things about reading these types of posts and comments. Within and through their disgust is a note of gallows humor, the kind of humor only those who have been where they've been, seen what they've seen can fully appreciate.
However, calling for her execution sounds too eerily similar to what we have come to expect from extremist mullahs and jihadists, not United States soldiers sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. Again, I understand and agree with the disgust so many feel, but will never violate the principals that make us Americans, even when faced with fellow citizens who abuse those rights.
I have to say here that I am supremely uncomfortable writing about this; I fear those whom I support, those soldiers who have risked their lives for all of us will see this as a betrayal on my part. But, then, I think again of the vast majority of those who wear and wore our nation’s uniform and know I am writing this is in defense of them.
As for those few who have gone over the line in exercising their right to free speech, a right they signed on the dotted line to defend, remember there are limits to that speech. Speech that incite acts of violence is exempt from protection under the First Amendment.
Rather than death in the most gruesome and painful way imaginable I wish this woman a long life, in order to provide her ample time to investigate the difference between humor, even satire, and simply disrespectful behavior. There was one suggestion that crosses the line only if someone acts on it, but I found it to be both funny and fitting, a perfect example of that military humor I love. Have someone go to her family’s graves and take a big, stinking dump on their burial site and see how she feels. Of course, clean it up after you take pictures and make sure you are not identifiable before you post them.