Time for a huge food fight over whether this photo is disrespectful to the flag

To cleanse the palate. When I saw the photo, I assumed the “controversy” was between conservatives who found it touching and anti-war liberals/libertarians who found it ominously nationalistic. (“It’s a metaphor for how we’re indoctrinated to equate patriotism with militarism!”) In other words, I thought it was a star-spangled version of The Dress. But those aren’t the sides here. The sides are people who find the photo touching and people who find it disrespectful to the flag insofar as it displays Old Glory in violation of the Flag Code (subsections 176(c) and (h), to be precise). If you believe the photographer, she’s gotten messages telling her she should kill herself over this.

She’s a Navy veteran, by the way. Her husband is active-duty Navy, as is the baby’s father. The baby’s mother? An Army veteran. And yet:

The next day, the Facebook page “You Call Yourself A Photographer” picked up the photos — and tore them apart.

“The flag is not a prop,” wrote the unnamed person behind the page, which focuses on highlighting bad photography from around the Internet. “To use the American flag in such a way is disrespectful, rude, tacky, disgusting, and against the U.S. Flag Code.”…

This flag is a symbol of everything my son died for many years ago. It was of the utmost honor to have a flag laid upon your coffin as my son did. That honor is taken away when disrespectful photographers throw our flag code out the window. Although you can’t see it anymore, I posted another picture from this same photographer a few minutes ago who had a naked baby on that same flag I laid upon my son’s casket. She allowed that baby to pee and poop on that flag that is meant to honor our fallen soldiers. Disgusting.

So what we have here, really, is an argument over the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. The point of the Flag Code is to teach respect for the flag; Vanessa Hicks, the photographer, clearly does respect it, enough to use it as a symbol for the cradle that protects a vulnerable newborn. The display is unconventional but not derogatory, and disrespect is, or should be, a (social) crime of intent. Even if you’re by-the-book when it comes to the Flag Code, she’s guilty of no more than misdemeanor disrespect in light of her clear intentions. I can understand tut-tutting her for not following the rules, but kill yourself?

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