While many of us take time out today to be thankful for all of our blessings, there’s at least one household with a bit less to be thankful for. It’s being reported that on the day before Thanksgiving, Lindsey Stone and one of her colleagues were fired from their jobs. In case you somehow missed the story, Lindsey is the woman who managed to exercise her right to free speech in a manner so incredibly offensive that people across the nation took to social media demanding she be fired from her job. If your love of civil liberties has you feeling sorry for her, you might want to hold back on defending her here.
Lindsey Stone, the Plymouth, Massachusetts woman who posted a photo of herself giving the middle finger in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, creating a firestorm of Internet backlash and outrage, was fired from her job Wednesday…
The photo, which has been taken down, was first posted last month on Stone’s personal Facebook page, and showed Stone giving the middle finger while pretending to yell next to a sign that read “Silence and Respect” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery.
The picture in question (linked here with the offending digit blurred out) was enough to get people from all across the political spectrum up in arms. And I offer no apologies for saying I was among that group. But as the story unfolded, there were those speaking up in defense of Stone, such as Business Insider author Robert Johnson – a veteran himself – who argued that the young woman’s life shouldn’t be “ruined” over a “stupid Facebook post.”
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.
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.
As part of his argument, Johnson points to an op-ed by Marine officer and Naval Academy instructor Aaron O’Connel. There’s too much to include here, but the basic thrust of the argument is that the national attitude toward our troops has reached the point where the “blind adoration of the military and its personnel is getting creepy.” They both also put forward the assertion that, “questioning institutions and individuals, including the military and its troops, is good and healthy.”
That last statement is obviously true. (And this is also coming from another veteran.) The military is composed of real human beings and some of them will, on occasion, deviate from the standards we expect or make poor decisions. Military policy is certainly up for public debate. But none of this changes what I see as the primary failing of both of these arguments when it comes to the specifics of Ms. Stone’s situation. There are two arguments here: one being the woman’s right to free speech and the other being the fact that the military is fairly subject to criticism just as much as any other institution.
On the first count, I don’t see anyone trying to deprive Lindsey Stone’s first amendment rights. If this had happened and the government – at any level – was trying to punish her, I fully believe that each and every one of us would be up in arms over it. But the government isn’t doing a thing to her. What she is dealing with is the reaction of the public and her employers by way of exercising their own rights to speech and action in response to an act she freely chose to perform and publish. We are all free to speak, but we also bear the responsibility for what other free citizens decide to say in response to us.
As far as the military criticism angle goes, with apologies to Mr. Johnson, this is complete malarkey (as Joe Biden might say). In her completely unpersuasive apology, posted on her Facebook page, Lindsey said that it was “a visual pun” intended to make fun of the sign. But for us to buy this, we would need to ignore the fact that she was on an employee sponsored trip specifically to visit Arlington. She knew precisely where she was and the importance of the ground on which she stood. She was within sight of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is the important distinction which those seeking to defend Stone need to understand. She was not “criticizing the military” or “challenging authority” in that moment.
She was grossly and crudely insulting the Honored Dead.
As I stated above, anyone is free to criticize the military or debate Washington foreign policy. But if there is anything in this world which I hope every American citizen could agree on, it’s that those men and women buried at Arlington – and our family has three there, by the way – are beyond reproach. There is no criticism of the Honored Dead. They gave the last full measure for the rest of us and are not a subject for politics or pranks. This was no stunt or “visual pun.” It was a horrific act which rightly brought a collective scream of rage from Americans across the country. And while she broke no laws and is facing no punishment from her government, she should have expected the backlash which followed.
Apology not accepted.
And with that, I’ll step down off of my soapbox and wish each and every one of you a blessed Thanksgiving and hope you find peace, with a chance to reflect on all your blessings.