Hey, Does Anyone Else Think We Kinda Respect the Military Too Much Maybe?
Apparently it was Veterans Day earlier this month. I know this because retailers offer great deals to veterans and non-veterans alike, television commercials for all sorts of companies remind us of how much they support the troops, and people from various walks of life fall over themselves proclaiming how much they respect the sacrifices made by the all-volunteer U.S. armed forces.
That’s all well and good, but when some poor gal can lose her job because she posted a picture on Facebook that might offend veterans…then maybe we need to take a step back on over-praising the U.S. military. It’s one thing to honor the military, but it’s another to place members of the military beyond criticism. When it’s acceptable to fire someone for not sufficiently respecting U.S. soldiers, it’s a red flag that the casual militarization of America needs to be reined in.
The story so far…
Ow, my feelings
In case you hadn’t heard, last month some silly woman named Lindsey Stone visited Arlington National Cemetery, which as you may be aware is the final resting place of U.S. veterans going all the way back to the Civil War. Visitors typically conduct themselves with appropriate decorum, but Ms. Stone thought she’d have a laugh by pretending to disobey a sign near the Tomb of the Unknowns that demands “Silence and Respect” (see above).
As anyone who has ever googled “Washington monument boner pics” knows, vacation pictures featuring sight gags has a long history in and about our nation’s capital. To be sure, Arlington National Cemetery is not a typical venue for such comic stylings, so Ms. Stone’s sense of humor in this case was an example of poor taste. Compounding poor taste with equally poor judgment, Ms. Stone posted the picture on her Facebook page. Hilarity did not ensue.
What ensued was national outcry. Stone’s bad joke made her Internet Famous in the worst possible way, and it wasn’t long before the online hordes were calling for her to be fired (it was apparently a company trip). Stone and her accomplice were placed on unpaid leave, but that wasn’t enough – a “Fire Lindsey Stone” Facebook page soon appeared (since deleted). Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Stone and her colleague found themselves unemployed.
Congratulations, Outrage Brigade – you got two women fired for making a bad joke. Stone and her partner in bad manners had worked for a non-profit called LIFE (Living Independently For Everyone), Inc. According to LIFE’s website, its mission is to “to enable people with disabilities to manage their own lives, make their own choices and give a person information and knowledge to assist in living with dignity and bravado.” Stone had been with LIFE for 18 months and was previously described as a “good employee.”
If Stone’s bad joke somehow made her unable to perform her duties assisting disabled people, it’s not at all clear to me. It’s one thing to publicly shame someone for rude behavior. It’s quite another to deprive them of their livelihood for doing something tasteless that harmed no one.
There is no shortage of self-appointed morality police officers out there celebrating Stone’s firing. Here is an example from popular conservative website Hot Air, in which Stone’s attempts to apologize were emphatically not accepted (emphasis in original):
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.
That’s the heart of the rage – Stone basically committed blasphemy by appearing to criticize deceased U.S. military veterans. To any sensible person, Stone obviously wasn’t doing that – it was a sight gag. But when it comes to discussing U.S. military affairs on the internet, sensible people can be in short supply. (No, not you, dear reader.)
If U.S. military veterans are beyond reproach – which most Americans seem to believe, about the living ones as well as the departed – then maybe we should pay special attention to veteran Robert Johnson, who doesn’t think Stone was crudely insulting the honored dead: “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.” If an actual veteran is capable of looking at that picture without getting offended, why should anyone else?
Johnson goes on to observe that the lynch mob that got Stone fired might be a little too enamored of the U.S. armed forces:
[I]f 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.
Johnson links to this NYT op-ed by another member of the military named Aaron O’Connell, who takes a skeptical view of the way American culture glorifies the “military-industrial complex” that President Eisenhower (another veteran) warned against:
Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland” and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas. Of course, veterans should be thanked for serving their country, as should police officers, emergency workers and teachers. But no institution — particularly one financed by the taxpayers — should be immune from thoughtful criticism.
We’ve gone far beyond showing respect for veterans – absolute adulation of the U.S. military is pervasive in mainstream American culture. Commercials like this one for Walmart are not uncommon around certain holidays, and they always treat the U.S. military as an institution that deserves unquestioning reverence.
You would never see that kind of ad for people who work for the U.S. Postal Service, or the Transportation Security Administration, or any risky occupational field in the private sector. Ads like that certainly seem to reinforce the notion that the military is not open to the same level of criticism as other parts of the government – even though those same troops that are hugging their wives and kids might very well be responsible for the senseless slaughter of civilians.
If you’re a football fan, you may have noticed the NFL’s “Salute to Service” during various games this past month. When I was at the Packers/Cardinals game during Week 9, the audience participated in one of those card-holding stunts during the national anthem.
And then there was the obligatory flyover of military aircraft.
Why is the military flyover obligatory? They’re a routine occurrence at NASCAR races as well. Professional sports have nothing to do with waging war. Frankly, it’s bizarre that fans of stock car racing and football would be expected to demonstrate whole-hearted devotion to the armed forces this way…except it’s not bizarre because it’s been going on for as long as I can remember. Public expressions of loyalty to the military are completely ordinary in the U.S., which is exactly the kind of creepy blind adoration Johnson is talking about.
Whether or not the dead buried at Arlington National Cemetery deserve respect should absolutely be a subject up for debate, criticism, and even outright derision – as should anything having to do with what the government does and how it operates. (Are we supposed to believe no one buried at Arlington might have done something horrible in the fog of war?) Lindsey Stone’s firing was a delight to many and a surprise to no one. The fact that her termination was the predictable consequence of a bad joke shows just how out of control our culture is about suppressing even the mildest criticism of the military.