Lindsey Stone has learned the hard way that funny is in the eye of the beholder.
Stone recently posted a picture of herself on Facebook, taken on a company funded trip to Washington, D.C. where she was escorting disabled clients of her employer. I doubt she expected the reaction she got — not a “lol” or “great pic.” Her photo has not just gone viral, it has inspired Facebook pages, prompted newspaper articles from Boston to Vancouver, and across the pond to England, a segment on the Today Show and resulted in an onslaught of vitriol that has caused her employer to suspend not only the subject, but the photographer, with the anticipation that they will lose their jobs.
What would cause this uproar? This picture was taken of Stone, making an obscene gesture and pretending to shout, while standing at the sign at the entrance area of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, that asks for quiet and respect.
The anger directed at Ms. Stone has been incredibly strong – and in some cases vicious. But it stems from the belief that this is sacred ground. She claimed in a statement that:
“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.”
Equating this action to smoking next to a no smoking sign is evidence of her complete “cluelessness” – of a lack of education in appropriate behavior. Some of the commenters on Facebook wondered if perhaps a lack of education in history, the reason for the Tomb and exactly what it means to our nation, could also be at fault.
Her recent published apology states that while she realizes that her action was an “arrogant and distasteful thing” to do, she “meant no harm.” This, to me, indicates that she still has no idea why everyone is so terribly angry at her and the photographer. They further stated that they meant no disrespect – although how they could possible think that there was no disrespect shown, is incomprehensible. (Ah. There’s the operative word. Think. I doubt they did much of that during this working trip.)
Did they not realize that this particular piece of marble paved ground is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, through hurricanes and blizzards, in solemn quiet and with painstaking solemnity? To watch a Changing of the Guard, or a wreath placement usually strikes silence into the spectators, and any transgressions of that silence are greeted with a stern scolding from the Old Guard soldier guaranteed to strike fear into any soul!
The apology struck most commenters as a “sorry we got caught making idiots of ourselves” and not a realization of the deep hurt they inflicted on those to whom Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns means so much. Since she worked at a retirement community, and probably with veterans, the lack of compassion and respect she showed is almost more confusing than her complete lack of comprehension as to why we are all so angry with her!
Part of me wonders – because Arlington and the Tomb are on the list of tourist “things you must see” in Washington, D.C. – did she think this was on a par with Disney World or Hershey Park? Does she realize what the Tomb represents? I doubt it.
Amidst all this press, the sensationalism and visceral anger, is the quietly depressing knowledge that there are members of our society who have no idea what Arlington and the Tomb represent; the thousands of unknown soldiers who never came home, whose families never had a grave marker to visit, to decorate with flowers, to place a wreath. Arlington itself, the acres of white stones carved with names and locations of service, with the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in the same row as the undecorated PFC, the small pebbles and glass rocks sometimes known as Mothers Tears on the top of the newest graves at Section 60. The solemnity of this place is periodically broken by the chattering tourists, but even the biggest bus tour of giggling schoolgirls is usually quieted as they absorb the sheer silence broken by the occasional jingling of the caisson teams, the snap of the flag being folded and the startling crash of the volley fired above the grave of a service member or veteran being given Full Honors.
Stone’s right to freedom of speech has been proclaimed – yes, she is free to speak, but we are also free to speak, to try to educate this 30-year-old! As an ACLU spokes person stated, “ This incident serves as a reminder that what we say on social networking services like Twitter and Facebook often isn’t private — and can easily spread far faster and wider than we’d ever like or imagine.”
Some of the commenters bemoan the fact that she is receiving so much attention, but I hope that this will also draw attention to HOW someone should act at Arlington. I hope that this spate of idiocy will result in lessons to civilians, teaching children and young (or not so young) people what Arlington and the Tomb of the Unknown really represent.
Image of the Tomb of the Unknowns via the official site of the U.S. Army.