The West Point Military Academy in West Point, New York is one of America’s most prestigious institutions. Americans on the whole have a great deal of respect for their military thanks to the rigorous training that they receive. One recent photo of West Point cadets, however, has sparked quite the controversy. The photo features sixteen recent graduates. All of the women in the photo are raising their fists as a motion of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Critics were upset that the cadets would make their support for this movement known. The Black Lives Matter movement has become a large part of America’s national conversation on race and police violence following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.
All of the women in the photo are black, and with their raised fists they are showing their solidarity with those who consider themselves a part of a new civil rights movement. The raised fist has been a symbol of resistance for a long time and has been associated with a large number of social justice causes. Black Lives Matter is just the latest movement to coopt this symbol. The photo went viral after it was published by the Army Times on May 4, 2021. Many who read that publication were concerned that with their show of support the cadets were in violation of the Department of Defense Directive 1344:10. The directive strongly discourages cadets to not engage in strongly partisan activities. Those who think the picture constitutes a violation would argue that raising the fist in support of Black Lives Matter is just such a partisan action.
The question becomes, then, whether or not Black Lives Matter is a political partisan organization. The group claims that it is merely part of the latest civil rights struggle in America. Many have shown their support for the cadets, though the cadets have also had a large number of very vocal critics. Among these critics is former soldier John Burk. Burk recounts on Facebook how he became interested in the photo and its implications after another soldier had reached out to him to express his frustration with the cadets’ actions. The anonymous soldier noted just how fraught the situation regarding Black Lives Matter is at West Point. He said that cadets can get kicked out just for making someone upset. Based on this, many commenters on Burk’s post have remarked that these women should receive the same treatment that would result from any other violation of the codes of conduct. It is unlikely that any actions will be taken against the sixteen women from the photo, however, since they all have graduated and are currently serving in the US Army. The controversy continues online and has sparked debate over a whole host of questions. How political should those in the Army be? In what ways should soldiers and officers be allowed to express their private opinions publicly? There are no simple solutions to perplexing and wide-ranging problems like these.