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Insult and injury

Dear President and Mrs. Obama,

As a citizen of the United States and the wife of a military member, currently stationed in the D.C. area, I’ve been frustrated by how difficult it is to visit the White House. However, I know it’s your home and that the security of your family is a top priority.

Last spring, hoping to arrange a White House visit for our family, I submitted a request through one of our congressional representatives, including all of our vital personal information. Our first request was rejected with no reason given, so I submitted another request to another representative. We were thrilled when it was accepted.

On the appointed day, we showed up an hour early and waited in a long line. We were put through several layers of security, including a metal detector and multiple checks of our identification. For the privilege of visiting your home, we accepted limits on what we could carry with us. We took no pictures indoors. We stayed behind the velvet ropes. We didn’t sit on the furniture. We saw no members of your family except Bo, the dog.

Still the experience was one I will never forget. I felt fortunate to visit the historic home where you live while serving our country.

I wonder if you can imagine, then, how I felt when I learned that a rapper who advocated the killing and torture of U.S. military members and their families was invited to perform for you and your family at our nation's traditional Christmas celebration.

How can it be that my military family is considered a potential security risk, while this man is an honored guest?

I understand that Park Jae-sang, who is a South Korean performer, spoke out several years ago out of anger at the killing of his fellow countrymen and women. It is tragic that two South Korean girls were killed in an accident involving a U.S. tank. I am angry that a missionary from his country was killed by Iraqi insurgents, who then blamed the death on Americans. I understand that he was angry and that his words were endorsed my many in his country at the time.

As an American and as a journalist, my dedication to freedom of expression prevents me from denying anyone’s right to vent his nationalism and deep emotion through his performances, even using language that I find highly offensive. However, freedom of expression is not complete freedom from the consequences of what is expressed.

Park, also known as PSY, did not simply speak out against the policies of the U.S. He advocated the killing of American military members and their families, and the lyrics he used were reported by CNN in October. He should never have been invited to a Christmas celebration as the guest of the Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces.

Yes, I know that a couple of days ago – when it appeared Park’s appearance at the White House event might be in jeopardy – He apologized, saying he was “deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted.” I’ve read the English translation, and I don’t think much more interpretation is necessary.

A petition urging you not to allow Park to perform for “Christmas in Washington” was posted on the White House website last week. The petition was removed, apparently because its language violated the standards outlined on the website. I did not see the petition before it was taken down, but perhaps it should have been worded more judiciously. However, if its language was inappropriate for the White House website, then surely this man’s past language makes his performance inappropriate for a White-House sanctioned celebration.

Can it be that having nearly a billion hits on YouTube for his "Gangnam Style" rap gives him such celebrity status that his denigration of military families like mine can be overlooked, even by the First Family? If so, this is a shameful triumph of self-promotion over selfless service.

American military members are unlikely to make a big deal about this. They have a job to do. While you, your family and guests celebrate in Washington, many military members are celebrating apart from those they love most.

They are serving on foreign soil because their first allegiance is to their country. They're probably too busy to read about your party and your celebrity guests, but if they do, they might be as disappointed as I am that your first allegiance was not to them.

Author's note: This column has been edited to make clear that the event did not take place at the White House but was attended by President Obama and his family, who were the guests of honor. Their attendance still qualifies this as a "White House event." The location does not affect my concerns over Park Jae-sang's inclusion in this traditional celebration.

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About the Author

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three living in Illinois. She writes "Spouse Calls" weekly for Stars and Stripes and is the author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life. Leave comments on the blog or write to her at spousecalls@stripes.com.


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