I'M NOT SURE which recent St. Patrick’s Day development has gotten Savannah more worked up:
1) The decision by the U.S. Army to discourage people from kissing its soldiers marching in this Saturday’s parade;
2) Or the visit of Vice President Mike Pence to our big, world-famous parade.
Since as I write this very few details have been confirmed about Pence's visit, we’ll start with the Great Kissing Debate first.
- Photo by John Alexander
Decades ago, the tradition sprang up for students from the all-girls St. Vincent’s Academy to walk up to young cadets from the all-boys Benedictine Military School who were marching in the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and give them a big ol’ kiss on the cheek.
The practice spread to moms, and grandmoms, and sisters and aunts, etc.
By parade’s end, many of the young cadets would be sporting gobs of lipstick from all the kisses.
This practice then spread to various soldiers marching in the parade, usually the locally based U.S. Army Rangers and U.S. Army Third Infantry Division.
After 9/11, the practice became even more widespread, to include more or less all uniform-wearing (male) first responders in the parade, police and firefighters.
In the era of the War on Terror, the general good feeling among the public towards the U.S. military and law enforcement — historically not always a 100 percent proposition — cemented this practice of stolen parade kisses.
However, just last week the Third Infantry Division announced that they urged parade-goers to refrain from the practice of kissing that unit’s soldiers marching in the parade this year.
There are some mixed messages as to what prompted this statement.
Someone from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee — whose members can often be counted on for a colorful quote or two — equated the decision to safety:
“Really the worldwide situation, terrorism, you just don’t want people running out to active military. It’s a fun thing, but it puts them on edge and it could be a danger,” said a Parade Committee representative.
However, an actual officer with the Third Infantry Division, based at nearby Ft. Stewart, referenced lipstick not being part of the soldier’s uniform, and respecting the professionalism of their soldiers — which is really reason enough.
In any case, you’d have thought someone wanted to cancel Christmas judging by the outraged local reaction.
The outcry has been loud and long from local folks who insist kissing the soldiers is an inviolable and nearly sacred local tradition.
It’s just good clean fun, say supporters of the practice. Nobody has a sense of humor anymore, they say.
Hey, I love a good boozy local tradition as much as the next Savannahian. In fact, I’m usually all about it.
But as is the case with many such traditions, the more you look at this one, the dumber it gets.
Especially in the current era, it is probably best to consign the parade kissing bandit tradition to memory.
(And this is leaving aside the whole issue of the U.S. currently being in perhaps the worst flu epidemic in 100 years. )
Regardless of the gender of the recipient, kissing strangers without their consent is simply a bad idea — an idea that gets worse as time goes on.
The statement from the parade rep regarding the threat of terrorism seems like the least convincing reason to stop the practice.
He makes it sound like our soldiers are so poorly trained that they’re ready to snap on a moment’s notice at the slightest provocation —which, besides being untrue, would beg the question of why they should march in the parade at all.
As I see it, the simplest and best explanation as to why you should keep your lips to yourselves boils down to respecting the personal and professional boundaries of other people.
Period, full stop.
(Technically and only partially tongue in cheek, I remind you that we actually have a legal term for kissing people without consent while they’re trying to do their jobs: “Hostile Work Environment.” )
Bottom line, if you respect the military as much as most people insist they do, don’t just talk about how much you respect them.
Show them that respect.
Save your kisses for those closer to home.
THE SECOND big controversy this year involves the visit from VP Mike Pence.
Suddenly many people in Savannah are instant experts on the Secret Service, and what the Secret Service is and isn’t capable of protecting.
Thing is, this wouldn’t be the Secret Service’s first rodeo.
President Obama dined at Mrs. Wilkes’ when he was here in 2010.
When he was president, Jimmy Carter visited Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day without incident.
While there is little doubt that a Pence visit will cause a greater than usual amount of security and inconvenience — possibly a much greater than usual amount — this is, after all, what the Secret Service does.
Oddly, the soldier-kissing controversy might actually be tied into the Pence story, as there is a chance he will march with the soldiers —in which case no one will be allowed to run up to them, or him, for any reason whatsoever.
But much of the opposition simply has to do with Pence himself.
There is a real sense of outrage that Trump’s vice president is visiting an area that only gave Trump about 40 percent of the vote.
There is particular outrage from the local LGBT community and their allies that the infamously anti-gay rights Pence is coming to a town known for its tolerance of, and celebration of, its LGBT community.
However, the truth also remains that for every local person outraged at the idea of breathing the same oxygen Pence breathes, there is probably someone here, or someone coming in from out of town who might think he’s just peachy.
In my mind the most puzzling thing about a Pence visit is neither the security threat nor his politics per se, but simply that....
St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah just doesn’t seem to be Pence’s kind of scene.
Like, not at all his kind of scene.
Despite our St. Patrick’s Day being a day dedicated to a saint, the atmosphere is anything but straight-laced.
While Jimmy Carter is also a teetotaler and an evangelical Christian, he was actually quite a gregarious politician back in the day — and certainly more a man of the people than Pence could hope to be.
Not to mention Carter has an actual local and state connection, and him visiting Savannah on St. Patrick's Day makes perfect sense.
Pence is basically coming purely for national politics.
To borrow a line from a friend that I wished I’d thought of:
“I don’t want to worry about red and blue on Saturday. I just want to be green.”
Keeping politics out of our St. Patrick’s Day is a tradition I can fully support.