Fact Check

What is This Soldier Photographed with Hillary Clinton Signaling?

He told us the story behind the viral photograph.

Published Jan. 15, 2014

A photograph shows a soldier crossing his fingers to signal he was coerced into posing with Hillary Clinton.
What's True

The photograph shows a soldier crossing his fingers as a joke while posing with Hillary Clinton.

What's False

He crossed his fingers to signal that he was being coerced.

Military history includes many instances when soldiers who fell into the hands of the enemy were trotted out before photographers or television cameras by their captors for purposes of propaganda, to create false images intended to trick audiences into believing that the prisoners were actually well-cared for, sympathized with their captors, or were voluntarily denouncing the political policies of their home countries. Likewise, military history includes many instances in which such captured soldiers managed to inserted subtle and furtive signs into propagandistic images to express their defiance, to indicate that the information they were relaying was false, or to signal that they were acting under duress. (One of the most well-known examples of this phenomenon is the infamous middle finger gesture employed by the crew of the USS Pueblo when they were forced to pose for photographs after their ship was captured by North Korean forces in 1968.)

The gesture of crossing one's fingers is not unique to the military, of course; it is an ages-old symbol used to indicate that the finger-crosser does not mean what he is saying or is being compelled to act through coercion. (A typical kiddie trick is to surreptitiously cross one's fingers behind one's back while making a promise, a token that supposedly shields the finger-crosser from the obligation of upholding the terms of his oath.)

"Picture shows that this guy has been thru Survival School. He's giving the sign of 'coercion' with his left hand. These hand signs are taught in survival school to be used by future POW's to send messages back to our intelligence services viewing the photo or video. This guy was being coerced into holding hands with Hillary. Little did she know that he would tell us."

The implication of the photograph shown above (which began circulating on the Internet in early 2004 and was taken at one of the military facilities New York senator Hillary Clinton visited in Iraq during the Thanksgiving 2003 holidays), then, is that despite the smiling faces and friendly hand-shaking captured in the picture, the soldier is communicating that he was compelled against his wishes to greet Senator Clinton.

The "not really all that pleased" assessment, at least, is evidently accurate: the picture originally appeared online without any accompanying text, and the "coercion" caption was only added later to make the humor of the photograph more explicit. The soldier pictured with Senator Clinton (who asked that we not identify him by name) told us that he employed the gesture to indicate that he was not a fan of the senator's and was not really as appreciative of having the opportunity to meet (and pose with) her as it might otherwise appear.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.