Photo of Soldier Shaking Hands with Hillary Clinton with ‘POW’ Crossed Fingers Goes Viral Again

It surfaced amid controversy over Clinton's comments about joining the Marines
November 12, 2015 Updated: November 12, 2015

A photo of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shaking hands with a soldier a few years ago has gone viral once again. The photo has been around for years, but it’s surfaced this week after Clinton drew news coverage for a recent claim that she tried to join the U.S. Marines.

Some conservative commentators and websites claim that the soldier in the photo is making the prisoner of war sign for “coercion.” The soldier’s free hand appears to have his fingers crossed, but it’s not exactly clear.

This photo was taken while she visited Iraq during the Thanksgiving 2003 holiday season. In an old e-mail chain, there was a message attached to it, which says: “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 (sic).” 

But on Thursday, the Clinton photo was again being shared en masse across Facebook and Twitter. 

Finger-crossing has been around for centuries, and it is used to indicate that the person crossing the fingers does not mean what he is saying or is being compelled to act through coercion. Little kids will cross their fingers behind their backs while making a promise.

The soldier pictured with Clinton, who asked not to be identified, spoke with, the hoax-debunking site. “He employed the gesture to indicate that he was not a fan of the senator’s and was not as appreciative of having the opportunity to meet (and pose with) her as it might otherwise appear,” the site says, adding that claims surrounding the photo are “true.”

However, Snopes downplayed the controversy at the time, confirmed that the soldier was “not really all that pleased” to meet Clinton rather than being subjected to outright coercion.

On Thursday, media outlets were examining Clinton’s claims that she tried to join the Marines back in 1975.

“He looks at me and goes, ‘Um, how old are you,'” Clinton recalled on Nov. 10 in forum hosted by WMUR-TV about trying to join the military. “And I said, ‘Well I am 26, I will be 27.’ And he goes, ‘Well, that is kind of old for us.’ And then he says to me, and this is what gets me, ‘Maybe the dogs will take you,’ meaning the Army.”

CNN and the Washington Post reported that Clinton has previously said she attempted to join the Marines, and there’s been skepticism from both Republicans and Democrats over her  claims. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd questioned them in a piece back in 1994, as Clinton had been opposed to the war in Vietnam and she had “organized teach-ins on her opposition” to the war, according to CBS News.

In 2008, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, told an audience his wife tried to join the Army–not the Marines. His comments caused even more confusion.

When Clinton told the story first in 1994, a Marine spokesman felt compelled to issue a statement: “We won’t attempt to dispute the first lady’s recollection, but if she was ill-treated by a Marine recruiter in 1975, it certainly is unfortunate, unprofessional and a mistake we regret,” according to the Washington Post.