There’s been a major flap over two cartoons lately. I’ve already discussed one of them, the blasphemous portrayal of Muhammad that has led to a technical act of war between Lebanon and Denmark, among various other riots and demonstrations. This issue apparently has legs; I may come back to it later. For now, though, I want to mention another cartoon, of interest only to U.S. citizens.
You’ve probably seen the cartoon, a Washington Post editorial image drawn by Tom Toles, depicting a quadruple amputee soldier being treated by “Doctor” Rumsfeld. It drew an unprecedented response from our military leaders – the so-called “24-Star Letter,” signed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Vice-Chairman, and the senior officers of all four services. Ever since that letter was made public, the Chiefs have drawn flak for it. They’ve been accused of attempting censorship. They’ve been accused of ignoring other issues, like body armor, to defend our troops from a cartoon. And in this Les Payne column, they’ve been accused of trying to shift the meaning of the cartoon in order to defend their Commander-in-Chief from richly-deserved criticism.
They’ve been accused of so many things that I begin to wonder if everybody else read the same letter I did. Their letter clearly states that no subject is forbidden – “The Post is obviously free to address any topic…” The letter is short, probably shorter than most of the critical responses Post editorials draw from their readers – it certainly didn’t take a huge amount of time to write, so the Chiefs probably still had some time that day to deal with other issues.
As far as the accusation of shifting the focus…I am certain that every one of those 4-star officers has personally met and talked with a number of amputees in Bethesda and Walter Reed – they’ve probably each met and talked with at least one quadruple amputee. They've met with the family members of those amputees. They’ve seen how such injuries affect the lives of their troops, both in such direct meetings and in detailed reports on the total numbers of casualties, costs of treatment, proposed plans to assist wounded soldiers, and so on. They know exactly how painful and life-altering such injuries are, as well as anyone can who has not experienced them directly.
And they are responsible for each and every one of them. I personally have a very limited responsibility for sending soldiers into combat zones – and even that weighs heavily on me. Say what you like about those six senior officers, but none of them got there without recognizing the value of those personnel serving under them. They all know the risks their soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines bear, and recognize that their orders and policies send those servicemembers out to face those risks.
With such personal knowledge and personal responsibility, it is no wonder that the Chiefs were offended at the cartoon, and felt it necessary to respond. They deserve the right to express their opinions, too. If you read their letter for what it actually says, rather than for whatever hidden meaning you might think lies behind it, I think you'll understand their feelings.