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03 February 2006

Joint Chiefs of Staff's feelings are hurt, rude cartoon has hurt their self-esteem

Click, it gets bigger and more clear.

During the last decade or so -- dating back easily to Iran's seizing and holding American diplomats hostage for more than a year -- Vleeptron has noticed that many voices in the Muslim world seem disappointed (that's the harshest negative emotion people are allowed to have in my town of Northampton Massachusetts USA) at the United States, or at least at its government and foreign and military policies.

We have been so deafened by America-bashing that Nostrabobus completely failed to predict a rather startling development, we totally never saw this one coming:

This week, much of the Muslim world seems poised on the verge of declaring war on Denmark, a very nice, very small country that almost never wages wars on anybody anymore, a lovely place to visit just north across the railroad causeway from Hamburg DE.

The War of the Danish Newspaper Cartoons.

The outrage Muslims all over the world are expressing at Denmark for allowing one of its naughtier tabloids to print these scurrilous cartoons has become so inflamed and ferocious that Agence-Vleeptron Presse has chosen to content itself by letting other sources run with this story. (And we shall also let other sources reprint the cartoons. The BBC just became one of these brave Western thrillseekers. We ain't even linking to the cartoons. Find 'em yourself.)

Which is not to say Vleeptron is too cowardly or too dainty to print controversial cartoons.

We gonna print this controversial cartoon instead, a cartoon Tom Toles just drew for The Washington Post.

Bill O'Reilly of Faux News Channel -- the guy who screams "SHUT UP!" at guests who say things he doesn't like -- has gone ripshit over this cartoon, screaming that it Crossed The Line of what's acceptable in American political debate. About two years ago he also singled out Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau for his series about an American soldier coming home from Iraq minus a leg.

Toles is sticking it to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for comments he made at a Pentagon press conference recently.

The fact is, two Asian wars, one of them superhot and superferocious and superdeadly, have stretched the combat capabilities of the U.S. military practically to the snapping point.

With no conscription/draft to call on, "volunteer" enlistments have dropped, retention of trained veteran troops is very sickly despite new cash bonus inducements, and the Reserves and state National Guards, which were never sufficiently trained, equipped or intended to bear the brunt of overseas combat, are in pretty pathetic disarray. (They were also On A Faraway Continent when they were needed for Hurricane Katrina relief operations -- the kind of tasks that the Reserves and NG are designed for.)

Vleeptron notes here: The Line Trudeau and Toles have crossed is an Imaginary Subjective Line which exists only in Bill O'Reilly's addled brain. O'Reilly, a psychopathic war hawk, believes it's okay to let 2300 American soldiers in Iraq come back in coffins, and to let many thousands more return home maimed and emotionally shattered, but doesn't think the political dialogue has the right to express its opinions about these things if the opinions don't support the war.

Essentially, when Trudeau or Toles focus on the individual human suffering and damage of troops, O'Reilly screams: "SHUT UP!"

But much more interesting than O'Reilly's predictable and self-serving hissy-fit is a letter the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the generals and admirals who command each of America's uniformed services -- wrote to The Post complaining about Toles' cartoon.

Muslims in Indonesia sometimes have trouble understanding how the governments of Western democracies and open societies can allow private newspapers and television and book publishers ("The Satanic Verses") to publish things they perceive to be Beyond The Pale. (This is a habit easy to acquire living in one-party dictatorships or one-man autocracies, where the political leaders can indeed say, and often say: Do Not Print That, Do Not Say That.)

But the Joint Chiefs of Staff should not also wonder how American newspapers can publish things the Joint Chiefs find offensive. Maybe some 19-year-old Private E-2 with a GED high school equivalency certificate in a Fort Bragg barracks can wonder how a newspaper can get away with publishing offensive cartoons.

But the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- well, all of them went to college, or a military service academy, which is a lot like a real college. Both kinds of institutions have football teams.

And the Joint Chiefs must all be old enough to remember a little something about the Vietnam War, and the American political dialogue that accompanied it.

I don't have a lot of new confidence in my military's top generals and admirals after reading their letter to The Washington Post.

They're not attending to the wars America has committed its troops to, they're not safeguarding our troops, and they're not doing their military command responsibilities effectively.

They're occupying their time telling a newspaper that its editorial cartoonist hurt their feelings.

I suspect several if not all of the Joint Chiefs did indeed sincerely find the Toles cartoon offensive, in bad taste, and insulting to the troops under their commands.

But they also wrote the letter for a political reason. The Toles cartoon was intended to inflame public opinion not against the wars themselves, but against the Pentagon corruption and incompetence that is failing to wage the wars in ways that set achievable missions, effectively achieve the missions and -- of paramount importance to decent commanders and civilian service secretaries -- safeguard and protect to the maximum possible degree American troops committed to combat.

The Joint Chiefs' letter is an attempt to deflect as much of that public outrage as possible, away from Rumsfeld, away from Bush, away from the Joint Chiefs themselves; the Joint Chiefs got their fourth stars for, and owe their careers to playing footsy and kissing ass with these political psychopaths and incompetents. The Joint Chiefs have all asked to be part of The Team which is responsible for every combat limb loss, every case of PTSD, every coffin arriving at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

And very naturally they want Americans to get outraged at Somebody Else. Tom Toles and The Washington Post (with The New York Times, influential newspaper opponents of the Vietnam War) make excellent phony targets.

Fuck O'Reilly and fuck the Joint Chiefs and their Hurt Feelings. Americans are coming home in coffins, Americans are coming home maimed and crippled for life, Americans are coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- Shellshock -- in huge numbers. Deaths and lost limbs and lifetimes of psychiatric disorders trump Hurt Feelings.

I think we need a new set of Joint Chiefs. These bozos are sort of Missing The Point about what their job is and what the American people expect them to be doing.

~ ~ ~

In the letter that follows, all typographical errors or misspellings are mine. I could only find the Joint Chiefs' letter in .PDF format and had to re-type it.

~ ~ ~

WASHINGTON, D.C. 20316-9999

31 January 2006

Mr. Philip Bennett
Managing Editor, The Washington Post
1150 15th Street NW
Washington, DC 20071

To the Editor of the Washington Post:

We were extremely disappointed to see the editorial cartoon by Tom Toles on page B6 in the January 29th edition. Using the likeness of a service member who has lost his arms and legs in war as the central theme of a cartoon is beyond tasteless. Editorial cartoons are often designed to exaggerate issues -- and your paper is obviously free to address any topic, including the state of readiness of today's Armed Forces. However, we believe you and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to your readers and your paper's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds.

Those who visit with wounded veterans in local hospitals have found lives profoundly changed by pain and loss. They have also found brave men and women with a sense of purpose and selfless commitment that causes truly battle-hardened warriors to pause. Where do we get such men and women? From the cities, and farmlands of this great Nation -- they serve to be a part of something bigger than themselves. While you and some of your readers may not agree with the war or its conduct, we believe you owe the men and women and their families who so selflessly serve our country the decency to not make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices.

As the Joint Chiefs, it is rare that we all put our hand to one letter, but we cannot let this reprehensible cartoon go unanswered.


General, US Marine Corps
Of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Admiral, U.S. Navy
Vice Chairman
Of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

General, US Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

General, US Army
Chief of Staff

Admiral, US Navy
Chief of Naval Operations

General, US Air Force
Chief of Staff

~ ~ ~

The Washington Post (Washington DC USA)
Thursday 2 February 2006
Page C01

Joint Chiefs Fire
At Toles Cartoon
On Strained Army

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer

In a protest with an unusual number of high-level signatures, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and each of its five members have fired off a letter assailing a Washington Post cartoon as "beyond tasteless."

The Tom Toles cartoon, published Sunday, depicts a heavily bandaged soldier in a hospital bed as having lost his arms and legs, while Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in the guise of a doctor, says: "I'm listing your condition as 'battle hardened.' " Toles said he meant no offense toward American soldiers.

The letter to The Post, signed by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the vice chairman and the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, said: "We believe you and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to your readers and your paper's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds ...

"While you or some of your readers may not agree with the war or its conduct, we believe you owe the men and women and their families who so selflessly serve our country the decency to not make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices." The letter, which a reporter obtained from the Pentagon, is being published today.

The cartoon is based on remarks that Rumsfeld made last week. In rejecting warnings by a Pentagon-sponsored study that the Iraq war risks "breaking" the Army, he said the U.S. military is "battle hardened" and an "enormously capable force." At the bottom of the cartoon, in smaller type, Rumsfeld says: "I'm prescribing that you be stretched thin. We don't define that as torture."

In an interview, Toles called the letter "an understandable response" but said he did not regret what he drew. In thinking about Rumsfeld's remarks, he said, "what came soon to mind was the catastrophic level of injuries the Army and members of the armed services have sustained . . . I thought my portrayal of it was a fair depiction of the reality of the situation.

"I certainly never intended it to be in any way a personal attack on, or a derogatory comment on, the service or sacrifice of American soldiers."

As for the Joint Chiefs' letter, he said: "I think it's a little bit unfair in their reading of the cartoon to imply that is what it's about."

Fred Hiatt, The Post's editorial page editor, said he doesn't "censor Tom" and that "a cartoonist works best if he or she doesn't feel there's someone breathing over their shoulder. He's an independent actor, like our columnists." Hiatt said he makes comments on drafts of cartoons but that Toles is free to ignore them.

Asked about Sunday's cartoon, Hiatt said, "While I certainly can understand the strong feelings, I took it to be a cartoon about the state of the Army and not one intended to demean wounded soldiers."

Dave Autry, deputy communications director for Disabled American Veterans, said he was "certainly not" offended by the cartoon.

"It was graphic, no doubt about it," he said. "But it drove home a point, that there are critically ill patients that certainly need to be attended to."

Toles, who won a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for the Buffalo News and joined The Post in 2002, said he expected criticism for drawing the quadruple amputee, as he does for about two-thirds of his efforts.

"It is the nature of cartooning that someone can read an analogy a cartoon uses to mean things other than what was intended," Toles said. "The only way to avoid that problem is to draw cartoons that have no impact."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company


Anonymous patfromch said...

The Toles cartoon is fine witb me, because it makes fun of a person who is a part of Public Life and can be held liable for statements he made. This is Satire
The Mohammed Cartoon (I first thought it was about Osama bin Laden when I first saw it a few weeks ago) is not funny because it is not making a valuable social comment. I for one find it offensive (and I'm not a muslim)
All the newspapers in Belgium, France, Switzerland and New Zealand who reprinted those cartoons under the claim of Freedom of Spech didn't seem to have noticed that it is fun to make fun of idiots like Rummy but not of an entire ethnic group. And all the editors of arab newspapers who are suddenly invited to the BBC and CNN to rage their protest seem to have forgotten that some of their cartoons about Israel and Jewish settlers had about the same level of stupidity, racism and intolerance as those cartoons from Denmark. Hm.
I for one will stick with John Callahan. He's making fun of ereryone (including himself) and everything and he doesn't care a fourletterword

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

up to now, my two favorite wars have been *The Soccer War* -- between two Central American countries whose citizens did not like a referee's call at the end of a big Futbol match -- and *The War of Jenkins' Ear*, which erupted over one nation's Navy slicing off an English sailor's ear.

But maybe this new war will rise to the top of my list. Here is the first skirmish in

*The War of the Danish Cartoons*

Note also that because they share office space with the Danish embassy, Sweden and Chile have also been drawn into the Cartoon War.


The Jerusalem Post (Israel)
Saturday 4 February 2006

Damascus: Danish Embassy set afire


PHOTO: Thousands of angry Syrian demonstrators storm the Danish Embassy in Damascus, Syria on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006 and set fire to the embassy building in protest of offensive caricatures of Islam's prophet. The building also houses the embassies of Chile and Sweden.

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Thousands of outraged Syrian demonstrators stormed the Danish Embassy in Damascus Saturday and set fire to the building in protest of offensive caricatures of Islam's prophet.

Thick, black smoke was still rising from the three-story building as firefighters struggled tried to put out the flames.

The protest started out peacefully but as anger escalated, people broke through police barriers and used the concrete barricades protecting the embassy as ladders to climb inside the building and set it on fire.

"With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet of God," they chanted.

Some removed the Danish flag and replaced it with a green flag printed with the words: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God."

The building also houses the embassies of Chile and Sweden.

Ambulances rushed to the scene and dozens of policemen stood guard, trying to keep the protesters away from the building.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Spokespeople for Danish and Swedish foreign ministries could not immediately be reached for comment.

The demonstrators were protesting drawings of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that were first published in a Danish newspaper several months ago. Witnesses said the demonstrators set fire to the entire building.

Protesters have been staging sit-ins outside the Danish Embassy in downtown Damascus almost daily since the furor over the drawings broke out last week.

The caricatures, first printed in Denmark and then published elsewhere in Europe, have touched a raw nerve in the Arab and Islamic world, in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, favorable or otherwise. Aggravating the affront was one caricature of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse.

The Danish government has expressed regret for the furor, but refused to become involved, citing freedom of expression.

* Palestinians protest Danish cartoons


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