Thursday, February 02, 2006

As a lot of you know, a cartoon by Tom Toles appeared in The Washington Post a couple of days ago that appears to have ticked off the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The cartoon depicts an armless, legless veteran wounded soldier in a hospital bed being told by "Dr. Rumsfeld," "I'm listing your condition as 'battle-hardened.'" The chairman and vice chairman of the Joint chiefs signed a letter denouncing the cartoon, as did the chiefs of the four service branches.

The Post deserves a cheer or two for not apologizing:

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."

I want to point out that this isn't entirely unprecedented. The World War II cartoons of Bill Mauldin angered General George Patton, who tried to censor them. He failed:

Mauldin's cartoons often reflected his anti-authoritarian views and this got him in trouble with some of the senior officers. In 1945 General George Patton wrote a letter to the Stars and Stripes and threatened to ban the newspaper from his Third Army if it did not stop carrying "Mauldin's scurrilous attempts to undermine military discipline."

General Dwight D. Eisenhower did not agree and feared that any attempt at censorship would undermine army morale. He therefore arranged a meeting between Mauldin and Patton. Mauldin went to see Patton in March 1945 where he had to endure a long lecture on the dangers of producing "anti-officer cartoons". Mauldin responded by arguing that the soldiers had legitimate grievances that needed to be addressed.

Will Lang, a reporter with
Time, heard about the meeting and questioned Mauldin about what happened. Mauldin replied, "I came out with my hide on. We parted friends, but I don't think we changed each other's mind." When the comment appeared in the magazine George Patton was furious and commented that if he came to see him again he would throw him in jail.

But the cartoons continued, and Mauldin won a Pulitzer Prize for them in 1945.

The difference, I'd say, is that Patton was sincere. I don't know what's going with the Joint Chiefs. I'm less concerned about a climate of censorship that I am about what seems to be the willingness of the Chiefs to dance to a tune called by Karl Rove. I really think the theme of the GOP's campaign for '06 is "Everyone who disagrees with us is unhinged and has no sense of human decency"; for Republicans, that obviously includes the "liberal media," which, for the GOP voters Rove wants to turn out in droves, is seen an offshoot of the Democratic Party. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I'm afraid the Chiefs might be doing their bit for the campaign. If I'm right, that's an utterly inappropriate role for them.

Or it may be that they're just defending their boss, in the guise of defending wounded soldiers. They know -- any idiot who's seen this cartoon knows -- that the real target is Rumsfeld. It's possible that this is not all that different from Patton's gripe -- he thought Mauldin was "anti-officer"; the currently Chiefs may really just be denouncing this because it's anti-Rummy.

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