Just When Is a Cartoon Offensive?

The Tom Toles political cartoon depicting a soldier as a quadruple amputee appeared in the Washington Post on January 29. Since that day, less than a week ago, there has been a continuing drumbeat by the media defending their right to place such hurtful and denigrating political commentary in print.

Strong objections have also been registered from readers, advertisers and the general public, but it has not altered the Washington Post position. There was even a strongly worded letter from General Peter Pace, Chairman Of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the members of that body.

In the letter, which was printed by the newspaper, General Pace says, “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.” The general also says, “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.”

The cartoon and the words of General Pace have circulated through the military community with jet-like speed. Also being strongly commented upon by active duty military, reserves, National Guard personnel, veterans, military retirees and their families are the self-serving defenses of the cartoon offered by the American media. After serving 26 years in the Marine Corps, I also find the cartoon and media response offensive.

Though the media elite may shrug off the feelings of the military community, a new version of that Tom Toles cartoon is just as offensive, but this time those so-called “First Amendment Defenders" would cringe. Circulating across the Internet and being passed on again and again by the warrior class is a side-by-side version of the cartoon. In the first frame is the drawing as created by Tom Toles. To the right of it is a second version of the cartoon. In this frame a member of the media, so identified by an ABC logo, replaces the wounded soldier. The words of the Rumsfeld character have been changed to read “You’ve really racked up quite a bill for your grandstanding stunt.”