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."