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US editorial cartoonist serving in Iraqi cries foul over peer’s handling of war imagery

A professional political cartoonist now serving in Iraq has written back to the AAEC’s Notebook (quarterly magazine) to admonish his peers to treat the flag-draped coffin with more respect than what he’s seen.

Here’s a snippet from this letter:

No matter how your political persuasion distills this image, a flag-draped coffin is due a certain amount of dignity worthy of last respects.

But in many political cartoons, a flag-draped coffin is quickly becoming nothing more than a visual prop, a metaphor.

Cartoonists live and die by the metaphor, and flag-draped coffins ought not to be out of bounds.

But use that image with care.

Some cartoons have depicted flag-draped coffins stacked like Jenga blocks in a grotesque salute to the body count from Operation Iraqi Freedom. Another, by a recent Pulitzer Prize-winner, showed President Bush running a treadmill made of — you guessed it — flag-draped caskets. That particular cartoon made such an impression with Editor and Publisher magazine that it was chosen as its cartoon of the month for February’s print issue.

However, I suggest that if that cartoon instead showed a national syndicator running a treadmill made of unemployed editorial cartoonists, the cartooning industry — such as it is — would cry foul and perhaps stage a multi-cartoon “show of farce” in protest.

If anything, it is the cartoonists who are callous to our troops by their continued negative depiction in American op-ed pages.

Admittedly, not every cartoonist deserves this critique. There are some cartoonists who do not playfully and irreverently use flag-draped coffins as figurative Legos to build yet another indictment against President Bush. But those cartoonists are vastly outnumbered.

For security reasons the cartoonist was not identified.

Community Comments

#1 Rich
February/12/2007
@ 1:44 pm

I agree. I respect those that respect the flag. I’m not offended by those that do not, I just think less of them.

#2 Rick Stromoski
February/12/2007
@ 2:48 pm

It is a far better thing to bring the flag draped coffins back in the dead of night under cover of darkness than have the public actually witness the results of this administrations mendacity. Even within the content of an editorial cartoon, such a depiction may distract them from their true patriotic duty of shopping and watching American Idol. God forbid anyone would actually have to sacrifice anything for this war. Even if it meant the momentary discomfort of having to think about it for the 5 seconds it takes to read a cartoon.

We’ve all become very good Germans.

#3 Daryl Cagle
February/12/2007
@ 7:47 pm

I only see flag draped coffins in the drawings of cartoonists who oppose the war – cartoons this anonymous guy wouldn’t like anyway, from cartoonists who don’t want to see more flag draped coffins shipped back to us.

#4 Rich
February/12/2007
@ 9:10 pm

Even those that support the war, don’t want to more flag draped coffins shipped back to us.

#5 AJ
February/13/2007
@ 5:09 pm

Yes, let us not draw or speak of the innocent, patriotic kids being killed and maimed for no good reason. Let’s quietly pretend it’s not happening.

These people like this ‘cartoonist’ and Sen. John Boehner who say Americans debating the war emboldens the enemy should be hung by their cojones over Haifa Street.

He doesn’t want to debate the reasons we’re sending kids to die? He doesn’t think we should think about, and discuss, why we’re doing this and how to find some way to do it right?

If I were a soldier, I’d sure as hell want America engaged in a vigorous debate about why they’ve put my life at risk and whether it was worth doing and when they might be able to bring me home to my wife and kids.

If I were a soldier, I’d feel people who didn’t want to have this discussion are the ones who really hate our troops.

#6 Rich
February/13/2007
@ 8:37 pm

I think the issue the cartoonist in Iraq raised wasn’t about folks’ right to express a position on the war, but rather that the flag draped coffin was something he felt was due respect for the country and for the persons who willingly gave their lives for this country.

It is a volunteer military and that comes with the risk of being put in harms way – it takes a lot of guts to be in the military. I’m guessing he/she viewed misuse of the symbol as something like protesting at soldiers funerals – not the time or place or way to do it.

You may not agree, but I really don’t think it was her/his intent to say you must agree with the war, just that he/she felt the line was crossed about respecting the soldiers that gave/give their life for their country.

#7 Rick Stromoski
February/14/2007
@ 4:41 am

>>>It is a volunteer military and that comes with the risk of being put in harms way –

I’ve heard this kind of statement time and time again. All the more reason to make sure that when we send these volunteers to fight and die, that the reasons for doing so are sound. This treasonous administration has betrayed the trust of these volunteers by using them to start a war for duplicious reasons. I can’t think of a worse war crime than that. Why these people are still in office and not in jail is a mystery.

#8 AJ
February/14/2007
@ 7:52 am

Rich, you misunderstand me.

I don’t believe it was his/her intention to say one must agree with the war. What I do vehemently disagree with is the notion that DISCUSSION of the war (in any form, congressional or cartoon) is somehow unpatriotic.

When the truth is quite the contrary. If we’re going to send ONE more person to a horrible death, it’s our duty to that person and to the country at large to discuss and argue doing so throroughly enough that nearly everyone is certain it’s the right thing to do.

I wish people would wake up and see that those who wish to discuss the war and the strategies are (as Gen. Peter Pace himself said) actually helping the troops by attempting to make sure their deaths come only when absolutely necessary.

It’s abhorrent how Republicans love playing this war game with other peoples’ children.

How about they send their own kids over, and then we’ll see if they think it’s worth talking about.

#9 Rich
February/14/2007
@ 1:10 pm

AJ, good point. It’s not unpatriotic to discuss options and strategies for the war. I would like to see everyone focus on ways to win for awhile and then if there is no way to do so, discuss how to pull out.

Just pulling out now would lose the most amount of lives … as in S. Vietnam and Cambodia in the 70s … true they would not be American lives but it the death toll would be catistrophic and our fault. Agree or disagree with whether we should be there or not, (and no question we have made lots of mistakes) but I think it’s clear what a full-fledged pull out would do.

The service men and women I’ve talked to (I’m in a fairly military town), seem to be okay with the mission, except for the political gaming that impedes it – mostly those that won’t let them do their jobs (mostly democrats but also mistakes made by Bush, et el too). I definitely agree with you (Rick and AJ) about not putting anyone in harms way when it’s not necessary, but most of military are not voicing your same concern about it. I’m not talking about official talking points, but candid conversations with them. I think they want to win it, and they seem to believe that we can.

Anyway, this is all a digression from what I think the orginal point was being made by the AAEC cartoonist … the respect issue. We can continue to debate the war here, but you see the problem with debate … you aren’t going to change your opinion, nor am I likely to.

#10 AJ
February/14/2007
@ 9:33 pm

Rich said : “most of military are not voicing your same concern about it. Iâ??m not talking about official talking points, but candid conversations with them. I think they want to win it, and they seem to believe that we can.”

I find that truly fascinating. They earnestly don’t feel the debate is all that necessary, seems to be what I think you’re implying. (correct me if I misunderstand). Even though it’s their own very lives at risk, they’re more sanguine about what’s going on than some blowhard like me who’ll never set foot in Iraq. I genuinely hope I have something to learn from their calm.

Now, just to get on the same page, as much as I admittedly loathe the Bush gang, I personally believe you’re right on what’s going on there. That is, that pulling out would not only lose uncountable lives, but probably also make it easier for those who want to get us (and boy are there a LOT more of them now, thanks to our Bush friends) to set up places to train and plan and base, etc.

(I personally believe the only solution that is close to realistic is to partition somehow (Biden’s approach), but those who know infinitely more about all this me say that could never happen either.)

Which leaves me thinking, in desperate sadness, that in the end we’ll discover that a pullout is the only thing we actually have any power over controlling. All other options seem destined to get more Americans killed with us having essentially no effect in the direction things go.

But I’ll be the first to admit I have no expertise in any of this. I bring it up only to show you 1) that though a “liberal”, I’m a very open-minded one who will gladly admit when I’m wrong, or when those on the other side, such as yourself, have a point, and 2) as a clarifying backdrop to my fascination that the military folks you talk to seem to think we can “win”.

Because with all the discussion of the war going on now, I have yet to hear anyone in the right-wing “we must win” camp say what “winning” actually means at this stage. Do the military you talk to have some milestone or goalpost attached to that word that I’ve missed somehow? Are they just repeating the word because it’s what their commander-in-chief is feeding them? Or is there something specific to talk about?

It seems by now evident that what constituted “winning” as originally defined — leaving behind a peaceful, stable self-sustaining democracy and economy — is now something even the most hardcore Bushies recognize to be a long-gone pipe dream.

So when these military folks say they believe we can “win”, what does that mean specifically?

#11 Rich
February/15/2007
@ 12:49 am

What I’ve heard, and I am in no way an expert either, winning is defined mostly as stability and self-sufficiency. The thing I guess you think the ‘Bushies’ have given up on. I think the surge is something that is supposed to root out the major identifiable pockets of resistance while we continue to train their troops and police to do it themselves. If a critical mass of our troops and theirs can stop the flow of insurgents coming in from Syria and Iran to the point where they can take it on themselves, that would be the goal as I understand it.

I haven’t heard many opinions on the surge itself, except that some thought it should have been done a long time ago (among other things; yes, they feel mistakes have been made … no one I’ve talked to is rah, rah everything is working perfectly).

Stability, seems like this is complicated by age-old internal conflicts between Sunni, Shiite and Kurds that were artificially suppressed by a violent and bloody dictator … so whether they step up and put their differences aside to make this work is a fair question. And how long do we give them to get past it is also a fair question. How well we can control their borders when we can’t control ours with Mexico, is a fair question. Will one surge do it is a fair question. I’ve heard differing opinions on whether there is a civil war brewing or whether it’s vastly overstated.

I think these are the questions that should be debated before all the discussion of just pulling out wholesale. Seems like we agree on this and I respect your concern that hopefully hindsight doesn’t suggest we should have cut and run now (or earlier). We would have a lot to gain if Iraq and Afghanistan become self-sufficient allies, and hopefully stable democracies in the midst of the chaos that is the middle-east.

It’s tough when the bad guys blend in with the good guys, so none of the military folks I’ve spoken with would suggest it’s not dangerous over there. But many feel that a lot of good things have been accomplished and the don’t seem as disillusioned (or negative) as the mainstream media about the possibility of getting the job done.

Anyway, those are my impressions and they are anecdotal, not statistical. I certainly do not speak for all service men and women, only relaying what I’ve gleened from the ones I have spoken with. The situation just seems less hopeless from them than what I get from the mainstream media.

Well, I think I’ve again drifted way off the main topic on the thread, but you asked.

BTW – I admit that I’m not open-minded. I have a bias and an opinion, but I can be swayed if there’s enough facts and logic that differ from what I formulated my position on originally.

ePS – Kudos to everyone on this thread for keeping it civil!!! Nice not to get into the crazy exchanges sensitive issues like this normally engender. I thank you all for that.

#12 Alan Gardner
February/15/2007
@ 6:14 am

Let me echo Rich’s kudos for keeping this civil. I’m facinated that a topic on the war can be discussed without over-emotional comments, but a thread on web comics vs. traditional print comics can quickly turn into something akin to sunni vs. shiite hatred.

#13 AJ
February/15/2007
@ 6:43 am

I know we’re techincally off-topic, but I’d argue that these days in America this stuff is -never- off-topic! I guess if Alan wants us to stop, he’ll stop us.

Yeah, I often wonder about what good, constructive things are going on that don’t get as much coverage as today’s school bus explosion. That’s a right-wing talking point that I do agree with: the idea that there are good things happening that aren’t getting covered. And it must be very frustrating to be a military person who just built something good to find no one ever hears about it.

But, in fairness, I think the fact that huge numbers of innocent people are blown up every day is a more important news story, because that’s what drives progress there. It doesn’t matter how many schools you build if they just blow them up, or if they sit empty because people are afraid to even let their kids leave the home.

So while I think you’re right, there are good things going on, and I’d love to know more about it, I think when it comes to ajudging what we’re doing over there from a strategy standpoint it’s not really relevant because it doesn’t mean much when it comes to actual improvement of the overall situation. Fixing a sewer line, getting electricity up to the wing of a hospital makes the situation even more tragic when it just gets brought down again next week. And the fact that any glimmer of rebuilding progress is so transient and ephemeral, imho, is the more important story, since it indeed is what creates the future over there.

Thanks for the clarification on “winning”. I hadn’t heard anyone talking that way in a while (though maybe my own biased ears just aren’t hearing). I’ll admit to utter amazement that the right wing thinks that can still happen on those particular terms. But maybe it can. That would obviously be the best thing for absolutely everyone involved (except maybe Iran).

But as you say, how long we give them is a fair, and probably the most salient question. I’d argue, they’d better prove it pretty damn soon, because this “we don’t use timetables” routine is seeming rather disingenuous as dozens are massacred every day. Pretty soon they’d better realize that their “no timetables” mantra seems to have turned into “never”. And like I say, to some of us, when you’re playing war games with other people’s children, “never” isn’t gonna cut it.

This is where I think one could argue that the get-rich-by-spewing-hate leeches like Hannity and Limbaugh are actually right: the Democrats (some of them) are admitting defeat. Because by any reasonable tangible measure, this war is lost. We control almost nothing, we can’t even keep our own helicopters in the air. Like you say, maybe this “surge” concept will by some miracle do more than just get more people slaugthered and delay the inevitable by a few months. By God, let’s hope so, because as you say, to let chaos take over there risks unimaginable disaster. But if it doesn’t, the Democrats who say we need to get out are saying “yup, we’ve lost”. What they mean is “Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz” lost. And they’re right. That’s what’s happened. BushCo blew it. Let’s admit it and move on.

You say if we can stop insurgents coming in from Iran and Syria, the Iraqis will have a chance of defending themselves against the ones that remain. Seems plausible to me, but then again of course I know little or nothing about things at such a tactical level, and I have read the research of guys like Tony Cordesman (no liberal, by any means) who say the insurgents are largely domestic, and that the “it’s the foreign fighters’ causing all the trouble” meme is a myth.

To take a right wing position for a moment, I’m not sure the argument that we can’t exert control over the borders over there because we can’t control ours with Mexico is a completely apt analogy, largely because we can’t machine-gun down from helicopter gunships mass groups of unidentified border crossers from Mexico like we presumably will do with Iran (given the rhetoric that’s flowing from the White House the last couple days). Because, as Karl Rove said, he doesn’t want his kids cooking burgers or doing laundry, so the wealthy get their poverty-level slave labor for the moment.

I guess what I wish more than anything is that this would cease being about politics. I wish the Bushies had the integrity to tell the truth so we’d have a common set of facts to move forward from. Instead they blame everyone else, the Iranians, the Syrians, the media, Democrats who just want the best result.

I think at the congressional level some of that is happening, and I think that’s the point of this resolution circulating now. No it won’t bind our delusional executive branch, but at least it’ll say we agree on a few facts here, now let’s move forward.

#14 AJ
February/15/2007
@ 7:29 am

Yes, Alan, I agree.

I suspect at the “ground” level, many, many such discussions are being had. Because no matter how right- or left- wing, I genuinely think we all just want the best for the country and the world. The right vs. left differences are so blown out of proportion by those in power who want to stay in power. With the exception of some people in the extremes, most rightys and leftys just have a different view of how things should be done. Sometimes the righty position provides the right answer (imo free markets provide the best incentives to generate the best overall economic conditions), sometimes the lefty (you can’t let corporations use their power to roll over citizens).

But both sides (I think) just ultimately want the same result, namely safety, security, economic hopes, freedom. Why should we demonize each other just ’cause we have different views on how to get there?

By the same token, when a leader, no matter which party he’s in, engages in such a massive and destructive failure as this Iraq war has been, both sides should call him on it.

#15 Rich
February/15/2007
@ 1:12 pm

Well, seems we disagree on a lot of the specifics. I don’t see much point in going into specifics beyond that at this point. I will agree on this point, it’s often the extreme, fanatic right and left that polarize many discussions and much media attention. It creates terrorists – literally. (We also agree on capitalism and consumer rights)

Politically, I’ve seen no attempt by reps and dems to try to work together. I have seen many genuine attempts by Bush to bring the dems into the discussion without success … but the reps. aren’t much interested in it either. The only dem strategy I heard on the war was about a year and half ago calling for more troops … but I guess once Bush did that it was the wrong move. It’s kind of like not hearing about global warming during our cold snap, or gas prices when they are low. The press is adverse to good news or to question bad news they’ve branded as fact.

Anyway, I hope a major strategic concern for Iraq is to avoid having another Cambodia. Beyond that, I turn over control of this thread to master control (Alan). Feel free to e-mail me if you want to continue the discusion!

Alan – thanks for your patience … I know we were off topic a lot. Sorry about that.

#16 Alan Gardner
February/15/2007
@ 1:18 pm

We are off-topic but as all parties were able to talk about it politely, I didn’t mind it. Thanks again, all, for keeping it civil.

#17 Chris Shipton
February/16/2007
@ 3:07 am

I don’t see why everyone is so worried about upsetting ‘the troops’. They seem rather over sensitive about cartoons of flag draped coffins yet they willingly participate in an illegal war. I don’t see why ‘the troops’ are not a legitimate target for criticsm. The excuse that they are just following orders doesnt work for me. They arn’t defending our countries against anything. They deserve all the criticsm they get. Pulling a trigger on Bush or Blairs orders makes them just as bad. If they get upset by a cartoon then good. Maybe they will realise the part they are playing in this vile chapter of history.

#18 Dan Bielinski
February/16/2007
@ 8:26 am

Once again, we are waaaaaaaay off topic. I think the original concern was how flagged draped coffins were being used in bad taste at times.

“Cartoonists live and die by the metaphor, and flag-draped coffins ought not to be out of bounds.”

“But use that image with care.”

No wonder sh*t never gets done. All we do is go round in circles

#19 MJ, Editorial Cartoonist
February/16/2007
@ 9:43 am

They are only cartoons, lighten up cartoon haters. I have done one of these cartoons, and I felt mine was in decent taste. (Usually the editorial toons I think will get tons of hate mail ends up getting marginal responses, and the others that I feel are bland get the most attention. Go figure.) The cartoon I did was picked up, and ran immediately by my editors. It is posted on my personal studio site for anyone interested.

MJ, Editorial Cartoonist
Newropeans Magazine
Newsblaze Publications
The National Free Press

#20 Rich
February/16/2007
@ 10:48 am

MJ – IMHO your editorial is in good taste. It’s a memorial piece and along with your banner shows dignity and respect to the servicemen along with the tragedy that is war and loss of life. I think the offensive ones to the cartoonist writing the letter are the ones that simply use the symbol as some kind of abacus to show the body count. There are many other ways to do that.

Dan – good point, sorry it drifted too much off topic. I think the cartoonist raised a good point of concern that other cartoonist can take or leave. It’s something I wouldn’t have given much thought to prior to this, so it raises awareness, even if it’s not universally agreed upon.

I’m glad Alan picked it up. These threads are like MJ says happens with his cartoons, the ones you think won’t get much attention do, and vice versa.

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