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Washington Post illustrator Tom Toles probably thought he was being too clever by half when he penned what has to be the most tasteless, cruel, appalling and angering political “cartoon” I believe most civilized human beings have ever seen.

The simplistic drawing depicts Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as a doctor attending a wounded serviceman, whose arms and legs have been amputated. In particularly callous fashion, Rumsfeld – as he prepares to write in the serviceman’s chart – says, “I’m listing your condition as ‘battle-hardened.’”

What an amazingly insensitive pinhead this Toles character. In one fell swoop he has just has just heaped a 747-sized load of dung on each of the thousands of U.S. war veterans who have been irreparably wounded fighting for his right to be an amazingly insensitive pinhead.

So bad was Toles’ insult he rated a rebuke from none other than the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, each of whom signed and sent a single letter, in a rare public display of disgust, to the Washington Post protesting the cartoon. In cadence, 24 stars labeled Toles’ work “beyond tasteless” and admonished the paper to spare “the men and women and their families who so selflessly serve our country the decency to not make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices.”

It’s a shame that, in the middle of commanding troops in the field, the Joint Chiefs even needed to remind a major daily newspaper editor of that. Still, I would add that I don’t see the managing editor to whom the military chiefs’ letter was addressed, Philip Bennett, doing a blessed thing about this.

No, Bennett and the other anti-war toadies at the Post will hide behind the First Amendment. Instead of taking the brave and high road, chastising Toles for his cruel attempt at humor, they will indignantly claim he is just taking advantage of the rights for which our men and women in uniform are fighting, dying, and losing their arms and legs – the right to trash and demeanor the very people who are providing you the freedom to trash and demeanor.

They will claim this is “the American way,” and that while some narrow-minded, unenlightened Neanderthals (i.e. Republicans and conservatives) were grossly offended by Toles’ effort, others with vision, insight and an office free from gunfire and explosive devices will see it as a “brave” and “virtuous stance” against those “liars” in the White House.

Whatever. I’m sure our men and women in uniform would much prefer a well-deserved “thank you.”

The fact is, this obscene cartoon goes beyond dissent and crosses well into the realm of material our society ought to – and used to – reject. Some things, in other words, just are not meant for public consumption, like a lady’s age or the intimate details of a man and his wife. Maybe that went away for good when Janet Jackson’s breast was broadcast during the world’s most-watched sporting event.

Toles proves such etiquette needs serious and quick revival. If you blur or erase the line of decency, you can bet some jerk will cross it.

As to the nature of the cartoon – “dissent” – the record needs to be set straight.

Americans don’t have to like the war on terror, but they have to concede it was forced upon us and, as such, we have to fight it. To do less is to lose our country and no one really wants that either.

We don’t have to agree about the intelligence and thinking that led to our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, but we have to agree cutting and running now makes us look like weak-willed losers who are ripe for more attacks.

We don’t have to believe democracy will take hold in Iraq or throughout the Middle East, but we have to admit without the United States hundreds of millions of people throughout the world would not be free today.

And what we have to stop tolerating are the instances where undisciplined, misguided, angry rants from little people with big egos is shrugged off as allowable. They aren’t.

Smart, civilized people manning the ramparts of the most powerful nation in history don’t abide the likes of Tom Toles. If we do, we become a nation of Tom Toles.

Some Americans have no doubt already called for Toles’ head on a post. But the reason why this man is still alive is due far less to his cunning and courage under fire, and much more because the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines he mocked are protecting him from the bad guys.

Even if he doesn’t deserve it.

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