In the midst of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with the global war on terror, leaders of the Pentagon today declared war on an editorial cartoon.
The cartoon, by Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles, uses a disabled soldier as a metaphor for a damaged Army.
Calling the image "reprehensible" and "callous," all six of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote a letter to The Washington Post that was published on Thursday that said: "The Post and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to readers and to the Post's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who volunteered to defend this nation and, as a result, suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said in a briefing Thursday that the cartoon upset them all. "That was not a letter that was hard to write," he said. "In fact, you know, as far as I was concerned I'd have written it a little bit stronger."
But Toles, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his cartoons, is undeterred. "I think there are more serious things -- such as body armor, in particular -- that they could be dealing with right now," Toles told ABC News. "That's what they chose to use their time for and that was their decision."
Toles said he drew the cartoon after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemed to dismiss a Pentagon-sponsored report that said that the war in Iraq had stretched the Army so thin it was close to breaking.
Rumsfeld disputed the report's characterization. "The force is not broken," he said on Jan. 25. "It is a force that has been deployed, functioned effectively and, as I say, battle-hardened."
The cartoon depicts Rumsfeld as a doctor surveying a quadruple amputee, who represents the U.S. Army. "I'm listing your condition as 'battle hardened,'" Rumsfeld said in the cartoon.
"I got a call today from a disabled person who actually liked the cartoon, and she said that it's a painful cartoon to look at but it's a very painful subject," Toles said. "I think the letter [from the Joint Chiefs] used the word 'reprehensible,' and I think that when the history of the Iraq War is written, I think that word will be used more than one time. I do not think that word will be used to apply to my cartoon."
Rumsfeld was asked about the dispute today but demurred. "No one questions the right of a cartoonist to do what they want to do and people do it all the time. They've been doing it for decades," Rumsfeld said at the National Press Club. "People made fun of George Washington, they just brutally savaged Abraham Lincoln."
Cartoonists similarly went after Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, Rumsfeld recalled. "That's the way it is here. It comes with the territory I guess is all I can say."
The spokesman for a disabled veterans organization told ABC News his group is focused not on cartoons but on making sure actual veterans get the care they need.
Jennifer Duck and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.