Soldiers fight for right to free speech, cartoons and protests included

Originally published at The State News, Michigan State University’s student newspaper.

Me, c. 2005.

On Monday afternoon, a group of demonstrators gathered outside the offices of The State News in protest of my cartoon that ran on Veterans Day, which depicted a World War II veteran saying to a younger serviceman, “I liberated a torture camp back in ’45.” The younger serviceman, bloody baseball bat in hand, replies, “I work in one.”

The first e-mail arrived in my inbox at 8:57 a.m. Friday morning. It would not be the last. During the next few days, I received a deluge of messages, including one from a gentleman who informed me that my cartoon filled him “with urge to defecate.”

As early as Friday evening, the “I Hate Mike Ramsey” Facebook group was founded, inviting members to post rants about my cartoons. As of press time, the group has 10 members, nine if you don’t count myself. I had apparently touched a nerve.

When I showed up for work on Monday, the protest was in full swing. A small crowd of demonstrators and rubberneckers filed up and down the sidewalk, carrying signs that read: “Fire Ramsey,” “Support Our Troops” and simply “USA.”

Not recognizing my face, one of them handed me a flier with my work on it. Below the cartoon there was some commentary along with two pictures: one showed the naked, skeletal corpses of Holocaust victims piled in a grim mound; the other showed a jumpsuit-clad detainee strolling casually through the prison yard at Gitmo.

Obviously, the selection of pictures was meant to make my argument seem as ludicrous as possible — look at that detainee, enjoying his Caribbean vacation! Why, I bet he’s on his way to the cabana to get another mojito!

It’s no accident they didn’t actually use images of American torture, like the ones from Abu Ghraib (these images are not hard to find, a Google search for “Abu Ghraib photos” returned results in 0.14 seconds). I guess they thought showing an image of a U.S. serviceman grinning and giving the “thumbs-up” over the ice-packed corpse of a man who had just been beaten to death wouldn’t exactly help their cause.

It’s also no accident they chose to use an image of the Holocaust on their fliers. When I spoke to some of the protesters that afternoon, they peppered me with accusations: How dare you compare what our troops are doing to the Holocaust! We’re not running death camps, we’re not running concentration camps, we’re not running labor camps!

The only problem with that argument is I never made that comparison. I never said the United States is committing genocide, I never said the United States is enslaving its prisoners — what I did say, unabashedly and unequivocally, is that the United States is running prison camps within which we have been torturing detainees. This is a matter of fact, not opinion.

No one seemed to have any comment on that, except to flat-out deny it in the face of evidence. Instead, they just continued attacking a position that I do not hold. These people were attacking a ghost, a distortion of my position. In rhetorical terms, their argument was an example of the straw-man fallacy; in lay terms, their argument was simply deceitful.

What aggravated me most about the demonstrators, however, was that every last one of them completely missed the point of the cartoon. They believed that my intent was to disrespect veterans — on Veterans Day, no less! — but in fact the exact opposite is true.

I know very well what veterans have done for this country and the world, fighting to uphold freedom and protect human rights. I am very thankful for their sacrifice. That is precisely why it pains me so much to hear the stories and see the images coming out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere — these vile acts of torture are a disgrace to everything America stands for, and greatly dishonor the memory of our veterans.

The point of the cartoon was not to dishonor veterans, it was to shame those responsible for desecrating the legacy of the men and women who so bravely served our country.

Although some of you might not agree with my opinions, I have the right to voice them just as you have the right to disagree. Just don’t get your hopes up about having me fired. I intend to stay here for a long time.

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