Guaranteed: Hitler Mentioned Below

Chatterboxes are by nature a competitive breed. So This Chatterbox grew a mite envious when his nefarious rival, The Other Chatterbox, unleashed a blitzkrieg with his recent commentary about Field Marshal Rommel, the original Desert Fox. Sure, Nazis are one of those sure-fire topics like Abe Lincoln, cats, and the future of NATO. But it’s not easy to work Hitler into items about Bob Livingston’s sex life.

All this is prelude to a dispiriting news story that went out over Tuesday’s AP wire, but seems not to have been picked up by any major American paper aside from the conservativeWashington Times. Last weekend, during the final throes of the Iraq attack, the AP transmitted a photo of a soon-to-be-dropped, 2,000-pound bomb waiting to be loaded onto an F-18 from the deck of the USS Enterprise . What made the bomb so photogenic was the old-fashioned graffiti that seamen had scrawled all over it, including an inscription that read, “Here’s a Ramadan present from Chad Rickenberg.”

Poor Seaman Rickenberg. Now that the air strikes against Saddam are over, the Pentagon finally has time to deal with the major issues raised by the bombardment of Baghdad. In an inspiring boost to military morale, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon Tuesday derided Rickenberg’s bomb-side prose as “thoughtless graffiti mentioning the holy month of Ramadan.” Laying it on thick, Bacon piously stated, “Religious intolerance is an anathema to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and to all Americans who cherish the right to worship freely.” Particularly self-righteous was Bacon’s final line: “This incident is a rare exception that does not reflect American policy or values.”

Implicit in Bacon’s comments was the suggestion that in the future the U.S. government might want to stencil on the side of every bomb this disclaimer: “The attached ordnance was launched with love and an abiding respect for your religious beliefs, race, gender and ethnicity. Any damage caused by this ordnance does not reflect American policy or values.”

Although Chatterbox’s own military record consists of serving alongside Bill Clinton in avoiding the Vietnam War, he has a hunch that in prior combat the military was not nearly so sensitive about the feelings of those being bombed. It is hard, for example, to imagine Secretary of War Henry Stimson expressing public revulsion in late 1944 over some lowly GI who had scrawled on a bomb, “Merry Christmas, Herr Hitler.”

Memo to The Other Chatterbox: Watch out, you’re not the only one who can invoke the Nazis in a sensationalistic effort to goose-step the ratings of the high-minded political commentary that normally appears in this space.

Walter Shapiro