Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 03/12/08

Artist's Statement

It’s been on my mind to draw some version of this cartoon for some time now--something that would vividly illustrate the hideous disproportion between how many people were killed on 9/11 and how many civilians have been killed in Iraq. I regret to tell you that the proportions depicted here are more or less accurate. Estimates of civilian casualties differ widely, with the 30,00 President Bush reluctantly owned up to being at the low end of the range. Last month the leftie rag The New England Journal of Medicine published a paper placing the number of violent deaths between March of 2003 and June of 2006 at 151,000. This would be roughly fifty times the number of people killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Imagine: 911 times fifty. That’s … 45,550! (Sorry. A silly nod to the film Team America there.)

At first I had the idea of drawing this as a bar graph (ingeniously using the twin towers as the bars) except then, upon doing the calculations, I realized that this would be practically impossible unless the Baltimore City Paper were to agree to print a special issue in which my cartoon would be a kind of centerfold, accordioning out to a length of about twenty-five feet.

So then I decided to repeat the image of the twin towers as though they were a unit of measure, or the silhouettes stenciled on the sides of fighter planes to tally their kills. I thought I had finished the cartoon, and the disproportion was pretty grotesque and horrific, when I recounted and realized that, due to my remedial multiplications skills and perhaps a balking of the imagination in the face of the actual, unbelievably grim figures, I had only reproduced twenty-five World Trade Center images—half the actual number. I still had to double it.

In the print version, where I am constrained by an inflexible format, the “Them” side is a block of seven rows of six 9/11 icons, which works out to the lowball estimate of forty-eight. But it occurred to me that on the website, I could stretch the cartoon out vertically, approximating the original centerfold effect and increasing the visual impact. I had originally worried this cartoon would be lame and pedantic and visually lazy, but it unexpectedly turns out to be pretty powerful by virture of its sheer scale. Especially here online, where, because of the unique properties of web pages, you actively have to scroll down and down and farther down still to get to the end of all the World Trade Centers--sort of like the Imperial Stardestroyer sliding forever overhead into infinity at the beginning of Star Wars.

Jesus Christ we’ve killed a lot of people. I’m not even counting Afghanistan.

My childhood friend Michael and I used to play a little game called “Now We’re Even,” which involved punching, kicking, or otherwise physically assaulting each other and saying, “Now we’re even!” "No, now we're even!" et cetera, ad infinitum. This game had no conceivable end; it could only escalate. (Sometimes it broke out into the dreaded Grappling!, a kind of all-out spazzy tussle in which no one could hope to emerge victorious and the survivors envied the dead.) We considered it hilarious. It was this that suggested the title of the cartoon.

Perhaps it will sound naïve, or paranoid, if I suggest that a massive, organized national project of killing tens of thousands of people in another country might be undertaken for anything other than rational and well-intentioned reasons. I realize that it is a little reductionist of me to imply that we invaded Iraq solely out of revenge. All sorts of casus belli were run up the flagpole, most of them, in retrospect, obviously specious, and of course there were the ignoble reasons never mentioned, and, yes, there were even a few good ones (not that those were actually deciding factors). But it’s worth noting that soldiers en route to Iraq were shown grisly footage of 9/11 as part of their training, and a majority of them believed that their primary mission there was payback.

I won’t say that we killed 150,000 people in Iraq in direct reprisal for 9/11, but I will say I think it’s why we don’t mind having killed them so much. I believe this is the real, unconscious reason why we aren’t withholding our taxes or immolating ourselves in protest, why so many people who are otherwise at least passively decent, who spend a lot of money on their pets and hate to forget anyone on their Christmas card lists, can stomach the massacre of tens of thousands of innocents. After what happened on 9/11, a lot of people somewhere in the Arab world had to die. And it does make an ancient-world, Old-Testament kind of strategic sense: we’ve shown the world that any attack on the United States will be repaid fiftyfold, against some capriciously chosen country full of brown-skinned people. It's really not so different from punishing a traitor by executing his entire family, razing his hometown, and seeding the ground there with salt. Except that it's more like punishing him by executing some other guy's arbitrarily chosen family, razing his hometown, and seeding the ground over there wirth salt.

Of course it has to be said that quite a lot of these deaths were inflicted not by the U.S. and its allies but by the asshole fanatics of the terrorist militias and al Qaeda, setting off bombs in crowded markets and mosques. But then it must also be said that none of this would’ve happened if we hadn’t invaded.

I drew this cartoon this week for a couple of reasons. Lately the big flap about Iraq has been over how much it’s cost. In terms of money, that is. One new estimate, which includes private contracts, runs into the trillions. (That’s twelve zeros.) Apparently fiscal irresponsibility still stirs the American capacity for moral outrage.

Also, last week I made what was probably the professional mistake of weighing in on a message board for editorial cartoonists, trying to explain to these people--most of whom are nice enough old fuddy-duddys drawing the visual equivalent of family sitcoms or lite rock or golf jokes--why their work was so pitifully square and out of touch and irrelevant:

Look, I don’t have to run down the standard litany of what’s gone horrifyingly wrong in this country in the last decade: things are just plain catastrophic, and anyone who’s in a position of power is doing either a.) nothing or b.) everything they can to make things worse. An inoffensive daily chuckle doesn’t cut it anymore. I understand that in family dailies you’re not free to say any crazy, radical thing you want, but this is part of the problem; it’s what renders most mainstream cartooning so timid and impotent. In times like these, when torture–which some of you may recall not so long ago used to be about as controversial as rape–has become a campaign issue, if you want to say anything reasonable or sane or true, you’re going to provoke some subscription cancellations. Like that the Bush administration is not just impeachable but imprisonable, or that the invasion of Iraq ws not just ill-advised or mismanaged but evil, with a capital E.

It seemed like, having said this, I pretty much had to take my own advice. Hence this rather humorless and didactic downer of a cartoon. But maybe we need a little buzzkill these days. The news lately has all been electoral handicapping and gossip: Hillary offers the number two spot to Obama! Owch! Eliot Spitzer got caught with a naked lady! Oooooooooooooh, he’s in troooou-blllle…. Meanwhile, another five soldiers killed in Baghdad, another sixteen civilians dead in a bus explosion near Basra.

Finally, in one of those free-associative tangents that you’ll sometimes find yourself following while clicking around on the internet, I recently looked up a thread on a comics message board about a “statement of conscience” my colleague Megan Kelso and I ran in the Comics Journal back in January of 2003, opposing the invasion of Iraq (modeled on a similar ad that science-fiction writers took out in one of the prominent sf magazines during Vietnam), to which hundreds of cartoonists appended their names. I never read any responses to it at the time it was published, but now there is a certain bitter savor in looking back at what the dorkwad cognoscenti had to say on the occasion.

One often sees political leaders’ lies replayed after they’ve been exposed and contradicted, but seldom do we get to reexamine some of the arguments, let’s charitably call them, advanced by our fellow Americans in times of national debate after the facts have come out and the consequences have followed. And we really should do this more often, because it is here that the real decision to go to war is made: not on the floor of the Senate or in the op-ed pages of newspapers or the studios of Sunday morning talk shows, but over dinner tables and in barrooms and on internet message boards. Often the participants in these discussions are unconsciously parroting the talking points of professional propagandists, but, then, this is what professional propagandists are paid for. People need sensible-sounding rationales for their bloodlust; you can’t win a water-cooler debate just by screaming, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” My old dance instructor used to tell us that “thoughts are the shadows of our feelings,” and I believe that all those cool, hardheaded arguments about WMD and UN resolutions and Saddam’s tyranny and menace to the rest of the world and the plight of the Kurds were just so much respectable cover for berserk animal hatred and fear.

So in the spirit of pure malicious hindsight I am exhuming some of the highlights of this colloquy here and putting them on grisly display. I won’t comment on any of them, as no rebuttal of mine could be more eloquently damning than the events of the last five years. I’m also not going to bother to correct grammar or spelling or even insert those aloofly devastating little [sic]s. (I realize that spelling is pretty arbitrary and incidental and yet it does seem like it might make a pretty reasonable prerequisite for entry into any debate on matters of national importance. It may be close-minded of me, but I’m not likely to be swayed in my position on an issue as serious as whether or not to go to war by the opinion of someone who can’t spell “masturbate.”) I will even, with some reluctance, leave unspoken my theories on the implications of the curious frequency with which the words “real men” and “balls” seem to come up in pro-war arguments.


WE stood up for France and Germany and kept them from becoming a Communist Bloc. And what do we get? The cold shoulder when we need to stand up for ourselves. Contrary to Leftist propaganda Hussein is behind 9/11. The Axis of Evil is real, a loose alignment of Antiamerican states and that includes Iraq.



so let me get this straight... megan kelso and joe zabel (who?) would have me beleive that they know what the United States government should be doing better than the president, dick cheney, colin powell and the joint chiefs of staff? i find that very hard to beleive, and pretty ballsy on their part to even think of. here's a thought... if your a liberal pink-o pascifist, just stay the hell out of war talks and leave it to men who actually know what the hell is going on!!!

– justapilgrim32


Masterman speaks the truth. Nuke Baghdad.

– Haddison


I love people who say there's no Smoking Gun
well in my mind what's next to a Smoking Gun ???
Usually a Dead body I don't want it to be me
or mine.

[…] This isn't the 60's and Iraq ain't Vietnam
if Sadam is left in power the rest of the world
will pay with unspeakable horrors.

– finar


What say we make the ad a double-page spread? On one side, list the creators in favor of, and on the other side list the creators opposed to? That way we can all sit back and have a good laugh at how silly all this crazy talk is and it won't seem to hurt so much when we're gagging on nukes and smallpox, courtesy of Saddam and his band of despots! Yeah, that's it. I'd much rather ponder the whys and hows of ethnic dischord while eating our nation's babies for breakfast, in the midst of some post-apocalyptic Jurassic.

- jeaoure


What a load of crap.
1. An invasion of Iraq is far from unprovoked. Iraq violated the terms of the cease fire. End of discussion.
2. An invasion of Iraq would be anything but unilateral. Ten European nations (Spain, Italy, Denmark, Poland, Britain, Portugal, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Albania) have voiced their support for an invasion. Australia and Israel are definitely on board. If another vote is taken in the UN next week, I'll bet many, many, more nations will follow suit (as they did with the last resolution).
To call an invasion of Iraq unilateral and unprovoked is a lie.

- eric w


What a load of horse shit. I'm sorry for the language but that's what I believe. Name one civil liberty that is being taken from us? Just one and give an example of when and how it was violated.


Our government has not arrested any of our citizens either, all of the people arrested in the wake of 9/11 were here on visas or expired ones that have ties to terrorists. Provide proof that one, again just one, United States citizen was arrested and kept for no reason.

If we do go to war with Iraq we will be going to secure the freedom this nation was founded and fought for. If Saddam or any other maniacal person is allowed to hold over our heads the threat of nuclear or biological attacks then we don't have freedom we have fear.

We are not going to war with Iraq to pick on other nations, we are going to war with Iraq to protect ours. And to be blunt if it comes down to our nation or thiers they can go to Hell.

– thomas Clemens


I have ZERO problem with going in and taking this asshole out. As a nation we do stand to gain in strategic, political, and economic areas by moving forward with this war. If allowing Saddam to gain strength inspires other oil-producing nations to rise up and enter into contention with the U.S., use Saddam as an object lesson. If going to war with Iraq keeps me from having to pay $5 a gallon at the pump, I accept that.

If taking out Saddam and his regime gives North Korea enough of the willies to get out of their nuclear program, I'm all for it.

If taking out Saddam and his regime shows the rest of the world that we will not back down from a challenge, then I'm all for it. P.J. O'Rourke put it well when he said (paraphrased from comments about the last Gulf War) "If taking down a tinpot dictator with the 3rd largest army in the world prevents the tinpot dictators with the 4th, 5th, and 6th largest armies in the world from acting up, the go ahead."

#3) War is, has been, and (despite the best wishes of liberals) always will be a part of the human condition. The only thing that is accomplished by refusing to go to war is that you allow those who don't refuse to go to war to get the better of you. Diplomacy is that language that nations speak to one another, when that language is no longer effective, war IS the only option. Embargoes have been meaningless, resolutions have been ignored, diplomacy has failed...the stick is what is left when it comes to this guy and we have to have the balls to use it.

While I understand the well-meaning intentions of the "doves" I am thankful that pragmatic, serious, men and women are in the positions of power within this nation. Hopefully, Bush II can go the distance that his father didn't and wrap this idiot up once and for all, thereby reducing the need to do this again in the future.

– nicholaswyche


in conclusion, I guess we should all really be happy. Everyone forms a symbiotic circle. The Hawks get to rant and rave and drop half million dollar toys and blow shit up, as is their wont, and the liberals get to masterbate over the fact that the fascists in Washington are beating down the door and victimizing them and that Iraqi children are dying every day, and they might to relive the late sixties and listen to buffalo springfield and paint peace signs on their bellies, or be Rosa Luxemborg for a day, but at the very least, I get to watch the circus every day on TV. I look forward to watching
gun camera footage interspersed with peace-sign painted hippie chicks. It's almost as good as a Jerry Bruckheimer film.

Now, i am getting back to my gamecube.

– jsunlight

Yes, well. That was five years ago. Those hundred and fifty thousand people were still alive then, the worth of their lives being casually debated by the likes of masterman and justapilgrim32 and nicholaswyche. It would be a coomfort to imagine, for the sake of the nation and my own peace of mind, that these people were all overweight fifteen-year-old virgins who read Ayn Rand and Wolverine comics and play a lot of World of Warcraft. But I fear they may have been my fellow taxpayers and voters. To pose a question I have asked to my conservative compatriots before: how’d that whole Iraq thing work out for you? Or have you already gotten bored and embarrassed by that whole thing and turned your attention elsewhere?

I'll leave the last word this week to Khalid al-Ansary, an Iraqi employee of the New York Times who lost a friend in a suicide bombing this week. In yesterday's Times he wrote:

At some moments, a thought comes to my mind, and I become at this moment a disbeliever, when I believe that God does not care for Iraqis anymore. What is true are Oliver Goldsmith’s famous words, that “one half of the world are ignorant how the other half lives.”


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