The Racist Army

Now that the president is trumpeting the return of Korean War veterans’ remains, I’m reminded of an Op-Ed story we ran during my early days of art directing that page at The New York Times.

It was 1983 and the manuscript I needed to illustrate spoke of the neglect of black veterans of that war. The text recounted, in particular, the courage of one heroic African-American corporal who stood alone on a hill after his entire company had fallen.


Ammunition exhausted, he fearlessly flung rocks at the enemy antagonists. His bravery produced such awe in the eyes of the Korean forces that, rather than kill him, they captured him. Yet the army of his own country denied him a much deserved Congressional Medal of Honor.

Horacio Cardo, the Argentine artist who’d been the chief illustrator for Buenos Aires’ Clarin, the world’s largest-circulation Spanish-language newspaper, before he worked for The Times, created the perfect embodiment of the United States army’s flagrant racism.

But when I showed Cardo’s drawing to my editor for approval, the editor promptly killed it. His assessment? “We can’t picture the army as racist!”