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Cartoon general gets lesson in sexism

Red July 6, 1997
Web posted at: 3:25 p.m. EDT (1925 GMT)

From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Another general is in the news for engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct -- but this time the story comes from the funny pages.

In a case of art imitating life, Gen. Amos Halftrack of the "Beetle Bailey" cartoon strip is getting sensitivity training. Halftrack is known by Beetle Bailey fans for ogling his aptly named secretary, Miss Buxley, a character modeled on Marilyn Monroe.

"That's all he's ever done -- just looked at her," says strip creator Mort Walker. "Never touched her or pushed her around or anything like that."

Walker says he thought nothing of Halftrack's antics -- until recent charges of inappropriate sexual behavior surfaced in the real life Army.

So now the leader of Camp Swampy is headed for a '90s reality check.


"We decided to turn the old goat into a lamb," says Walker.

After he completes his four-day sensitivity training beginning Monday, Halftrack won't be making comments about being a "hands-on" leader -- at least where his female staff is concerned.

A gradual learning process

Halftrack's new awareness is not the first time cartoonist Walker found his strip out of step with the times. A few years back, charges of sexism prompted him to put out a book featuring Miss Buxley and tone down the secretary's slinky attire.


"I used to draw her a lot sexier," he says. "She came to work in clothes that weren't really appropriate for offices."

But nowadays a more demure Miss Buxley has lost her decolletage in favor of a high-neck dress with pearls.

Walker says Halftrack is meant to symbolize everything wrong with bumbling bureaucrats, beginning with a bad golf game. Halftrack's failures are his humor, Walker says.

"I can't have a successful person or they won't laugh at him," he explains. "He's too good to throw away, so we decided we would send him to sensitivity training."

Halftrack not up for Joint Chiefs post

The Army has no official position on Gen. Halftrack's rehabilitation, but Army spokesman Col. John Smith says it's right for him to go through sensitivity training.

"I had to go through it," Smith says. "We have all seen traits that he portrays at one time or another in our career."

But it's the exaggeration of those traits, Smith says, that makes the strip funny.

Walker says the foolish old general is based on a colonel he once knew, but admits he put a little of himself in the character.

"I am sympathetic to the older men who are a little bit over the hill but their libido is still in there pumping away," he says. "We never get tired of looking at pretty girls."

But negative reaction from his editors provided the cartoonist's sensitivity training.

"I have what they call heightened awareness now," he says. "I've learned."

Halftrack will no longer leer, or ask the shapely Miss Buxley to file things in the bottom drawers so he can see her legs, Walker says.

But Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon says that the sensitivity training won't be putting Halftrack on the fast track for the soon to be vacant position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has not been interviewed, Bacon said -- but then, he is just a cartoon.

And unlike some of his real-life contemporaries, Gen. Halftrack will keep his job at the helm of Camp Swampy.


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