For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email

Rob Douglas: Senseless acts near and far


Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at

Find more columns by Douglas here.

— How did you feel when you learned that five American flags were recently stolen, desecrated or tampered with in Oak Creek?

How did you feel when you learned that one of those flags was stolen from the family of Kane Johnson, who just left to serve his country in Iraq?

How did you feel when you learned that another of the flags was stolen from the Oak Creek Fire Department and hung upside-down outside Town Hall with the words "Scream For Salvation" painted on it?

I suspect you felt as I did.

Angry and hurt.

Did you feel the same anger when you learned an American soldier in Iraq recently wrote graffiti inside a Quran?

Did you feel the same anger when you learned the soldier used the Quran for target practice?

Did you feel the same anger when you learned the soldier left the bullet-torn Quran where Iraqis were sure to find it?

I suspect you didn't.

Neither did I.

Perhaps we should have.

Most of us would like to see the Oak Creek flag vandal apprehended and punished because we consider his or her (or their) behavior reprehensible, but we probably didn't give much thought to punishing the American soldier. Yet, reaction around the world to the deliberate act of that soldier has not been as tame as here at home.

On Thursday, during a protest in Afghanistan against the shooting of the Quran, a NATO soldier and two civilians were killed and dozens were injured when the protest by more than 1,000 turned violent. The fierce demonstration occurred in spite of President Bush and top military commanders in Iraq having repeatedly apologized for the Quran incident and promising to prosecute the soldier.

As part of one apology in Iraq, according to The Associated Press, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond told Iraqi tribal leaders during a ceremony to present them with a new Quran. "I come before you here seeking your forgiveness. In the most humble manner, I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers.

"The actions of one soldier were nothing more than criminal behavior," he added. "I've come to this land to protect you, to support you - not to harm you - and the behavior of this soldier was nothing short of wrong and unacceptable."

The unidentified American soldier, who has been removed from Iraq, also has written a letter of apology to the Iraqis. Unfortunately, the apologies have not calmed some of the Islamic faith, and more violent protests like the one in Afghanistan may follow as word spreads throughout the Muslim world. Additionally, the government of Iraq is demanding the soldier be turned over to them for prosecution.

When I learned of the senseless act in Iraq - just days after learning of the equally senseless act in Oak Creek - I found myself questioning why I'm more offended by the desecration of an American flag here at home than of a Quran in Iraq?

The answer is easy, if somewhat simplistic. I'm more offended because the flag is a symbol of the country I cherish. A symbol my father fought under during World War II. A symbol that covered his casket when he was buried in 1975. The Quran is a book with little meaning or symbolism to me.

Still, the American flag and Quran are just symbols and representations. And while they both represent powerful and meaningful beliefs that many have given their lives in defense of, no one should be harmed or killed due to the defilement of a symbol.

Fortunately, we live in a country where we don't sanction physical harm or death for those who sully our national symbols. Indeed, in certain circumstances we constitutionally protect the right of those who desecrate the flag to make a political statement because we value freedom above symbols. Thankfully, that sets us apart from a significant portion of the world.

I have three hopes as we enter Memorial Day weekend.

I hope that - just as the American soldier who shot the Quran stepped forward to accept responsibility and apologize to the people of Iraq - the vandal who stole and desecrated the flags will step forward to accept responsibility and apologize to the people of Oak Creek.

I hope that as a country we remember that freedom is always worth dying for, but symbols like books and flags are never worth killing over.

Finally, and most important, I hope we all take time to remember those Americans who gave their lives to defend our freedom.


ThinkBeforeYouSpeak 8 years, 11 months ago

These soldiers are under intense pressure and scrutiny to behave rationally 100% of the time in an environment that is chaotic and irrational 100% of the time.

Has anyone ever done anything stupid when they were pissed off at another? Now imagine how you would react if that "another" was shooting at you from amongst children and setting off bombs that were killing your friends and colleagues?? Let these brave soldiers do their jobs and let them vent.

This is a war, a street fight. It scares me to think of how many soldiers we have lost because they have followed these ridiculous "liberal" rules of engagement born of the idiots in Wash D.C. that liken war to a quarrell between second graders at Strawberry Park Elementary, supervised by Mrs. Doubtfire...


freshair 8 years, 11 months ago

The only thing that qualifies as 'senseless' is the writer's attempt at equivalence between the American flag and the Koran. The koran is the guidebook for every atrocity and genocidal act committed by moslems since Mohammed's time. For Americans it is the motivating source of our enemy which resulted in 9/11, and the numerous beheadings and other acts of violence which have been a hallmark of the Islamofascists since then.

Yes. I am outraged when some nitwit desecrates the American flag. No, I am not outraged when an American soldier riddles a koran with bullets. Only simpleton Liberals like Douglas find both acts equally offensive. The only real offense is his attempt to equate the two.


seabirth 8 years, 11 months ago

well, i cannot believe i'm saying it but good article rob. we can not expect respect for the symbols we cherish if we do not show respect for symbols others cherish. this does not mean agreement, but simply respect for others religious symbols.

as for allowing soldiers to "vent", that's fne but not when the venting hurts the cause and gives ammunition to our enemies. the lack of respect shown by the that soldier puts all soldiers at higher risk... and some want to justify blowing up a koran.

it's interesting the comments already posted show a disregard for others and a lack of respect. it's truly sad that a small minority with closed minds can make the majority of americans look like hate filled idiots.... just like the one soldier's hate and lack of respect will be used by the hate filled idiots in the middle east to make all u.s. soldiers look bad.


id04sp 8 years, 11 months ago

What a load of horse poo.

I'll tell you what matters. Money in the bank, a roof over your head, and being happy with what you have. If you've got time to worry about symbols, then you're too comfortable and have too much time on your hands.

If we did in Iraq what Black Jack Pershing did in the Philippines before WW-I, the shooting would be over. He had his soldiers dip their bullets in the blood of pigs, and then use those bullets to execute some Islamic terrorists. There was no more terror in the Philippines until the Japanese showed up in 1941.


Dukebets 8 years, 11 months ago

Nicely written article Rob. I agree 100% and respect the honesty in which you comment on a controversial subject.

Think and freshair - I know your both salivating at the thought of McCain becoming the next president and nuking everything other than American soil. To that effect, you have no chance of comprehending the statements made by Mr. Douglas.


colowoodsman 8 years, 11 months ago

I agree with freshair. Only someone from a third world country like Washington DC would think they could get away with comparing the US flag with the Qur'an. The Flag is a symbol of religious freedom, the Qur'an is a book of instructions that advocates the destruction of 'non-belivers and infidels'. As RD should know this is the root of the conflict in Iraq. He should have compared the ACT of desecrating the Flag with the ACT of shooting the Book. I guess soldiers on active duty are not allowed freedom of expression. RD has hit a new low by judging the soilder in Iraq. On this Memorial Day he should be thanking him for his service.


justathought 8 years, 11 months ago

I have to believe an American soldier showing disrespect for "a symbol" belonging to their (our) enemy is a little different than an American showing such disrespect for an American symbol. If it turns out these flag desecrater's are NOT American, I will apologize, until then these flag thieving SOB's should be exiled to Iraq to find out for themselves what it means to "scream for salvation". Yes, I'm more offended by the desecration of an American flag here at home because of my assumption of who is doing the desecrating, a fellow American who should relocate to a country more to his/her satisfaction.


Steve Lewis 8 years, 11 months ago

I agree with Seabirth, and with the article by Douglas. Ignorance of other's values makes co-existance more difficult. Contempt for other's values makes co-existance impossible, except via a military partitioning of your world from theirs. That's proving to be unsustainable, but worse it's a selfish, myopic reason to send soldiers into harm's way.

I disagree with Id that security is "money in the bank, a roof over your head, and being happy with what you have". His listing of security should include his neighbor's welfare as well. Fully self-centered measuring of security will eventually fail. His children, his neighbors, and future generations will increasingly feel the effects of others here and abroad whose happiness is replaced with inability to feed and shelter their children, or worse.

Id believes we can win in Iraq if we out-terrorize the terrorists. Given our stretched military, being the larger horror as a long-term strategy must stem from a faith in more violent acts? Does terror/horror work? How does a civilian react after a bomb has removed the roof over his head, or maimed a relative? Call it a day and check the bank account? The CIA reports that conflict in Iraq makes us less safe, and the military's advice is that there is no military solution for Iraq.

Use of the military, while still essential to our security, is proving to be a less effective tool than in past generations. The military today will be the first to ask for vigorous and exhaustive diplomatic effort as a first resort. Understanding and respecting others' religious beliefs is obviously required. -Steve Lewis


momofthree 8 years, 11 months ago

justathought: I had the opposite reaction. I am more offended by the soldier who was showed such disrespect for a significant religious text. That soldier is a representative of the American people, and he should be respectful of the Iraqi people and muslims in general, and trying to bridge cultural, religious and ethnic differences, not shooting them up. Do I get that war does terrible things to people? Sure. So maybe he needs to learn more appropriate ways to deal with those issues and feelings.

As for the desecration of the American flag, I would be more offended if it were done by a non citizen (as it is, often, around the world) than by a citizen. Americans who don't agree with the actions of their government should feel free to express those opinions, and sometimes that expression takes a symbolic form. There is nothing sacred about a flag, per se. (Yes, I thought the whole issue about Obama not wearing a flag pin was ridiculous.)

Of course, anyone who wishes to express such views should only do so with his or her own property--it is not Ok to steal someone else's flag and do anything to it (including fly it proudly).


424now 8 years, 11 months ago

The Qur'an is the Muslim Bible, more correctly it is like the Old testimate as Christians call it or the Jewish; Tanakh. It is kind of like Webster's first edition dictionary. It has a lot of good information although in general the information is out of date.

The fact that a large percentage of the Muslims around the world are taking issue with this act, to the point of civil unrest and violent disorder shows you what this Radical Muslim movement is doing around the world.

Muslims are good people and in general reasonable.

Christians are good people and in general reasonable.

Radical religion is evil. Period.


stompk 8 years, 11 months ago

Mr. Douglas,

seeing this article reminds me of my anger when I saw the military wearing the flag backwards on their uniform.

I see these guys shooting up the Koran, and I say, if I were a Muslim, yeah, I would be offended.

And yeah, you burn the flag, I wouldn't stand there and watch, but, I would probably not interject, although I would voice my opinion.

When it boils right down to it, are we about symbols, or faith?

If we are about symbols, I would say the most important to people these days is,


I find more strength, in faith.

Good stuff.


id04sp 8 years, 11 months ago


I disagree with you 100%. Did you ever serve in the militiary services, risk your life, fight for a cause, etc? Well, when you get home from doing all that, you find that the people you were defending don't much care. The boss only looks at you as somebody who is older, with no real-world work experience, and out of date skills.

The real answer to all this crap is to kill them all, occupy their country and take what we need, or stay home and do without. Period. There is no mix of violence and diplomacy that's going to make people feel okay and change their minds about what they used to think and do good from now on.

Our dollars pouring into middle eastern oil producers since the end of WW-II are responsible for our current difficulties. We're hooked into that system, and there's no way out for ten or fifteen years, minimum.

Let's just contract the global security business out to Exxon-Mobil, let them take over all the military equipment, hire mercenaries, and go about merrily invading, confiscating, profit-making and peacefulizing everything for us. If they can make a profit doing it, by Jove, they will succeed! I think they can do it.

Screw the Red, White and Blue. Put a Tiger back in my tank and I'll buy stock in Exxon-Mobil instead of U. S. Savings bonds.

The MAJORITY of the people in this country do not give a crap about anything except their own comfort. They are perfectly willing to let somebody else do the heavy lifting required to protect our freedoms, and, oh, boy, they'll come right along for the freedom ride without a second thought as long as it doesn't cost THEM anything.

Nobody in our government does very much valuable work anyway. It's all contracted out, because the government can't pay enough to hire good people. If we give the job to Exxon-Mobil and let them keep the profits from selling the oil they obtain by force from other countries, and let them write off the military costs as business expenses, they would probably go for it.

Just don't make anybody bid on the job. Make it a sole-source. Hire the company willing to do the job at their own expense in return for letting them sell the oil, and we'll all do fine.


Matthew Stoddard 8 years, 11 months ago

Colowoodsman- Have you ever been in the military? Soldiers have no freedom unless authorized by an NCO or Officer. You are "in uniform" 24hrs a day, whether you actually wearing the uniform or not. When stationed in another country, you are told to respect their way of life. The soldier in question did something that would have gone against any briefing he would have received before going to Iraq. He disobeyed the equivalent of a lawful order. Soldiers like him are the reason we're still there: they do sh!7 like that which pisses off the people we are trying to help.

And the Flag isn't a symbol of religious freedom- it's a flag that identifies our country for all it's good and bad. It stands for faith in your country...which for some people is no more or less relevant than faith in a religion. For someone to say the Qu'ran is just a book is the exact same as someone saying the flag is just a piece of cloth. The only difference is what you have faith in.


id04sp 8 years, 11 months ago


After I finished my rant posted there above, it dawned on me that I should have said, "A person who never even pulled a fire-watch duty in boot camp has no right passing judgement on anything done by a soldier." Congress has enacted the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and that's how these incidents should be handled if there has been an offense. I don't think that anything done by our soldiers was unlawful.

Desecrating the Flag, well, that's unlawful. Simple enough.

I think Mr Douglas should go to work at 0700 on Monday, and sit in the office watching TV and waiting for the phone to ring all day long, spend the night there, and then work the following day before being able to leave. Do that four or five days a month and on about half of the federal holidays for about three years in addition to your regular job, which includes going out and getting shot at for months at a time, and you might begin to get an inkling of what it's like when military folks read this kind of crap.

If we knew the truth, I'd be willing to bet that the pages of the Koran had been used for more "sanitary" purposes than target practice.


424now 8 years, 11 months ago

This is my opinion.

Every year when May rolls around an emotion starts to build in me. Winter has ended and the earth is reawakening. I recognize the emotion as gratitude.

I have gratitude for the men and women of the Armed forces this weekend. I pray for the safety and sanity in these trying times.

Bottom line,

If the Soldier in question had done his target practice at home in his own back yard it would have been target practice and nothing more. Here we don't stone people to death for expressing their opinion.

As is the fact, this brick endangers himself and all his brothers in arms by openly attempting to offend the population of the nation his unit is operating in. Court Martial, reduction in rank, reassignment to the stockade for a year or two then dishonorable discharge sounds about right.

UCMJ will be applied to this idiot.


It is and has always been the responsibility of each individual soldier to look out for his fellow soldiers. Any Soldier that openly acts in a manner that increases the risk of danger to his unit or their ability to complete the mission needs to be removed from the equation.


MtnWarlock 8 years, 11 months ago

Burning flags, destroying faith books! Man, no one understands the pressures of war like those who live and breathe it from in the trench. A young man leaves to serve his country: Hey mom, I'm going to serve my country! In the reality of service, he realizes that the home he pledged to defend as a patriot turns their cheek to him for doing deplorable and dirty acts of war to which they have to perform to preserve "freedom". The best friend he makes in boot camp covers his ass and he covers his, in all the turmoil of battle operations of serving the country, only to have his only friend amongst many military brothers, get his head blown off by enemy sniper fire, only to die in his arms, while serving with honor for those flag desecrators and anti-war protestors! Stress! How about patrolling in your Hummer and never knowing when your number will be up because an insurgent planted an RSB in the road for you or an insurgent sniper will have your number on a bullet! No, there is no PTSD there, is there! It's OK, it just part of the job that nobody else will face! Can you keep your head straight when the sh!t is in your face? Shooting up a book is not a crime. Burning a bible is not a crime! Burning up a flag is not a crime in America. Our rights do not follow us outside our boarders! It is the intention a person performs these acts that we hate because of the underlining thought to which it stands! Hence, we hate the person for performing such an act! In the meantime, there are many who are paying a price so we can sit in this forum and blog about it! Many have given their lives before and after my service commitment and to them I am grateful and feel fortunate this Memorial Day! To our fallen:..Oooh-rah! Semper-Fi, Salute! Remember and have a good weekend!


grannyrett 8 years, 11 months ago

Please remember our fallen hero's this Memorial Day. It is not just the beginning of the summer season. It is a day to pay tribute to those who have given us the right to the lives we live in this country. God Bless them-everyone of them.


OnTheBusGus 8 years, 11 months ago

id- You forgot to have RD do some PT at 0500 first.


another_local 8 years, 11 months ago

freshair, if you think Rob is a liberal, I suggest you head on down to Off the Beaten Path and purchase a dictionary and look the word up. Rob inhabits the other end of the political spectrum; (that would be more than somewhat to the right)


424now 8 years, 10 months ago


If you're a P-V-T, your duty Is to salute to L-I-E-U-T But if you brush the L-I-E-U-T The M-P makes you K-P on the Q-T


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.