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No Apology for Dissent: Truth and Cowardice 
by Paul Street
December 11, 2004

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My November 25th Dissident Voice article, “Loves, Hates, Kills, Dies,” about fawning imperial war journalism at Time Magazine, continues to evoke angry response from militarist quarters.  In the essay, I provided extensive quotes from a Time article that spoke in glowing terms about the military heroics of Army Staff Seargent David Bellavia (DB).  The chilling Time piece showed Bellavia in the glorious act of killing a handful of Iraqi “insurgents,” portraying Bellavia in practically hero-worshipping terms as a warrior prince who is ready to discuss the Renaissance during breaks in imperial violence. 

“You’re a better man than me,” one of Bellavia’s comrades tells him after DB dispatches numerous “insurgents” to an early grave. 

The US troops in Fallujah, Time relates, refer to themselves as “Terminators.”

My article also noticed the curious, somewhat surreal and interesting juxtaposition between this rugged hyper-masculinist war coverage and the softer, more officially feminine consumerism and bourgeois wealth-worship on the advertising pages of the same Time issue.

I also mentioned the curious combination in the same issue of an urgent story about the melting Arctic with a large number of advertisements for SUVs and min-vans, two large contributors to the alarming, “man-made” petro-capitalist global warming that is causing the dangerous rollback of polar ice and permafrost.

Since this article was published, US military supporters and empire defenders have written to tell me that:

* I have no right to criticize a man (DB) who is fighting to save his own life and my life too…

* Bellvia did not declare war; he is just following orders, doing his job and trying to save himself and his men.

* I am “a coward who hides behind a keyboard” because I am not fighting in Iraq. 

* I am “a traitor.”

* I should be “ashamed” of myself because I criticize the war in Iraq.

* I am free because SSG Bellavia is doing what he’s doing.  The invasion and occupation of Iraq is protecting me, making me “free.” I owe my freedom to the war in Iraq.

* It’s those terrorists who are hurting the Iraq people. They are terrible people who be-head other human beings.

* “We” (America that is) are there to “free” Iraq and to help the the Iraqi people. 

* I should get on a plane to Iraq and “see what kind of mercy” those Iraqi terrorists would show me.  “You won’t be singing their praises when they be-head you and show the film of your be-heading on CNN,” notes one writer, “between advertisements for cars and diapers.”

Many of the letters I received come from people with friends and/or relatives in the military.

I am going to refer people who write these notes to the following response letter, posted here for whatever literary and anti-war merit it may possess and to save me from having to cut and paste this letter again and again.

I could say a lot more than what’s here but this will have to do for now.


I offer my sincere apology for any and all mis-representation of SSG Bellavia and his comrades. Of course he and they are fighting for their lives. I hardly blame them for that. Of course they did not declare the war.  I blame Bush and his cabal and his many elite enablers, including John Kerry, for that.

The article was not mainly about SSG Bellavia.  It was mostly about the practically fascist way Time Magazine was presenting the bloody and illegal US attack on Fallujah.  And it was about the surreal juxtaposition within “mainstream” media between terrible hyper-masculinized violence and officially feminized consumerism.  The embedded Time journalist made DB the lead protagonist in his write-up and that’s why DB is so prominent in mine. 

Have you written to Time to complain about their provocative portrayal of SSG Bellavia, deleting any context on who makes the big and murderous decisions on what happens and who kills and dies on the the great chess-boards of empire? 

You have no legitimate basis for calling me a coward simply because I dare to oppose a specific imperial “war” (invasion and occupation that is) and the way it is being sold and because I oppose the murder and mayhem that is being carried out in the name of my country. My favorite peace button says “Not in My Name.”

“My country right or wrong” is Nazism.  Uncle Sam is wrong right now in Iraq; dead wrong.  This is my opinion and it’s the opinion of the very preponderant share of the human race. 

I think US actions in Iraq are quite literally criminal but for what its worth I do not locate the core criminality in the activity of the front-line troops. I see the real criminality ----and the real cowardice, by the way --- in the White House and the Pentagon.

I am sorry if my article seems to primarily blame Bellavia and his embattled comrades in Fallujah. That’s not my position at all.

I suspect that I was raised and socialized differently, with different loyalties and commitments, than you and (perhaps) your friends or relatives who are in the military. I am sure you are a good person but it seems that my values, for whatever accidental reasons, are much less nationalistic and much less trusting of what I see as illegitimate national authority, ie, Bush and Rumsfeld and the other chickenhawks who have put DB and many others in grave and unnecessary, illegitimate danger. 

My primary reference group is the human race, and yours seems to be the nation state --- “your” (you think) nation state, that is.

I will never support or acquiesce to the prosecution of a war that I see as illegitimate, like this one or like Vietnam.  This war is, in my opinion, is transparently imperial and unjust, something that is well understood in every corner of the planet except the American “homeland.”

I think parents should make sure that the White House is not allowed to use their children as fodder in its widely documented plan to rule the world by force....a plan that has used 9/11 as its Reichstag fire: justification for increasing empire abroad and inequality and repression at home. I think your son/husband/father/mother/daughter in Iraq is being terribly exploited and needlessly endangered by US policymakers.

I think children should be raised and educated to make the distinction between legitimate patriotism and racist imperialism. “Never,” we should tell them, “let someone call you a coward because you refuse to join a fight that you know to be wrong.”

There’s an interesting group of people who think that the US invasion is not about Iraqi’s liberation at all but is instead about imperial control over strategic oil reserves: the Iraqi people, about 1 percent of whom think this invasion is about spreading democracy.  Yes, one percent. 

The entire world agrees by a huge margin.  And the rest of the planet is much closer to the truth than you, I’m afraid. 

Somehow we Americans seem to think that God and/or History has granted “us” (well our rulers) some exceptional right to shred basic international laws and norms with murderous impunity. 

This dangerous and toxic belief will come back and hurt us, at home and abroad again and again. Many millions will suffer, at home and abroad, as the world descends ever further into barbarism with Uncle Sam all too often leading the charge and setting the tone and pace.

Most of the US populace now says that the invasion of Iraq --- which is being implemented about as poorly as any imperial occupation in history, by the way --- was “a mistake.” And the great majority of the American people polled in a recent social science opinion survey told the conservative Chicago Council on Foreign Relations that we should simply leave Iraq and indeed the Middle East if most of the people in that country and in that region want us to leave. 

Well, Iraqis and Arabs want us out.  The decent and noble thing is to leave....militarily that is. 

In terms of medical and social services and re-building, we owe the country and the region many billions worth of dollars of assistance and reparations to compensate not just for this latest war but also for the first war on Iraq and for the devastating consequences of more than a decade of murderous economic sanctions and bombings.

I am also concerned with how empire deepens American inequality at home and about how the rich alone will benefit from this latest imperial campaign.  And, speaking of cowardice, how many really affluent, wealthy people --- including folks from, at the highest level, the top 1 percent that owns 40 percent of American wealth --- have fought and directly killed in this noble Iraq campaign, which happens to be thoroughly illegal under Nuremberg law?  If not zero, the answer is close to zero. That’s interesting since rich people tended to vote strongly for the Messianic Militarist Iraq Warrior George W. Bush and to provide ample financial support to his campaign.

The great majority of people in combat roles are of lower or working-class background. 

Cowardice?  That’s a standard, practically automatic, Pavlovian accusation that is typically made against those who oppose wars. But I’m not sure it applies.  Put me in the US in 1942 and I’m signing up to fight the Nazis. Put me in Illinois in 1863 and I’m ready to join the Union Army to fight the slave power in the South.  Personally, I’m not a pure pacifist. 

But this “war?” The Vietnam War?  Never, not on my life. 

This is not cowardice; it is moral discernment.  We all make our own choices, in accordance with our own values and how we were raised and socialized. 

Is, say, the CEO of the Boeing Corporation (maker of the Blackhawk Helicopter and the B-2 bomber, among other hugely expensive taxpayer-financed war tools) a “coward” “hiding behind a keyboard” as he types a note say, to order up a fresh new batch of cruise missiles to pulverize Iraqi “insurgents” and families, even while he is not fighting in Iraq? 

How about military planners and other officers in Pentagon rooms hitting keys that cause death, bitterness, and more terror recruits in Iraq even while these “defense” personnel sit safely in warm offices removed from the glorious Fallujah action recounted by Time and from the havoc their keystrokes cause across the world? 

If you are going to start calling people “cowards” for not fighting in the war and using keyboards (does this include piano players?), then you are going to have to include a few million Americans in your charge. 

But, of course, you are calling me a “coward” because (ironically enough) I dared to speak against this war and the way its being conducted and covered. I guess that’s the first thing that came to your mind --- so Pavlovian at this point.  Personally, I think it’s cowardly to oppose an unjust war and not to voice that opposition.

I need you and/or your friends and/or relatives in the military to protect me? Sorry, but I am capable of defending myself and I do not need your friend or relative to defend me.  As I said above, moreover, I think this latest war heightens the American peoples’ vulnerability.  It endangers us and does not protect us.

Why would I fly to Iraq?  Why would I need to worry about whether or not they would “show me mercy” if I wasn’t over there occupying their country in the first place? Iraq belongs to the Iraqis. If Iraqis don’t want me there than I have no business going it seems to me.

Of course some of the “insurgents” are resisting in the most chilling and vicious ways they can.  Who has all the military hardware....the Bradleys, the Blackhawks, the cluster bombs, the Stealth bombers, the Daisy Cutters...(the list of “our” awesome slaughter tools goes on and on)?  “We” do. 

Of course some of the “insurgents” are monsters.  Certainly the be-heading of hostages is unimaginably horrible. 

So is using bombs and missiles and artillery shells to cut Iraqi children and other noncombatants in half.  The civilian casualty stories and numbers are simply horrendous in Iraq.  The number of Iraqis, including large numbers of civilian so-called “collateral damage,” that “we"” have killed through war and sanctions is also truly monstrous. 

Who said we had the right to patrol the Mekong Delta in the 1960s or the Sunni Triangle or the Tigris and Euphrates in the 21st century?  The world is not our oyster.  We do not own other nations. 

Americans were considered to be terrorists, for daring to resist imperial occupation, during the late 1770s and early 1780s. 

Bush and Rumsfeld are liars: Iraq was no threat to you or I.  No threat.  Zero. Iraqis, including Saddam, had nothing to do with 9/11, contrary to what they’ve been telling your son/father/friend/daughter/husband (etc;) in boot camp and in the field. 

DB sounds like a tough and smart man who stands up for himself and his comrades. 

Good.  We need his sort of energy and skills to be directed against the privileged few, the “Masters of War” that Bob Dylan wrote about in 1962...the ‘elite’ chiefs who “hide in their mansions while young people’s blood flows out of their bodies and gets buried in the mud.  They fasten the triggers for the others to fire and sit back and watch while the death count gets higher.” They are the cowards we need to focus on a bit more, I think.

“They” are the rulers of the military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower left the White House rightly warning us about in 1960. 

WHEN are you all going to learn to direct your anger away from the officially designated overseas Evil Others (generally non-white people you refuse to seriously understand) you are told to hate and away from people at home who are trying to stop the madness and make a more peaceful and just world --- fellow Americans you smear as “cowards” and “traitors” ---- and start to deal with the real masters, the real rulers, the real cowards, the “elite” possessors of concentrated wealth and power, who hire their violence for a pittance and enjoy the comfort of their safe and luxurious estates while bitter and damaged young men return from distant, unjust battlefields with missing limbs and shattered souls? 

All of our troops who come back and who have killed --- and its a very one sided war, with more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths to date ---- will suffer enormous negative consequences from the violence they were ordered to inflict. If you are currently attached in way to a US soldier in Iraq, I wish you strength and support as your friend/loved one/relative struggles with recovery and return return. 

Meanwhile, I’m afraid that George “Fortunate Son” Bush will be out on the golf course (""now watch me hit this drive") and Rumsfeld will be preparing his criminal war memoirs.  Interesting.  As a young man, George “Bring ‘Em On” (remember that comment?) Bush was content to let other poorer and browner men than him fight a war that he supported. Fifty-eight thousand Americans died in Vietnam.  Countless others were crippled and maimed.  Many never really made the transition back; many Vietnam War veterans have killed themselves, haunted by the memories of what they saw, felt, and did in another imperial war ordered by Uncle Sam. 

Meanwhile, George “Mission Accomplished” (that was another good Dubya slogan, wasn’t it) Bush has played a lot of golf, taken a lot of vacations, and generally enjoyed the unjust privilege of birth into super--concentrated wealth and special family name. 

But he’s not a “coward” in your mind, I strongly suspect.  That’s curious.

The current ‘war’ is actually endangering Americans and threatening what’s left of world stability so that American big shot policy makers can secure more control of strategic oil resources and thereby more effectively (they hope) rule the world.  It’s all, well largely, about tightening the imperial stranglehold on that pivotal Persian Gulf petro-spigot.

Many troops know this very well.  I hope more and more of them will rebel and refuse to engage in the current unjust and immoral occupation of Iraq.

So, no, sorry I am not ashamed of myself or of the many other Americans who think like I do about all of this. I am an American who takes seriously the eloquent words of James Madison:


Empire does not protect us; it oppresses and divides us.  Your letter to me is symptomatic of this, I think.

As is generally known across the policy-making elite, the Iraqi danger was thoroughly imaginary --- something Madison and other Founders would immediately grasp.

If anything, moreover, Iraq has been turned into a dangerous state, a hotbed of terrorism, precisely by this illegal and immoral and murderous US invasion.  We are breeding untold millions of new terrorists, something that was predicted in key establishment circles and pointed out by the conservative Catholic CIA Middle Eastern area expert “Anonymous” in his 2004 book Imperial Hubris: Why The West is Losing the War on Terror.  “Anonymous” has recently been purged by the Bush administration, along with others who made the mistake of retaining some minimal commitment to non-partisan truth-telling in government. 

Truth-telling is not cowardice.

Support the troops: bring them home.

American troops: resist this unjust war. 


Paul Street

P.S.  You didn’t say anything about global warming. 

Paul Street
is a writer and researcher in Chicago, Illinois. His book Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 is now available from Paradigm Publishers. He can be reached at:

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