Why is this such a well-loved condemnation for perpetrators of immoral and despicable acts?
cow•ardnoun a person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things
Do dictionaries need to be updated? The word "coward" is often treated as if it means "lowly, horrible, scum-sucking evil bastard", with very little relationship at all to the standard definition of the word.
Bill Maher got in trouble in the wake of 9/11, losing his show Politically Incorrect over saying, "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly."
I understand why that remark grated on most people, especially the first part where Maher is criticizing our military, but I think he was correct to point out that, no matter what other terrible things the 9/11 attackers were, "cowards" they weren't.
Nevertheless there seems to be an emotional need in many people to vehemently spit out the word "coward!" anyway, or variants like "chickenshit!" when confronted with vile deeds. There's also great anger (I'll likely get some blowback for this post) toward anyone who would dare argue against these uses of the word "coward", as if to argue against the applicability of the word "coward" is tantamount to a defense of whoever it is who is being labeled a coward.