An Open Letter to Richard Cohen By William Rivers Pitt
Tuesday 09 May 2006
Greetings! I was inspired to write you after reading your missive in today's Post regarding all the nasty emails you have received of late. Personally, I found Colbert's performance hilarious and timely, the kind of satirical backhand so desperately needed these days. I don't begrudge you your opinion that he wasn't funny, and I agree with your belief that it wasn't your opinion on his performance that motivated such an angry response.
It wasn't. You yourself nailed the reason: "Institution after institution failed America -- the presidency, Congress and the press. They all endorsed a war to rid Iraq of what it did not have."
The fact that your Colbert commentary became the flint against this rock doesn't mean that Colbert or your opinion of him are to blame for the resulting firestorm. The fact is that people are angry - brain-boilingly, apoplectically, mind-bendingly so - at what has happened to this great country. I am, quite often, so angry that my hands shake. Yes, a former high school teacher from New England here, so filled with bile and rage that I sometimes don't recognize my face in the mirror.
You, sir, should not be asking why so many of your email friends are so angry. You should be asking why you yourself are not with them in their rage. I have admired a number of your articles over these last years, and know that you are no fool regarding our situation in Iraq and here at home. It isn't your grasp of the issues that concerns me, but the absence of outrage. Do you really care about the things you write about, or is all this merely grist for the mill that provides you a paycheck?
"I have seen this anger before," you wrote, "back in the Vietnam War era." No, sir, you have not.
You hearken back to rock-throwing days in Vietnam, and lament hatred and rage. But you do not see that those days are quaint by comparison given our current geopolitical situation. Johnson and Nixon, whatever else their faults may have been, were internationalists who understood the need for connection to the wider world. The war in Vietnam, barbaric as it was, did not inspire tens of thousands of Vietnamese to join martyr's brigades. It did not threaten to unleash chaos in a part of the world that holds the economic lifeblood of our whole existence. It did not threaten to shake loose nuclear weapons from quasi-rogue states like Pakistan.
You speak of the angry mob because you got slapped around via email, but your characterization of the anti-war crowd tells me you have not spent a single moment out in the streets with them. I have. I have covered dozens of protests, large and small, in cities all across this country before and after the invasion of Iraq. Millions upon millions of Americans participated in these, and never once, not one time, was a rock thrown.
No violence was offered anywhere, unless it was violence offered to old ladies by riot-garbed police, as was evidenced in Portland several years ago. I have the photographs to prove it. If you want to see anger, enjoy this picture of a 60-year-old woman holding an anti-war sign while being placed in a hammer-lock by a riot cop:
"The hatred is back," you say, as if such hatred is beyond justification. It is interesting that you make so many allusions to Vietnam; the comparison is apt, yet not on point. This is not a situation of "Then" and "Now," but "Then" and "Again." The two issues are joined by a common theme: official malfeasance, presidential lies, administrative fear-mongering and horrific body counts in a faraway land. The lesson of Vietnam was so searing, many believed, that it would never have to be learned again.
Why the anger? Because that lesson didn't take, at least with this crowd. Why the anger? Because millions of people are staggered by the idea that, yes Virginia, we have to go through this again. We have to watch soldiers slaughter and be slaughtered for reasons that bear no markings of truth. We have to watch the reputation of this great nation be savaged. We have to watch as our leaders lie to us with their bare faces hanging out.
Why the anger? It can be summed up in one run-on sentence: We have lost two towers in New York, a part of the Pentagon, an important American city called New Orleans, our economic solvency, our global reputation, our moral authority, our children's future, we have lost tens of thousands of American soldiers to death and grievous injury, we must endure the Abramoffs and the Cunninghams and the Libbys and the whores and the bribes and the utter corruption, we must contemplate the staggering depth of the hole we have been hurled down into, and we expect little to no help from the mainstream DC press, whose lazy go-along-to-get-along cocktail-circuit mentality allowed so much of this to happen because they failed comprehensively to do their job.
George W. Bush and his pals used September 11th against the American people, used perhaps the most horrific day in our collective history, deliberately and with intent, to foster a war of choice that has killed untold tens of thousands of human beings and basically bankrupted our country. They lied about the threat posed by Iraq. They destroyed the career of a CIA agent who was tasked to keep an eye on Iran's nuclear ambitions, and did so to exact petty political revenge against a critic. They tortured people, and spied on American civilians.
Nah. There's nothing to get angry about here.
I wrote a book called "War on Iraq" in the summer of 2002. That book stated there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no al Qaeda connections in Iraq, no connections to 9/11 in Iraq, and thus no reason for the invasion of Iraq. It is now almost the summer of 2006. That book was right then, and is right now, and the millions of Americans who agree with the facts contained therein have shared these four years with me in a state of disbelief, shock, sorrow and yes, anger. None of this had to happen, and the fact that it was allowed to happen inspires the kind of vitriol you got a taste of via email.
If you want anger, you should try reading some of the emails I get on a weekly basis. The mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and children of American soldiers killed in Iraq write to me asking why it happened, what can be done, how is this possible. They write to me because I wrote that book, because somehow they think I have an answer to that bottomless question.
I am sorry you were so wounded by the messages you received. I wish that hadn't happened; I am personally from the more-flies-with-honey school of journalistic correspondence. But in the end, truth be told, I don't feel too badly for you. It isn't an excess of outrage that plagues this nation today, but an abject lack of it. Instead of castigating those who take an interest, who have gotten justifiably furious over all that has happened, I suggest you take a moment within yourself and ask why you don't share their feelings.
This isn't Vietnam, Mr. Cohen. This is a whole new ballgame, and the stakes are higher by orders of magnitude. It took almost ten years of Vietnam for people to reach the boiling point you are so apparently horrified by (and worthy of note, that rage may have elected Nixon, but also served to stop the killing in Southeast Asia). Should those of us who are angry today wait until 2013 to raise hell?
At a minimum, I suggest you head down to your local hardware store and buy a few sheets of 40-grit sandpaper. Apply it liberally - pardon the pun - to any and all parts of your body that may be exposed to the scary anger of the anti-war Left. Toughen up that hide of yours, and greet the coming days with a leathery mien impervious to a few angry emails.
Afterwards, you could perhaps figure out why the anger of those who see this war as a crime and this administration as a disaster is so terribly threatening to you. Anger is a gift, after all, one that inspires change. If you don't think we need a change, real change, I can only shake my head.
You speak powerfully and you speak for me. My Iowa grandmother hands shake with anger, too. How do we know for sure Richard C. will see and read this? He absolutely must read it, and I hope it shames him.
31. suggested sarcasm edit, re: "Nah. There's nothing to get angry about here"
Sarcasm doesn't belong in this essay. I'd edit it out if I were you. Sarcasm is the tool of the powerless. This essay is speaking a powerful truth to the impotent middle who aren't getting pissed off enough about all the dead people getting killed on OUR dime. IT's well written, so don't water down your main ideas like this.
32. You speak for me. With a tear in my eyes, I am proud.
I could just die. I see that you are also as angry as I. I am so sorry. Sorry that we are not able to continue with what were productive lives. We're productive, but in the red. Damnit. My 82 year old father has a bumper sticker. And it's not like him. He is humble and quiet and does not need to prove anything. It says- I you're not angry, you're not paying attention.
I would like to thank you for speaking for me. You have laid it all out in plain sight. And thank you for helping me be who I am today. Your journalistic efforts have hoisted me to new levels of awareness.
It's an excellent article, but the (apparent) presumption of even a small trace of honesty and good faith on Cohen's part is misplaced. Apart from his behavior during the 2000 election and the runup to war, we can judge his bona fides by his repeated taunting of Colbert admirers *on their own website.* Cohen went out of his way to become a martyr to the "hateful leftwingers", because that's his thoroughly dishonest agenda.
Your response to Mr. Cohen is wonderful. I hope it will be okay for me to copy part of this response, with full attribution to you, to send by mail to Mr. Cohen. I want him to see some of your words, over and over. Do people like Mr. Cohen live in a bubble, cut off from the reality that the average person lives and breathes? That's what it feels like to me when I read some of his remarks -- that he must live in a completely different world than the one I inhabit.
68. I was one of the emailers - not nasty, just pointed out the irony
He wrote that Colbert was rude to use that forum. What forum are critics of Bush supposed to use? His handpicked automaton audiences? When he uses the troops as a backdrop? One of his endless fundraisers? Harry Taylor made news for being an average guy that somehow slipped through the cracks. That's what we are faced with. As far as Cohen's self pity, save it, Richard, for those who are not wealthy columnists. Jerk.
69. This letter is pure perfection & speaks for me.
I was going to ask if it will be sent to Mr. Cohen, but I saw upthread that Jacobin will be sending it to him. He needs some educating.
Either the media is playing dumb or is sorely out of touch. I read Ray McGovern's article on Tom Paine about his questioning of Rumsfeld in Atlanta. He said a friend of his got a call from upper management at CNN asking if those opposing the war are "getting organized or something?" They even had a short memory about Rumsfeld's 2003 remarks that were brought up by McGovern. The CNN official said they "checked & double-checked & everything Mr. McGovern said to Rumsfeld was correct."
I witnessed that scene in Portland. THOUSANDS of us in the streets, nearly 10% of the entire population, on August 22, 2002 and I had just read your book. We all knew this was a disaster in the making.
Edited on Tue May-09-06 09:55 PM by senseandsensibility
When writers post "open letters" to people, do they actually send a copy to the person they're addressing? Or do they just publish it and hope that the individual finds it and reads it? Or is the individual not the true intended audience at all? I know that everyone on DU will love your letter, as I did, but I want Mr. Cohen to read it. And if it's just "out there", he will never find it or read it. We all know how exquisitely good he is at ignoring inconvenient information. Great letter.
But I think Mr. Cohen may be so scared of the anti-war meanies now that he won't open anything again unless it's from his momma. Amd certainly not anything from someone as scary sounding as Will Pitt.:)
It makes it hard to discuss anything with the few remaining Bushbots I know. I get embarrassed by it sometimes but in reading that letter I realized that my reaction is the NORMAL one. That's how I should be. The real problem is, as you say, the lack of outrage in so many, particularly journalists in whom we place our trust to tell us the truth. What's wrong with them?
First, it captures, echoes, expresses, exactly what so many of us feel, and have felt, for so long. Second, it demonstrates, by comparison, the shallow, self-serving and truly insulting nature of Cohen's piece.
for giving voice to my feelings. In the run up to the last election I was so angry I was incoherent. I finally had to stop reading the newspaper and engaging in discussion with friends because I was so filled with rage.
Our friends are still asking why I don't write any more LTTE and this is why. I was excoriated, vilified, and pretty much hammered with every letter I wrote. I live in Wyoming. Last national poll 54% of the fine folk who reside here still supported Bush.
And my husband couldn't understand why I was so angry. All the time.
I suggest he spend a few moments thinking about WHY we are so angry. Perhaps the faces of some of the tens of thousands of innocent dead will float into his consiousness and he will begin to understand.
120. You are an incredible writer, Will. I'm sure I've mentioned that
before, but this letter hit home. You speak so eloquently for us, and for that I'm grateful! I'm sure this is the most thought-provoking letter Mr. Cohen has ever received; if he deigns to respond, I hope you'll share. Thank you!
Edited on Wed May-10-06 11:08 AM by Callous Taoboys
"The fact is that people are angry - brain-boilingly, apoplectically, mind-bendingly so - at what has happened to this great country."
I'm right there with you. I have, at times, woken up from a deep sleep and immediately started wanting to punch something. Loathsome turds are at the helm, and it is high time the professionals come in and flush.
I loved that Rage Against the Machine paraphrase you used to conclude this spectacular letter. I hope the intelligence with which you buttress your points persuades Richard Cohen to rethink his position.
I won't hold my breath though. But I do congratulate your efforts. Thanks for reminding me why our anger is IMPORTANT!
to Mr. Cohen. You said it so well, I only wish I had the way with words that you do. This is exactly what I wanted to tell him after I read his whiny article. You are a shining light Mr. Pitt, and I applaud you.
I agree almost 100% with everything you wrote here.
I resent being referred to as a member of the "digital lynch mob" if I disagree with a columnist.
If Mr. Cohen is going to refer to people who disagree with him this way, he should either remove the link to his e-mail or go to work for Fox where they espouse this type of attitude about people who disagree with them.
His piece is almost indistinguishable from something O'Reilly would say.
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