First published in TruthoutWilliam Rivers Pitt was Truthout’s lead columnist and senior editor. He died on September 26, 2022, at the age of 50. If you’re grieving for Will, as so many of us are, you can support a fund for his 9-year-old daughter Lola here.
The title of William Rivers Pitt’s unpublished book about the pandemic is: Please Take This, Because I Love You and I Might Die. A COVID Diary. He sent me the manuscript not too long ago so I could read it, and give him input on where it might make the most sense to have it published.
With the pandemic, as he was consistently able to do, Will saw what was coming, knew the consequences could well be catastrophic, and behaved accordingly. Each of those things is a true gift. The ability (and willingness) to see what was coming before most people, knowing in his heart what the consequences could mean, and then taking appropriate actions to prepare. In the case of COVID-19, Will was being especially careful in order to protect his aging mother who has lung issues, his young daughter Lola, and perhaps with subconscious foreshadowing of his own death, he was making preparations for what was to come.
Will’s unpublished book is dedicated to Lola.
I met Will during the early years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The propaganda leading up to the invasion, which of course ignored a dozen years of U.S.-imposed sanctions that strangled the country and killed at least half a million children, had deeply impacted us both. Will had already written a book (War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know) that completely disassembled the lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction, upon which the entire justification for the illegal invasion and occupation was predicated. He had done what he could. Yet he was not going to stop taking the Bush administration to task. In fact, Will was just getting warmed up.
We met in Boston a couple of years into the occupation. Will was already one of my heroes, one of the few voices of reason, sanity and truth in the media in the U.S. I was reading his valiant, noble, fiery words toward that end for years, and he had been reading my articles from Iraq about the widespread death and destruction then unfolding — death and destruction he had done all he could to prevent, a deep and lasting friendship was born on the spot, one that would also yield a coauthored book published by this website, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: The Disintegration of a Nation, Why it is Happening, and Who is Responsible.
While I kept making my trips in and out of Iraq over the next years, Will continued writing his salvos of truth about what the Bush and then Obama administrations were doing in Iraq, covering the domestic political situation, and writing about it as fiercely and steadfastly as though his life depended on it. The many times I became dispirited while on the front lines of the brutal occupation, I would read Will’s latest column about whatever the Bush administration was doing to justify their ongoing atrocities in Iraq, and my fire to continue my work would be fed yet again.
Truly one of the most important public intellectuals, writers and commentators of our time, in losing Will, we’ve lost a voice that is irreplaceable, and I’ve lost one of my heroes.
Late this August, Will and I were exchanging emails about his unpublished book. I wrote him this:
I’m only part way through your book. Two months ago I lost my long-time climbing partner of 25 years in a rock fall accident…we were roped up…his body was literally hanging off me…so I’ve been in a deep grieving process this summer, otherwise I’d have already torn through your book.
Thanks for being out there carrying the torch brother.
To which Will replied:
WHAT THE FUCK
Oh Jesus Dahr, I am so sorry.
I believe the inchoate universe puts its stamp on some people now and again, and it is woe to that person. The stamp means you are to suffer: To suffer from outside forces, and to suffer from an internal need to put that suffering into some context, to explain it, or to make some use of it if nothing else. It is a wailing of the soul, that stamp. The Buddhists call them Bodhisattvas, those who cross the precipice of enlightenment but come back for others, to guide them rather than pass over themselves. It is an altogether agonizing fate, for it brings wisdom, and wisdom is the most terrible thing of all.
Fuck my book. Stay on the mountain. The wind knows your name.
While I thought he’d gone too far with the Bodhisattva bit, I wrote him back and thanked him, from my heart, for his gracious words of comfort. These words of his, like everything he wrote, came from his heart, his soul, his own experience. Will was, by his own definition, a Bodhisattva, here to guide all of us with his wisdom, and his seeing.
“We stand today upon the fulcrum of history, a crossroads at midnight with a blood moon rising,” Will wrote in February 2019. “Down one road lies fire, flood, famine, failure and the final triumph of greed. What awaits down the other road is unknown, terra incognita, a mystery to be solved one gentle step at a time…. The road we have been on is littered with bones and sorrow. The road we must take is strange, and new, and dangerous, and difficult. There are no promises, other than it will be — by dint of our collective will — better than the way that is failing before our eyes. This crossroads is freedom distilled, and the time to choose is now.”
Will is now on the road each of us inevitably shall take. He showed us how to live a noble life. He made a living speaking truth to power. He did these things for all of us, and he did them because they were his to do. He did them because he could.
Most importantly, he did them because he knew with all his heart they were the right things to do.
Dahr Jamail, a Truthout contributing writer, board of advisers member and former staff reporter, is the author of The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (The New Press, 2019), The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Izzy Award and the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards. His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon. His latest book is We Are the Middle of Forever, c0-edited with Stan Rushworth. He lives and works in Washington State.