Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

A Letter to the General


GENERAL, YOUR TANK IS A POWERFUL VEHICLE It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men. But it has one defect: It needs a driver.

Bertolt Brecht

Dear General,

In your letter to me, you wrote that “given the ongoing war in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and in view of the military needs,” I am called upon to “participate in army operations” in the West Bank.

I am writing to tell you that I do not intend to heed your call.

During the 1980s, Ariel Sharon erected dozens of settler colonies in the heart of the occupied territories, a strategy whose ultimate goal was the subjugation of the Palestinian people and the expropriation of their land. Today, these colonies control nearly half of the occupied territories and are strangling Palestinian cities and villages as well as obstructing — if not altogether prohibiting — the movement of their residents. Sharon is now prime minister, and in the past year he has been advancing towards the definitive stage of the initiative he began twenty years ago. Indeed, Sharon gave his order to his lackey, the Defense Minister, and from there it trickled down the chain of command.

The Chief of Staff has announced that the Palestinians constitute a cancerous threat and has commanded that chemotherapy be applied against them. The brigadier has imposed curfews without time limits, and the colonel has ordered the destruction of Palestinian fields. The division commander has placed tanks on the hills between their houses, and has not allowed ambulances to evacuate their wounded. The lieutenant colonel announced that the open-fire regulations have been amended to an indiscriminate order “fire!” The tank commander, in turn, spotted a number of people and ordered his artilleryman to launch a missile.

I am that artilleryman. I am the small screw in the perfect war machine. I am the last and smallest link in the chain of command. I am supposed to simply follow orders — to reduce my existence down to stimulus and reaction, to hear the sound of “fire” and pull the trigger, to bring the overall plan to completion. And I am supposed to do all this with the simplicity and naturalness of a robot, who — at most — feels the shaking tremor of the tank as the missile is launched towards the target.

But as Bertolt Brecht wrote: General, man is very useful. He can fly and he can kill. But he has one defect: He can think.

And indeed, general, whoever you may be– colonel, brigadier, chief of staff, defense minister, prime minister, or all of the above– I can think. Perhaps I am not capable of much more than that. I confess that I am not an especially gifted or courageous soldier; I am not the best shot, and my technical skills are minimal. I am not even very athletic, and my uniform does not sit comfortably on my body. But I am capable of thinking.

I can see where you are leading me. I understand that we will kill, destroy, get hurt and die, and that there is no end in sight. I know that the “ongoing war” of which you speak, will go on and on. I can see that if the “military needs” lead us to lay siege to, hunt down, and starve a whole people, then something about these “needs” is terribly wrong.

I am therefore forced to disobey your call. I will not pull the trigger.

I do not delude myself, of course. You will shoo me away. You will find another artilleryman — one who is more obedient and talented than I. There is no dearth of such soldiers. Your tank will continue to roll; a gadfly like me cannot stop a rolling tank, surely not a column of tanks, and definitely not the entire march of folly. But a gadfly can buzz, annoy, nudge, and at times even bite.

Eventually other artillerymen, drivers, and commanders, who will observe the senseless killings and endless cycle of violence will also begin to think and buzz. We are already hundreds strong. And at the end of the day, our buzzing will turn into a deafening roar, a roar that will echo in your ears and in those of your children. Our protest will be recorded in the history books, for all generations to see.

So general, before you shoo me away, perhaps you too should begin to think.



Dr. YIGAL BRONNER teaches Sanskrit at Tel-Aviv University, and will be able to respond to letters after completing his 28 day term in prison. He can be reached at


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?
David Swanson
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Less Than Two Weeks
Victor Grossman
Suicides and Hopes and Fears
October 19, 2016
Dan Schiller – Shinjoung Yeo
The Silicon Valley Candidate
Mike Whitney
Trump Unchained
Paul Buhle
Criminalizing the Struggle: Incarceration and the Rise of the Neoliberal State
Linn Washington Jr.
Abusing the Abused: Philly Police Abuse Case Typifies All-Too-Common Misconduct by US Prosecutors
Terry Tempest Williams - Brooke Williams
Rejected by the BLM
Binoy Kampmark
Neither War Nor Peace: Shimon Peres, Israel and History
Patrick Cockburn
This Battle for Mosul Will Not Be the Last
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau Bullying on Trade Deal
Thomas Mountain
Revolutionary Islam and Regime Change in Ethiopia
Serge Halimi – Benoît Bréville
The Limits of Eloquence: the Failures of Barack Obama
Mel Gurtov
America’s Dangerous Moment
Jerry Kroth
Questions for Obama Before Leaving Office
Michael Garrity
America is a Nation of Laws: Collaboration and Its Discontents
October 18, 2016
Srećko Horvat
The Cyber-War on Wikileaks
Zoltan Grossman
Stop the Next President From Waging the Next War
Jim Kavanagh
Hillary’s Hide-and-Seek
Robert Fisk
After Mosul Falls, ISIS will Flee to Syria. Then What?
Ted Rall
The 4 Things Hillary Could Do To Close the Deal Against Trump
Pepe Escobar
Why Hillary Clinton is a Bigger Concern for China than Donald Trump
Colin Todhunter
World Wide Fund for Nature: Stop Greenwashing Capitalism, Start Holding Corporations to Account
David Macaray
Whiskey Workers Go on Strike: I’ll Drink to That
James A Haught
After the Election, Back to Important Things
Arturo Desimone
How a Selective Boycott Can Boost External Support for Palestinians
Russell Mokhiber
If Chris Wallace Asks About Street Crime He Should Also Ask About Corporate Crime
Mark Kernan
Moloch in Paris: on the Anniversary of COP21
Carol Dansereau
The Hillary Push: Manipulation You Can Believe In
Andre Vltchek
Will They Really Try to Kill the President of the Philippines?
Sean Joseph Clancy
The Wreckage of Matthew: Cuba and Haiti
October 17, 2016
Paul Street
Pick Your Poison? Presidential Politics and Planetary Prospects
Patrick Cockburn
US Allies are Funding ISIS (and Hillary Knew All Along)
David Swanson
What Hillary Clinton Privately Told Goldman Sachs
Fran Shor
A Rigged System?