To mark the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War this week, U.S. veteran Tomas Young – who was shot and paralyzed after serving only five days in Iraq in 2004 – posted an emotional letter addressed to former president George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. "The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history," wrote Young, adding, "On every level – moral, strategic, military and economic – Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences."
Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, a close friend of Young's, was one of many who found themselves moved by Young's words. "I think that letter is the most effective piece of anti-war literature written in 50 years," says Morello. "Over the last 48 hours, it's already had a global impact. The responses I've had from around the planet are so moving and people are so touched – not just by his story, but his courage of speaking out [from] the singular perspective of someone who is dying because of this criminal of war. He's a soldier who is calling the former president a war criminal. That's news, and accurate."
Continues the guitarist, "There's nothing more courageous than a soldier who stands up against an unjust war. And in that regard, Tomas Young is not just a war hero – he's a real peace hero . . . It's a damning indictment of those who made the Iraq war – not for the safety and betterment of the United States, but for the enrichment of the Halliburton Board of Directors. What they did was not a mistake – it was a crime. As Tomas says in the article, it is a crime that is likely to go unpunished. The only thing they can do to redeem their souls is to beg for the forgiveness of the world. As Tomas Young lays dying in a hospice room in Kansas City, what is Dick Cheney doing tonight? He doesn't care."
Young was the subject of the award-winning 2007 documentary Body of War; the soundtrack featured "Battle Hymns," a song recorded by Morello as the Nightwatchman, along with contributions from supporters including Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam. "At one point, some of Tomas' famous rock friends offered to get him the fancy wheel chair that was more comfortable and he refused to take it – 'Other veterans don't get this, so why should I get special treatment?'" says Morello. "He's a deeply principled person."
Young suffered a serious pulmonary embolism in 2008, and he is currently under hospice care, planning to end his life in May. "He undervalues the impact he could continue to have, but we don't have to live in his body," says Morello. "It's easy for us to say 'You should live 50 more years and give speeches.' But we don't have to live in that body on a daily basis, so I just try to respect his wishes. He's a great person and a great friend and it's a tragic story."
Morello is currently on tour playing guitar with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, filling in for Steve Van Zandt while the guitarist films his show Lilyhammer. "I sent Bruce Tomas' letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War," Morello says. "And [that night] Bruce opened the set with 'Devils and Dust' and 'Last to Die.' It was pretty powerful."