Monday, May 24, 2010

The Conscientious Objector

"Fear used to grip my mind. And I was so afraid that I joined the army to kill those I feared, so that they couldn't come to America to kill me. My actions have hurt many people and I finally realize that if anything makes sense in this world, it is love, not just for people I like, but love for all." -- Josh Stieber, former Army specialist, Iraq war veteran-turned-conscientious objector.

Before he discovered he could become a conscientious objector, Josh Stieber says he wanted to return his military pay.

A conscientious objector is an individual who refuses to serve in the armed forces, or to engage in combat, on the grounds that killing people violates his or her moral principles.

During his 14-month mission in Iraq, Stieber says he quickly felt he was in the wrong place. He joined the Army after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. He had personally witnessed the terrible destruction and death caused that day when hijackers crashed a commercial jetliner into the Pentagon.

When he arrived in Iraq, he expected he would be greeted as a liberator. Instead, he felt like an invader. Stieber started refusing missions, and rather than kicking in doors looking for insurgents, he would slip away from his unit and go to a local market to buy groceries.

His unit was involved in a filmed 2007 Apache helicopter attack – which came to worldwide attention after being leaked on the Internet. The helicopter pilot and other U.S. military personnel directing the air attack can be heard in radio communications as they strafed a group of men and later a van full of people.

Stieber and another member of the unit wrote a letter taking responsibility for those who were killed and seeking reconciliation with their families and friends and those who were injured but survived.

In many news media interviews and on his blog, he has explainsed that he believes American soldiers were victims of a system, and that if the video is shocking, viewers should understand that day was not exceptional in terms of the war that is going on in Iraq.

Since returning to the United States, Stieber has embarked on a walking, biking and speaking tour, and developed a partnership between school children in America and Afghanistan.

He called the tour and his blog, the "Contagious Love Experiment" – a very different path from his previous one.