Josh Stieber is a conscientious objector and Iraq War Veteran, serving from with the Bravo Company 2-16 in 2007 for a 14-month tour. Stieber joined the army based on the influence of his family, school and church. The promise of spreading democracy and freedom throughout the world resonated with Stieber. Soon after boot camp began he realized a conflict between his motivations and the ideology of the military. On his departure from military service, Stieber has shared his story widely – including this four part interview with the Real News Network.
I WENT DOWN TO THE MARKET
WHERE ALL THE WOMEN SHOP
I PULLED OUT MY MACHETE
AND I BEGAN TO CHOP
I WENT DOWN TO THE PARK
WHERE ALL THE CHILDREN PLAY
I PULLED OUT MY MACHINE GUN
AND I BEGAN TO SPRAY
In a 2010 interview with Slate, Stieber reflects on the process of psychological training he underwent during bootcamp.
Honestly, at the time I didn’t realize how psychologically influential that kind of thing is, either. You know, they do it in kind of a discreet way; we would march and sing one song and it would be perfectly harmless, and then the next song would be about killing women and children. So you mix it up back and forth and I guess you don’t really realize the implications. But later on when you’re in action, I think it does play a role.
Training was very desensitizing. We screamed slogans like, “Kill them all, let God sort them out.” We watched videos with bombs being dropped on Middle Eastern villages with rock and roll music in the background. People really started to celebrate death and destruction, and that definitely didn’t match up to what I’d expected.
In “An Open Letter of Reconciliation and Responsibility to the Iraqi People”, Stieber and fellow solider Ethan McCord reach out to the women and children they were trained to kill.
We acknowledge our part in the deaths and injuries of your loved ones as we tell Americans what we were trained to do and what we carried out in the name of “god and country”. The soldier in the video said that your husband shouldn’t have brought your children to battle, but we are acknowledging our responsibility for bringing the battle to your neighborhood, and to your family. We did unto you what we would not want done to us.
Stieber recounts a key incident in his evolution from hawk to dove. “One of the first key milestones” of his 14-month campaign was an eventual move into the “poor, industrial part of town.”
After reassignment due to refusal to fire his weapon, Stieber gained access to the selective negotiation strategy of the U.S. military, and saw firsthand the results diplomacy.
Despite the “blessing” of U.S. war efforts by military chaplains and his own spiritual mentors advising him the “end justifies the means,” Stieber eventually connected with the teachings found in the life of Jesus to help clarify the confusion he experienced during his tour of duty.