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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Josh Stieber's Principled Stand

Dec 22nd, 2010

Writing in Slate, Kathryn Schulz interviews 22 year old Iraq War Veteran turned Conscientious Objector Josh Stieber. It is a dramatic window into the soul of a young man who has experienced first hand the difference between our purported values and our actions. I can't recommend more highly that everyone reads this.

"After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a 13-year-old kid named Josh Stieber vowed that as soon as he was old enough, he would join the military. His goal: to help protect his country and spread its values of freedom and democracy around the world. With the war still on when he graduated from high school, Stieber enlisted in 2006 and was deployed to Baghdad in 2007. A devout Christian and a staunch political conservative, Stieber became troubled by the gap between the values he was told the military embodied and those he experienced on the ground. Partway through his deployment, he realized that his perspective had changed so drastically that he would rather go to prison than remain in the military. Instead, he learned about, applied for, and obtained Conscientious Objector status."

From the interview...

"Was there a tipping point when you realized you had to get out?

One night, I was guarding a prisoner with a friend of mine, a guy I had gone to church with before we had deployed. So we're sitting there and my friend starts making threatening statements about what he wants to do to the prisoner. It wasn't too uncommon to abuse prisoners, but I didn't feel like it was right, so I asked my friend about the American ideals that we grew up hearing about. I said, "Why would you do that to this guy? Isn't one of the values that we were raised with is that somebody's innocent until proven guilty?" My friend said, "No, this guy is Iraqi, he's part of the problem, he's guilty, and here's what I want to do to him." That wasn't unusual. It had gotten to the point where most people blamed the entire Iraqi population and said that if they would just fix their own country, we could go home.

I thought back to all the stuff I'd heard sitting next to this guy in church, and I asked him, "Well, even if he is guilty, what about the idea of loving our enemies and returning evil with good and turning the other cheek? How do you reconcile all those teachings?" My friend said, "I think that Jesus would have turned his cheek once or twice but he never would have let anyone punk him around." Hearing him say it that way just made it sound so ridiculous. Here we supposedly had faith in this guy who very clearly was punked around, and ended up living and dying with sacrificial love. From then on, I really had to face the fact that I couldn't have it both ways. Either I was going to try to find this inward reality where sacrificial love was possible for a higher goal, or I was going to let self-defense be my ultimate value."

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