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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 4/11/10

Lessons from Collateral Murder

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Message Josh Stieber

Another important thing to note is that when I left the army a year ago I spent six months walking and biking across the country to speak about how I came to be a conscientious objector, promote the critical thinking that our common culture largely lacks, and attempt to find common ground with people of all persuasions to work towards creative ways of solving problems non-violently.

I spoke to dozens of audiences, beginning my talks by asking people to stand up if they cared about their families and friends. Then I told them that when I had asked myself the same question in high school, I was told many things would be in my best interest to do and say. I'd then tell them to repeat one of the things I was told and lead the audience in the following cadence that was sung regularly in my army experience:

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

I could get audiences of even the most extreme peace activists would typically repeat this. My goal was to show how easy it can be to say and do horrible things when pressured by a leader telling them they were doing it in the interest of those they care about and by the pressure of those around them also standing and repeating. I am not morally justifying these cadences, but I am saying that this is how the system is and this is how it slowly eats away the consciences of idealistic young people and if we want to change this system, we must first understand it.

I am not morally justifying what happened in "Collateral Murder," but I do want to explain that based on military training, what was done is to be expected; it indicates larger issues and from there, we can decide how to respond. If we instantly cast a judgment, I would argue that you are hurting your own cause.

That said, the context that the video doesn't describe (but again, is detailed in The Good Soldiers) is that several companies were patrolling the streets. As they were searching houses, the helicopters were assigned to protect them from above. Some people have pointed out that nobody pointed a weapon at the helicopters, hence they were unprovoked. But all other debate aside, imagine for a second that you're assigned to keep watch over a group that is busy doing something else and you see something that you think is a threat; you'll begin to fear for their safety and for the burden it would be if you failed to protect those you were assigned to watch over. Another contextual aspect of this is that the longer video even shows that weapons were recovered from those shot.

We were heavily trained with this fear-creating mindset. One part of training was having several of my leaders ask myself and other young soldiers how we would respond if somebody were to pull a weapon out in a marketplace full of civilians. If we did not say that we would fire back, despite the civilians, we got chastised for not living up to our duties as soldiers

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Josh grew up in suburban Washington D.C. troubled by seeing the pentagon and the events on 911, decided to help protect the country by enlisting in the infantry after he graduated in 2006 from High School. He deployed to Baghdad from February 2007 to April 2008. This experience challenged a lot of assumptions (more...)
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