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Lessons from Collateral Murder

By       Message Josh Stieber     Permalink
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If you watch "Collateral Murder" and are shocked, this is a perfectly natural reaction. How the discussion about it is framed however, makes a world of difference.

Speaking as a former soldier who was in the company on the ground in the video, who would have been in this video had I not angered my leaders and was left out of this mission, I am disappointed that this video has been used by some to cast such stronger moral indignation on the soldiers shown without looking at the deeper implications. It is easy to wash our hands of this blood; it is challenging but transformational to ask what we can do to provide alternatives.

There is strong evidence that the decisions made were not an illustration simply of demented murders rather than soldiers doing as they were trained to do; this is not a moral statement, it's an observation based on:

  1. David Finkel, a Washington Post reporter who was embedded with my unit, (again, the one shown on the ground in the video), wrote a detailed account of what took place during this mission shown on this video, almost describing it word for word in his popular book, The Good Soldiers. Despite the book's success, the outrage we are seeing came over this event only when it was seen visually and out of context rather than described in words.

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  2. In 2008, over 200 veterans and eye-witnesses came together to testify about many of the troubling events they witnessed in the Winter Soldier Testimonies, using many personal accounts of stories like "Collateral Murder" and worse; the mainstream media and general public took little, if any notice.

  3. Discussion boards of predominantly military personal, are full of military members defending the actions of the soldier's decisions in this video.

    My aim in writing about this is to create a conversation where we can address some very serious issues; but the way that discussion has been framed probably will not change anything. For those who have been harsh towards the soldiers involved, if moral indignation is your goal, you will not accomplish much. Those who agree with you still will and those who don't aren't going to want to learn from your perspective.

    I personally grew up learning from most of society that war was an acceptable way to solve problems. The few anti-war voices that I heard came across as shrill and arrogant, giving me little incentive to want to learn from them. Since that time I have met many inspiring people working for peace with many important ideas, inspiring me to now devote much of my time towards peacemaking. But from the anti-war voices I heard before my military experience, I had no interest in listening to people talk about peace who seemed so arrogant and self-righteous.

    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

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    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

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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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