Talking with Josh Steiber about the war, morality, and protest


We Are Not Your Soldiers Banner at the March 20 Protest

We had a lively conference call this past week (apologies to everyone who couldn’t get on or got bumped off due to the number of calls coming in) with people from around the country listening to a conversation between Elaine Brower, leader of WCW, and Josh Steiber, conscientious objector who has been speaking out about being a part of the unit that carried out the now notorious massacre captured in the Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video. Josh refused to go on that mission and later, as Janis Joplin sang, felt he had “nothing left to lose” after so many atrocities, fighting to get out of the military because he “was so internally torn up that I was at a point that I was willing to do whatever I needed to in order to stop doing these things.”

Now, he is righteously calling out this whole immoral war and using the video to make the point that

such acts were “not isolated incidents” and were “common” during his tour of duty. “After watching the video, I would definitely say that that is, nine times out of ten, the way things ended up,” Steiber was quoted as saying in an earlier press release on the video, “Killing was following military protocol. It was going along with the rules as they are.”

Steiber was not with his unit, who were the soldiers on the ground in the video. He was back at his base with the incident occurred. While not absolving of responsibility those who carried out the killing, Steiber blames the “larger system” of the US military, specifically how soldiers are trained to dehumanize Iraqis and the ROE.

“We have to address the larger system that trains people to respond in this way, or the same thing will probably happen again,” Steiber told Truthout.

Josh Steiber has been speaking out in other places too. Listen to or read his interview with Glenn Greenwald. Elaine asked Josh about how he became a conscientious objector, and how we can get more troops to take that step and resist the military. Josh talked about the responsibility that this society as a whole has for what the US military does and how it does it. Educating people is the key, he said. He talked about the military cadences that troops learn in basic training: songs about killing children and blood flowing. Target practice not on bull’s-eyes, but on the silhouettes of Middle Eastern stereotypes.

For him, it took 2 years before he even found out that conscientious objecting was an option at all.

“There’s a lot of feeling of betrayal, that we can tap into,”

with the troops, he said. To understand the psychology drummed into troops he recommended this video on YouTube, “Die Terrorist Die.” He also recommended that we use the Wikileaks video to show potential recruits what exactly they will be expected to do in the military.

Callers expressed anguish over the situation and the depths of the moral dilemma facing this society. One woman talked about her fears that people are just filtering out the video and that it isn’t necessarily affecting people. Another talked about counter protesting the Tea Party earlier in the day and having conversations with them:

“I don’t fall into this category and probably those of you on the call don’t, but there’s this mentality out there that brutal violence is just a part of humanity and we just have to make sure that it’s OUR brutal violence and no one does it to us.”

She also emphasized how important it is that some troops are speaking out; changing their views, resisting, and leaking these videos.

A Vietnam era veteran on the call said,

“Moments come along that break through the media blackout, like with the photo of the little Vietnamese girl who got napalmed, that give people a taste of the crimes that are being carried out in their names. We have to challenge the troops not to be torturers and murders. Josh talked a lot about betrayal. It’s not the people who betrayed the soldiers it’s the military and the government that betrayed them. The more we can interact with them on that level the more we can break through with them.”

Emma Kaplan underscored this point, responding to the question, “How did the soldiers react after the mission in the video:”

“Josh talks about this in his DN interview – afterwards there’s a process where it sinks in, and they go through a justification in their minds. The point about challenging the troops that Joe made is very important. Troops are thinking people who can change their minds and resist. We have a tremendous responsibility to tell the truth.”

We talked more about the need to go into the morality of the war and the participation in it with soldiers:

“Male bonding forges this brainwashing family structure. It is really difficult. The family structure just constantly reinforces the idea that if you step out of line here that you are betraying your brothers. We have to frame the question in moral terms so that they can truly follow their consciences.  The really important thing that WCW is doing is going into high schools and colleges and creating a movement among the youth. Denying the military a section of these kids. Youth can have a tremendous impact among their peers.”

A student from UCSB talked about the speakout they held on their campus earlier that day, and their plans to project the video onto a wall outside on Monday. They also plan to bring the We Are Not Your Soldiers tour to speak before the end of the semester.

The call ended with some more discussion of our plans going forward: the Crimes Are Crimes statement, visible protest such as when General Petraeus comes to NYC later this week, and other ideas people have, for creating video responses to the Wikileaks video, to talking to soldiers.

The We Are Not Your Soldiers tour came up again and again, as a crucial way to impact this situation. One person said,

“It’s not just a point of going to the troops themselves, but making it a question in society at large. Dragging it out into the light of day. This is not just bad apples but what the troops are doing in our name. This is the nature of this war. The more we make this a question in society, that will give the troops who are conflicted air to breathe and room to act.”

Thank you to Josh Steiber and everyone who participated in this call.

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