Seven years into Iraq War, U.S. veteran fights for a more peaceful future

11:18, March 20, 2010      

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Anti-war demonstrators attend a protest in front of an Army Career Center in Manhattan of New York city, the United States, March 19, 2010, marking the 7th anniversary of the Iraqi War that falls on March 20. (Xinhua/Shen Hong)

With a "No War in Afghanistan" sign in his front yard, Josh Stieber is no ordinary Iraq War veteran, nor ordinary anti-war veteran for that matter.

For six months last year, the soldier-turned conscientious objector was walking and biking around the country, from Atlantic Maryland to Pacific California, talking about peace and non-violent alternatives with folks and youths he met along the way. He even got another veteran Conor Curran he met in Toledo, Ohio, to tag along.

On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the Iraq War, Stieber joined forces with other veterans and activists to set up thousands of faux tombstones under the imposing Washington Monument in downtown D.C., gearing up for a mass anti-war rally on Saturday.

Under the scorching sun rarely seen in March, Stieber stopped occasionally to explain what he was doing to curious passers-by, inviting them to come and join the rally Saturday. In a recent interview with Xinhua at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, he said he wanted to work with other people to raise awareness and encourage creativity on "how to solve problems differently," other than simply using violence.

Eldest son of a salesman and a health worker, Stieber was born and raised in the Maryland section of the Washington area. He saw the "big hole" in Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, into which hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed, killing 189 people, including 64 people aboard the plane and another 125 in the building.

In 2006, at the age of 18, Stieber joined the Army right out of high school, to "make sure something like 9/11 never happens again."

Stieber was shipped to Iraq with 1st Infantry Division in Feb. 2007, on what would be a 14-month tour. But what he experienced there was disillusionment and frustration. As part of the Iraq War troop surge of 2007, he witnessed one of the most violent stretch of the war.

"We went into it thinking we would solve all this problem and make the world a better place, but realized early on we didn't seem to be helping the problem. For the most part, we are making it worse," he said.

In retrospect, Stieber said part of the blame should be put on the mindset that violence can solve all the problems, and I-was-right-and-other-people-were-wrong thinking.

The mindset was also partly to blame for driving the country to war, which left over 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead since 2003. Iraqi civilian deaths ran into tens of thousands. Under the obelisk-shaped Washington Monument, Stieber and other activists tried to include each victim's name on the faux tombstones, but many were just labeled "unknown," nameless or faceless witnesses to the atrocities of the bloody conflict.

After finishing his service in Iraq, Stieber went back home, and kept thinking about things the military had done to families and neighborhoods in Iraq, kicking down doors and ripping through houses to search for "insurgents," detaining people, sometimes for no reasons.

"What if a different army comes in and takes me or takes my dad away?" he asked himself. "I know I wouldn't want it," he said, and this brought on a huge question about the war.

Stieber applied and became a conscientious objector.

"We had a lot of desire to make the world a better place, but the only way we thought we could do that was through using violence," Stieber said, noting he wants to connect with youth, encouraging their creativity to solve problems differently, and hence the cross-country tour last year, which he dubbed Contagious Love Experiment.

Stieber said he wants to become a teacher in the future, and has already been accepted by a Maryland university. Rather than enjoying a care-free pre-college life, he will be speaking in front of thousands on Saturday, against the war and for a more peaceful future.

Source: Xinhua
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