Josh Stieber - CO speaks before PAND concert in Cleveland
08/03/09 7:00PM - 8:00PM
Evangelical GI born again as CO
Former GI Josh Stieber, now a Conscientious Objector, will speak at 7pm in the Brooks Room of St. Paul's Church before the August 3, 8pm PAND concert.
Conscientious Objector Josh Stieber doesn't think he's ever shot anyone. Not long ago, Stieber was sitting atop a Humvee, manning a machine gun turret near Baghdad, fruitlessly firing rounds into an empty countryside in the confusing aftermath of a roadside explosion or sniper fire. But he doesn't remember hitting anybody. Usually the insurgents wreaking the havoc were long gone.
Now, the 21-year-old spends the majority of his days literally taking one step at a time, a long way from Iraq and his Maryland home. Stieber has been walking across America since the end of May, spreading his personal message of peace. Typically his 6-foot-4 frame is loaded with a 45-pound pack as he plods and bikes to his next speaking engagement, and the chance to crash on a local peace activist's couch for the night.
Cleveland area Veterans For Peace activists Steve and Tess Parry will host Josh on August 2 and 3 in their Euclid, Ohio, home.
Josh has traveled to various philanthropic organizations, visiting a prison reintegration program in Maryland and a cancer research program in Philadelphia. He's dividing his Iraq combat pay, just shy of $30,000, among different causes and charities. He wants his journey to inspire and promote peace. Stieber says his message transcends any particular Middle East development. "It's a lot more than just that. I want people to be more aware and evaluate the mindset that drove them to support the war in the first place," he said.
He didn't always run in liberal circles. Growing up the oldest of three children in a family "that listened to Rush Limbaugh," in Gaithersburg, Md., a half-hour north of Washington D.C., Stieber attended an evangelical megachurch. His schooling fell under the auspices of his church.
He remembers Bible class justifying the war in Iraq as a battle of good vs. evil. He spent Friday nights during his teen years approaching strangers and asking them if they thought they were going to heaven or hell. He loved politics. He volunteered for George W. Bush's 2004 re-election and saw military service as a good launching point for a possible career in the GOP. At his high school, he thought the military was all about "saving lives and passing out soccer balls."
On graduation he joined the Army, and was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. He did one 14-month tour of Iraq, from February 2007 to April 2008 as an infantryman, and became more uncomfortable with his military role as his stint in Iraq lengthened.
He had a hard time justifying the religious morality of his childhood and adolescence with the harsh reality of warfare. He started to see the political rhetoric and moral justification of the war as "talking without action behind it." "The gap kept getting bigger and bigger," he said.
He read Gandhi and Tolstoy and started to change his mind about the American presence in the Middle East. He recalls raiding homes in search of weapons caches and the Army's capture and subsequent turning of a local politician who had previously worked for the insurgency. The defunct ice cream factory where he stayed for more than a year in Baghdad was blown up the day after his contingent left.
He left the military, filing a request for consideration as a conscientious objector. It was granted, a relative rarity the military has granted about 30 such discharges per year since the Iraq war began. He was vetted by an investigative officer, chaplain, and psychiatrist per military procedure before he departed.
Monday, August 3, Stieber will speak at 7pm in the Brooks Room of St. Paul's Church before the 8pm PAND concert in main congregational hall.
Stieber says he still believes in the message of Jesus but has left institutional religion and is working on the decision for the rest of his life's work. For now he says, "I'm trying to turn a negative into positive. Fear and paranoia aren't the only way to live." ##
(edited from article by Dan McDonald/Daily News staff, MetroWest Daily News. Posted Jul 03, 2009 @ 01:02 AM)