Josh Stieber's Memorial Day Message

 In Veterans

A few weeks ago, I attended a friend’s graduation ceremony and sat through the long reading of graduate’s names. But my boredom turned to dismay when the keynote speaker attempted to inspire the graduating class to make the best use of their education as they go out to transform the world in the following acts of leadership: 1. Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper 2. Post something important on facebook 3. Have a deep discussion with a friend.

I’m not saying that those are bad things to do, but I’m startled that there was no higher aspiration that these graduates were challenged to emulate. But this article isn’t about graduating seniors, it’s about our nation’s armed forces. As a veteran, I’ve certainly seen the split between how a soldier views leadership and how those outside of the military see it. I remember growing up listening to my role models accuse most folks–especially those who promoted peace–as mere whiners and complainers, while our political and military heroes were described as people of action. Without validifying this mindset, it is a discouraging comparrison to watch some young people spend four years of hard work and study and get told that they can change the world through facebook while other young people go through military training and are taught that they are making the world a better place through fighting in wars overseas and being willing to risk their lives for their country.

What’s my point? Obviously I know that the military isn’t as simple as the noble narritive that our armed forces spend their days defending the innocent and spreading freedom and democracy. I’ve spent the last several months talking about my former unit’s role in the killings shown in the Wikileaks video and explained that it was not an exception.

What I am trying to say on this Memorial Day is that many impressionable young people grow up believing that the military is a noble way of making a difference in the world… or even if they don’t believe it’s noble, they may even fight as a sad, but neccessary task and they don’t know how else to create change. And as we take this day to reflect on those lives that have been lost in combat, I hope we can reflect on the world we pass along to our young people. If we want to keep from adding new names to the list of the dead whom we honor on Memorial Day, we’re going to have to do better than ask for leaders on facebook.

And those leaders are out there. All across the country and even around the world, people have stepped up to work with me on planning a cross-country tour with people from Iraq, Gaza, and Afghanistan (via skype) There are many inspiring projects and campaigns going on in the name of peace.

As I young veteran, I hope we can all remember that those who have died in combat did go through many hardships and lost their lives in their pursuit of shaping their world in a way they thought was best. Let us who seek to be leaders, to change our world, take part of this burden, to say that war is not the only answer and that we are willing to move beyond facebook and letter writing. The People’s Journey which I am about to embark on and countless other actions seek to break down the barriers that lead to division and fighting. In memory of those who have died in war, let us commit ourselves all the harder to work for peace and reconciliation.

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  • Kathleen

    Thank you. I think it is so important to feel the complexity and raise the questions. You did that very well!

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