Josh and Conor - Home from War in Iraq
(Photo of Josh and Conor on URL, above)
(Article Photos + more: http://contagiousloveexperiment.wordpress.com)
By Nadya Williams
People's World: January 26, 2010
Stand up and repeat these words in marching cadence: "I went down to the
market Where all the people shop I pulled out my machete And I began to chop
I went down to the park Where all the children play I took out my machine
gun And I began to spray"
This is a chant our young are taught to march to in our military today, and
this is how two young veterans of the Iraq War begin their presentations to
groups across the country.
Late last fall, Josh Stieber and Conor Curran spoke to a gathering of
Veterans For Peace and civilian peace activists in San Francisco, as part of
their six months of walking and biking from the East Coast to the West to
engage in dialogue about war and to become involved in community service
along the way.
Both young men are from small American heartland towns - Josh from Maryland
and Conor from Ohio. They did not know each other until after they got
themselves out of the military. They spoke of their motivations for joining
the Marines, their experiences in Iraq and the turning points that made them
The two called their cross-country odyssey, "The Contagious Love
Experiment" - certainly a retro, `60s "Hippie Haight-Ashbury" moniker to
more mature ears. The tag is both innocent and naive, but on a deeper level,
it is their counterbalance to the brutality and disillusionment they
experienced. Their story and reasoning are worth listening to.
Josh, a tall, blond, "all-American-type" in his early 20s, was in junior
high school in Maryland when September 11th happened. His determination to,
as he saw it, protect his country was initiated when his parents took him to
see the damage at the Pentagon, and so he joined the Marines straight out of
high school. Raised as a devout Christian, he pushed aside doubts while in
basic training and forced himself to answer "yes" when asked, "Will you kill
a `hostile' even if lots of civilians are around who will get hurt?"
Conor, thin and tall with black curly hair, also became a Marine, but spoke
more of being alienated during and after high school, wanting to fit in and
be accepted, using "lots of drugs," getting into debt, and not having a
skill or education to direct him. So at 20 years old, "The Few and The
Proud" seemed to give him all the answers.
At the time, he said, being in the Marines helped him to change his values
and gave him a "mission accomplished" feeling. He became a good soldier.
But Conor's second tour was when `it got heavy.'
Josh spoke frequently of his Christian upbringing that taught him principles
in complete opposition to the killing, fear and hatred he learned in Iraq.
(To say nothing of the disconnect of being told that America was "liberating
Iraq and bringing Freedom and Democracy" and the "chop and spray" chant!)
He said fear of and hatred for the Iraqi people would build up in the troops
to the point where ripping apart homes, wrecking gardens and property, and
arresting and abusing prisoners became commonplace. On the street, going
out of the way to run a truck through mud to spray old people, or, during
house searches, taking the dolls of little girls, twisting their heads off
then giving them back became acceptable behavior. "Why do we
make the locals fear the U.S. military more than the insurgents?" he wanted
to know. "We out-terrorized the terrorists!"
Josh vividly recalled pulling guard duty on a prisoner with another young
American soldier right after coming from a church service. Josh thought of
the moral and religious lessons he learned at home in Maryland: "blessed are
the peace makers;" "turn the other cheek;" and "love thine enemy," as his
buddy talked of how he was going to brutalize the prisoner. "Jesus wouldn't
let himself get punked around," his friend replied when Josh objected on
The insanity of war gradually became apparent to Josh during his 14-month
tour of duty, as when he and his squad detained a man with ample evidence
that the Iraqi had been involved in attacks on American soldiers. This man
turned out to be the mayor of the town, and U.S. military authorities'
regular "payments" of school supplies and cash ensured a halt in attacks on
Josh and his men, at least in that part of town. So much for "we will not
negotiate with terrorists," he thought.
These revelations led this idealistic youth into a "bleak" period, he said,
with feelings of hopelessness, "always looking over my shoulder," and the
realization that he'd always let others tell him how to think and how to
live up to their expectations.
Neither young man spoke of killing anyone, and no one from the audience
asked. But each spoke of turning points when they decided they could not
continue as soldiers. For Josh this was a gradual process, but for Conor it
came during his second tour while conducting random searches with his squad
for weapons caches in Ramadi, without adequate intelligence. They set upon
a home with an exceptionally beautiful garden and
proceeded to tear it apart and dig it up. "Then the man of the house came
out with a tray and served us all tea!" said Conor. "He spoke English and
wanted to be our friend. He showed love to us and we were terrorizing him."
Thus the seed for "The Contagious Love Experiment" was planted.
Conor and Josh had many encounters along the roads of America since the
spring, but the one that stood out for them was meeting a Vietnam War
veteran who told them, "Instead of uniting against a common enemy, we should
unite for a common goal - peace."
Part Two will interview with Salam Talib, an Iraqi refugee and Pacifica
journalist who hosted Josh Stieber and Conor Curran in his home.
Nadya Williams is a freelance journalist and former study-tour coordinator
for Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights and peace
non-profit. She is an active associate member of Veterans for Peace,
San Francisco chapter, and is on the national board of the New York-based
Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign.
"My Country Has Been Hijacked" (Munich Peace Rally Speech)
By Cynthia McKinney
ICH: February 10, 2010
Thank you for allowing me to come from the United States and participate in
this rally for peace.
My country has been hijacked by a criminal cabal intent on using the
hard-earned dollars of the American people for war, occupation, and empire.
As a result, the national leadership of my country, both Democratic and
Republican, became complicit in war crimes, torture, crimes against
humanity, and crimes against the peace.
As a Member of Congress from the Democratic Party, I drafted Articles of
Impeachment against George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice. Later,
when Democrats voted to support more war rather than take care of the needs
of the people, I declared my independence from them and all national
leadership; the Green Party nominated me to run for President, which I did
on a platform of truth, justice, peace, and dignity.
I watched as Candidate Barack Obama came here to Germany to speak. I saw
tears on the faces of many in the crowd who believed that, finally, there
was something worth believing in again. That America had turned a page from
its evil playbook that had so outraged and disappointed the world. That
good was finally about to triumph over evil.
I know that beleaguered people all over the world, victims of cruel and
deadly military, economic, imperial policies finally could believe in hope
and change. And America could be believed in again.
Everywhere I went all over the world there were pictures of Barack Obama,
slogans "Yes, We Can," and the words "Hope" and "Change" plastered
And after eight years of George W. Bush, Barack Obama seemed to be the man
the world was waiting for.
So when the Candidate became the President, we held our breath in
That torture and rendition; spying on innocent, dissenting Americans; war
and occupation; crimes against the U.S. Constitution and crimes against the
peace would end and that the United States would finally join the community
Sadly, one year into the Presidency of Barack Obama, that is not the case.
On our front door step we have witnessed U.S. complicity in the overthrow of
President Zalaya in Honduras and the hostile takeover of Haiti by 20,000
troops with guns sent in when the devastated people needed food, doctors,
and heavy lifting equipment.
President Obama is expanding U.S. troop presence in Colombia, threatening
the people's gains in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
President Obama has drones killing innocent people in Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Yemen, and Somalia. And Administration lawyers are trying to figure out how
to legally kill U.S. citizens. You even have U.S. assassination teams on
Sadly, President Obama is guilty of every item I cited in my Articles of
Impeachment against President Bush.
Both Tony Blair and President Obama justify war in Afghanistan by citing the
tragedy of the September 11th attacks in New York and on the Pentagon. But
my government has not told the truth about what really happened that day.
Just like they lied to start a war against Iraq.
So what are we to do? Let us work together on behalf of truth, justice,
peace, and dignity. I will struggle in the U.S. and I will struggle with
Not one more dime for war.
We can't give in and we can't give up. We must take our countries back.