While the recently released footage of a US air crew callously killing a dozen innocent civilians – including two Iraqis who were working for Reuters – from a helicopter in Baghdad in July 2007, is a horrifying glimpse of what modern war entails, there is at least one glimmer of hope from that tragic attack.
In a powerful act of nonviolence, two US soldiers who were members of Bravo Company 2-16, the unit that was involved in the shooting, recently published a moving “Open Letter of Reconciliation & Responsibility to the Iraqi People,” that is worth quoting at length. In it, Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber, both former specialists in the US Army, write:
There is no bringing back all that was lost. What we seek is to learn from our mistakes and do everything we can to tell others of our experiences and how the people of the United States need to realize what [we] have done and are doing to you and the people of your country. We humbly ask you what we can do to begin to repair the damage we caused.
We have been speaking to whoever will listen, telling them that what was shown in the Wikileaks video only begins to depict the suffering we have created. From our own experiences, and the experiences of other veterans we have talked to, we know that the acts depicted in this video are everyday occurrences of this war: this is the nature of how U.S.-led wars are carried out in this region.
We acknowledge our part in the deaths and injuries of your loved ones as we tell Americans what we were trained to do and carried out in the name of “god and country”. The soldier in [the] video said that your husband shouldn’t have brought your children to battle, but we are acknowledging our responsibility for bringing the battle to your neighborhood, and to your family. We did unto you what we would not want done to us.
More and more Americans are taking responsibility for what was done in our name. Though we have acted with cold hearts far too many times, we have not forgotten our actions towards you. Our heavy hearts still hold hope that we can restore inside our country the acknowledgment of your humanity, that we were taught to deny.
Our government may ignore you, concerned more with its public image. It has also ignored many veterans who have returned physically injured or mentally troubled by what they saw and did in your country. But the time is long overdue that we say that the value of our nation’s leaders no longer represent us. Our secretary of defense may say the U.S. won’t lose its reputation over this, but we stand and say that our reputation’s importance pales in comparison to our common humanity.
With such pain, friendship might be too much to ask. Please accept our apology, our sorrow, our care, and our dedication to change from the inside out. We are doing what we can to speak out against the wars and military policies responsible for what happened to you and your loved ones. Our hearts are open to hearing how we can take any steps to support you through the pain that we have caused.
To sign on in support of this letter, click here.
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This is so powerful! I just signed it.
I met Josh Stieber in a peace education class I was auditing this past semester. He is a truly amazing and inspirational peacemaker. Watch this clip from one of the presentations he gave when he walked across the country.