They Call it Memorial Day, The Chicago Veterans for Peace See it Differently

This piece is written by my father, Arnold Stieber. He was Army, Infantry, in the U.S. war against the people of Viet Nam. He is the current Coordinator for the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace.


When you look up Memorial Day, you’ll get something like this:  “Memorial Day, an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May, honors men and women who died while in the U.S. military.”

In actuality Memorial Day is more about summer, hot dogs, sales, and in Chicago, about indoctrinating youth into the military model.

In 2013 I attended the Chicago Memorial Day parade with several Veterans For Peace members.  We expected the parade, which is billed as the largest Memorial Day parade in the nation, to be a somber tribute to all those killed in war.  What we saw was over six thousand youth dressed in military uniforms, marching in formation.   They easily made up 80% of the parade.   We were shocked.

Upon investigation we learned that the Chicago Public School system has over 10,000 youth in some form of military training.   No other school system comes close.  We were told that this military training teaches “leadership”, and “discipline” and is a “way out” for many impoverished youth.

Sounds good, but there’s a flaw.  You don’t need to militarize youth to educate them.   Leadership and discipline can be taught in a variety of ways, including in the regular classroom.

By simply providing the public education system with the resources they need the youth will have a “way out”.

To address the myths of the need for militarization the Chicago Chapter of Veterans For Peace started an initiative called Education Not Militarization.  It presents youth with the other side of the story on the military and develops their critical thinking skills.   We have a dedicated web site, a Facebook and Twitter page.   We developed a speakers bureau that is focused on youth.

One of our main speakers is ex-Army Ranger Rory Fanning.  “I signed up to prevent another 9/11, but my two tours in Afghanistan made me realize that I was making the world less safe. We know now that a majority of the million or so people who have been killed since 9/11 have been innocent civilians, people with no stake in the game and no reason to fight until, often enough, the US military baited them into it by killing or injuring a family member who more often than not was an innocent bystander.”  His experiences in Afghanistan woke him up to the realities of the military.  “The Taliban had surrendered a few months before I arrived in Afghanistan in late 2002, but that wasn’t good enough for our politicians back home and the generals giving the orders. Our job was to draw people back into the fight.”

When he left Afghanistan he walked across the United States with 50 pounds on his back for the Pat Tillman Foundation in an obsessive attempt to rid himself of war.   He says, “I began speaking to high school students heavily propagandized by the US military on the charms, delights, and positives of war, American-style, about my own experiences and that, in turn, has been changing my life.“  Rory says, “JROTC’s school-to-military pipeline is a lifeline for Washington’s permanent war across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. Its unending conflicts are only possible because kids like those I’ve talked to in the classrooms continue to volunteer.“

Another speaker is ex-Navy aircraft carrier flight captain Sabrina Waller.  She joined the military after high school as a “way out” of the cycle of poverty and violence around her home.  She helped maintain Navy planes on the flight deck of aircraft carriers.  She witnessed the jets carrying 500-pound bombs in their bellies before taking flight. Without exception, they came back empty. “You can’t return to the ship with a bomb,” Waller explains. “It’s too dangerous to land.” The bombs had to be dispatched even without an enemy target to drop them on.” When she began to question these tactics and worried that innocent lives were unjustly being destroyed, her senior shipmates ignored her pleas. “I was told to shut up and not question things and just do my job,”   Sabrina Waller now dedicates her life to sharing her experience with students in the hope that she might prevent them from making the same mistake she did. “I feel like I’ve walked in the shoes that many in the JROTC program will walk in,” Waller says. “They think the military is the only way out of poverty, of not being educated, of not really having a purpose in life, and the only way out of living in depressing communities.”  That doesn’t have to be the case, she tells any young person who will listen.

The Chicago Chapter of Veterans For Peace recently met with the heads of Chicago JROTC.  We both agreed that youth need critical thinking skills.  We suggested that they invite us to speak at the eight military schools and at all of the JROTC and Cadet classes.  They’re thinking about it.   We also asked the Chicago Public School Board to join us in a roundtable discussion of the militarization of youth.  They haven’t responded.


Veterans For Peace will be at this year’s Memorial Day parade to encourage critical thinking.  We’ll pass out stickers to the six thousand militarized youth in the parade.  The stickers are miniatures of the billboards that we’ve placed around Chicago.  They read “No military in Chicago Public Schools.  Education Not Militarization.”.    Hopefully the youth will take the initiative, make good use of the Memorial Day holiday and seek out the other side of the military story.
Now as a Veteran, that’s what I call a real Memorial Day.

To learn more about our campaign to de-militarize Chicago Public Schools visit our website, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.



A Vietnam Veteran Reflects on Memorial Day

This post is written by my father, Arnold Stieber who was infantry in the Army stationed in Vietnam from 1970-1971. He is currently the coordinator of the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace. I’m proud to share his writings and to be his son. 


 War – conflict resolution by violence. Memorial day – a day to remember those killed in wars. More than remembering, Memorial Day is reality for me. That reality began in 2003 and was amplified in 2013.

In 2003 my military experience burst into my consciousness after 32 years. Late one night I turned on the TV. The movie “Platoon” was playing. I had never watched any violent shows nor read anything about war or Viet Nam since I left there and my role as an Army infantryman in March of 1971. The scene was a U.S. patrol entering a village. I saw the dark skinned children with their big dark eyes, skinny bodies and ragged clothes – and it all came back like a lightening bolt. The sights, the sounds, the smells. Stunned, I turned off the TV and sat in a darkened room.

The next day began a frenzy of activity. Unstructured for the first few months, I consumed a world of information. At 57 years of age with an MBA and an active business career, I was almost totally ignorant of many aspects of life. Information on war, peace, politics, world affairs, religion, organizations, books, magazines, videos, DVDs, radio and TV shows – and the list grew with each passing day. I needed structure.
I finally formulated two questions: Why war? Why do we so proudly send our children to kill other children?

Why war?

Howard Zinn helped with his book, “The Peoples History of the United States“. Marine Major General Smedley Butler, a two time Medal of Honor recipient, helped with his booklet, “War is a Racket“. Many other authors and people and programs moved me along the path.

My studies revealed that the main causes of war are money and markets. There is always plenty of flag waving and bluster about the “evil ones”, but every war I’ve studied, once you begin peeling back the layers, has the same core.

War is the best business in the world.

High profits, little competition, products rapidly used, and the price is seldom questioned. Weapons are the number one export product of the USA. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the death and destruction industry. Thousands more spend their lives teaching at war colleges and military schools. Other thousands plan wars and “covert actions”. Mercenary companies and CIA operations are a major part of U.S. “foreign policy”. But the war business depends on conflict. That leads to the second question.

Why do we so proudly send our children to kill other children?

A country cannot have a war, and those in the war business cannot sell their products, unless we the people are willing to sacrifice our children.

How can we be convinced to sacrifice our children?

There are many ways.
The first is to generate fear.
The second is to continually present the military model for conflict resolution – violence – as the solution.

Go into any park and you’ll probably see a military statue or a canon. Veterans’ memorials are everywhere. Parades are lead by weapons carrying veterans and the military. The military carries the flag into sporting events. Many in the military now ware Combat Battle Dress (CBDs) when they are in public. Everyone in the military is now called a “hero”. POW-MIA flags fly from Post Offices and other buildings. Highways are named after wars, war veterans, and generals. Battleships are named after Presidents. We have civil war re-enactments. Our language is violent – ” I could just kill my kids”, “bullet points”, and sports announcers inject “kill”, “beat”, “destroyed” into their descriptions. There are also video games, weapon toys, paintball parks and TV and movie violence. All of these lower the barrier to hurting others. They are an ever-present message that violence – the military model – is the solution to conflict.

In 2013 I watched the Chicago Memorial Day parade. Thousands of children of color, dressed in military uniforms, passed by. It stunned me. I’ve learned that Chicago Public Schools are the most militarized in the nation. Over 10,000 children are learning the military model of taking orders and solving conflicts with violence. The parade, for me, was not about remembering those who died. The main message was convincing the children and their parents that the military model is the “American way”.

This year I’ll be back at the parade – holding a sign of peace. Please join me and members of the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace. If we can influence just one child or just one parent that the military model is not the answer, that’s one child who will not have to suffer the physical or mental pain of legalized death and destruction.

Memorial Day.
Remember the dead, all of them, from all countries, civilians and military.
Dead because of the military model.


For more from my father, the Chicago Veterans for Peace, and their actions to De-Militarize Chicago Public Schools like their Facebook page , view his blog War is Slavery, and check out the Chicago Veterans for Peace website.