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. 


Performed at the 2012 LTAB Coaches Slam

(Dedicated to my Dad, Arnold Stieber)

You say it all came back in an evening
In front of the tv
Winter 2003
Iraq war about to start
Platoon was on
You had not let yourself go there since ‘70
You let yourself go there that night
You say it all came back
You could see it
Hear it
Smell it

9/11 might have triggered it
The invasion in Iraq rekindled it
But Hollywood
Brought it back

Knew growing up you were in Vietnam
Wasn’t really sure what that meant
Knew you were in war but never discussed
Couldn’t play guns, cops and robbers, GI Joe
Knew that was the rule
Told some friends you were in war
Another dad had been too
He didn’t talk about it
Heard he had changed when he got back
Didn’t know if you had

Other friends asked about the guns you used
People you killed
Like in the movies
Never did ask
Still don’t want to

So in 2003 you started talking about it
Little by little
I was 22 and felt like 5
Learning about you for the first time
Stories always pretty general
Nothing too specific
Keeping Vietnam at a distance
You had graduated college got drafted
Never thought you’d be infantry

Stories of basic training
You spoke with a clergy man in the army
You said killing didn’t seem christrian
Clergy said country first
You were trained to kill
Targets that looked like targets
Targets that moved
Targets like humans
Humans that looked like targets
Humans that move

Stories of Agent Orange
Fragging of “superiors”
R and R in Australia
Christmas in Nam so you could come home quicker
Slurs for the enemy
How soldiers used women
Coping mechanisms to keep sanity

Before you started researching/reading/questioning
A friend former soldier told you not to go down that path
Let it be
You had to go down that path
Now you speak/write/converse
You talk to soldiers home from Iraq/Afghanistan
Stories from them too similar to yours
You see their ghosts
Motivates you to talk to teens about the realities of war/military

Some people don’t want to hear your voice/words/writing
Say things like you’re dad is the only soldier I know who feels like that
Other soldiers they know dont talk or complain about war/death/killing
They don’t know other soldiers back from war
Are killing/over dosing/abusing themselves
War veterans have the highest suicide rate
You told me you thought about it

Soldiers are trained to kill/survive war
Not retrained on how to survive after war
So many don’t talk
You tell me

America teaches that war is necessary
Many soldiers have to believe what they did was necessary
Yet you speak out
Many soldiers fear saying the things they did/saw out loud
Fear of saying what happened may make loved ones distant
That no one can understand what was “normal” unless they were there
You teach me that for a soldier to speak out against war is difficult
You say war is slavery
In 1970 you had three choices
Leaving the country but knowing you couldn’t return
Or War
You said you weren’t brave enough for the first two

People need to know this
So you speak
I know it’s not easy to do what you do
But I thank you for the difficult path you choose
Soon I will be a dad
I have your path to follow
It ‘s easy to sit back
Believe what you are told
It is difficult to do what you believe
At 22 I started becoming a man
Because you started teaching me what that means