Poetry Friday: Remembering Joshua Casteel, a modern day conscientious objector

Poetry Friday is hosted by Sylvia at Poetry For Children
I learned last Saturday that a remarkable young man, Joshua Casteel, had lost his battle with stage IV lung cancer (adenocarcinoma). A veteran of the Iraq war, a writer, playwright and conscientious objector, Casteel was just 32 years old at the time of his death.  His life story is an inspiration, and his all too early death is simply tragic –  he had accomplished so much of such significance in his short life, and one can only imagine how much more he could have done.
Joshua Casteel
In this video, Joshua shares his journey from soldier to conscientious objector:
 

What makes  Joshua’s death even more tragic is that it is believed that  his cancer was a result of his service in Iraq and  the toxic fumes from the burn pits in the Abu Ghraib prison, where he was stationed as an interrogator.  He was still fighting for his compensation claim with the Veterans Administration at the time of his death, and his family is still struggling with the financial burdens of caring for Joshua during his brave fight to regain his health.  He paid a very heavy price for seeking out and telling the truth. 

When I think of Joshua this Poetry Friday, I remember Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem:

Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
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7 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Remembering Joshua Casteel, a modern day conscientious objector

  1. Thank you for telling about this young man, Tara. I watched the video read some of his words-what a tragedy. One of my youngest cousins was there at the beginning & those closest to him say he is changed. It makes me so sad. The poem is so clear, isn't it? "I will not tell him which way the fox ran." Beautiful.

  2. Stories like Joshua's make me wish I had more power to change the world.Thank you for sharing his story and that amazing poem. I love the lines "Am I a spy in the land of the living, / that I should deliver men to Death?"

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