Maybe true leaders are the regular people.
So says Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk, who gained national attention earlier this month when he became the first pubic conscientious objector of the war in Iraq.
Whether or not people are on Funk’s side, the Asian American Marine reservist from Seattle is standing by his beliefs that war—any war—is immoral. His upbringing taught him that, and while he is assigned to desk duty during the day for the rest of April, family, friends, and supporters are rallying behind his cause.
But Funk did not set out to be a spokesperson when he signed up for the Marines. No one was more surprised than Funk that his case became so publicized in the media. Though at first shy to speak up, Funk tells the Examiner in a phone interview that he’s now glad to be thrown into the role as anti-war activist.
“I really didn’t expect the attention, but it’s great to get the message out,” Funk said, who wants people to know that war resistance is an option.
Funk turned himself in to the Marines on April 1 after being absent without leave since February, when his support battalion was sent to Camp Pendleton near San Diego.
Having not experienced the reality of war in his lifetime, Funk, 20, says the Marine recruiters did not emphasize the combat side of the Marine Corps in order to talk him into enlisting.
“Marine recruiters should be more responsible and tell the truth,” says Funk.
The son of a Vietnam vet grew uncomfortable during his training in the military when he was made to shout, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” during a basic training exercise. Since then, he has gone to every major anti-war rally in the San Francisco Bay area.
But what could you expect from the son of a single mother Gloria Pacis, whose last name means peace.
“I’m undeniably proud of him,” says Pacis, who is currently thinking of ways to fundraise for Funk’s legal defense. “It takes a lot of guts to go against the grain.”
When her son joined the Marines, Pacis was “shocked out of my mind” because it ran contrary to the way she brought him up. Believing that Funk was lured into the Marines for a sense of belonging and purpose after quitting his studies at the University of Southern California, she urge him to get out of there.
“Stephen didn’t even like violent video games when he was a kid,” Pacis says, who describes her son as soft-spoken and inherently peaceful.
Pacis, born in Seattle and now living in New York, says, as an artist, her life has been based on passivity, not aggression or competition. She didn’t follow the crowd, and considers herself a loner.
Pacis’ parents, who helped raise Funk, was a strong influence on him. As immigrants from the Philippines, Funk’s grandparents were both “very peaceful” folks. His grandfather, who Funk says could have been Gandhi in his mind, was extremely pacifistic.
Funk is no stranger to controversy. While a student at NOVA Alternative School, Funk helped coordinate a district-wide protest involving more than 100 middle and high school students. The 1996 protest, receiving local media attention, was to show support for two male Washington Middle School students who were forced to change clothes when they came to school dressed in skirts. A Seattle Times article then reported that students said the protest wasn’t about fashion, but personal rights.
Continuing his activism as he finished NOVA with high marks, Funk participated in Seattle’s WTO protests and other later rallies in Los Angeles.
His activism for civil rights was fueled in large part by Funk’s Asian American background. Funk says that anyone who is a minority in any way knows what it feels like to be teased or oppressed.
“I don’t know what it is, but I think Asians and Hispanics are invisible races—we’re really not seen anywhere,” Funk says. “Our views are not heard.”
In his application for honorable discharge, Funk said that the military “perpetuates feelings of hatred against all that are different” to dehumanize potential enemies.
Funk re-ignited media attention when it “leaked out” from his application that he was gay, further complicating his argument for conscientious objector on moral grounds.
Though being gay is central to his politics. Funk does not want this aspect to be the focus of his cause. He doesn’t want to alienated people because they are homophobic, or because he “happens to be gay.”
Funks says that the other Marine reservist in training with him were aware that he was gay. While he awaits the decision of his discharge, Funk says, for the most part, fellow reservists haven’t treated him any differently, since “most of the people I was friends with tended to be more open about their beliefs.”
As the war comes to an end, Funk will be among the 28 conscientious objectors filed since the end of 2002, and 111 granted during the Gulf War. Funk, who currently may be transferred to a base in Washington State or Louisiana, says that he knows a lot of people in the military have reservations about fighting in the war.
Asked as to whether he will continue his fight after the judgment on his discharge, Funk says, “Yeah, of course, I’m ready to help the next conscientious objector.”