Aaron Bushnell was my friend. May he never be forgotten

Aaron did not die in vain. He has already inspired so many to stand up for truth and justice

On Monday 26 February, at 3.43pm, I got a text from a friend.

“Have you seen the news out of DC today about the air force member? Let me know if you need to talk tonight or later this week.” I replied and explained that I had seen the headlines, and that it saddened me. She texted: “Since he was based in San Antonio I wondered if he was someone you crossed paths with or had friends in common with.”

I said: “Hmm. I’ll have to find his name.”

The next moment, there was a text.

“The name I’ve seen is Aaron Bushnell.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I walked out the front door, and looked up at the sky. I called my friend. I said: “That’s my friend. I went to basic with him. I saw him last month.” And I wept. I found my last text conversation with him; he had sent me a YouTube video he thought was funny and we had chatted back and forth about it.

That was early February, and I never heard from him again. I googled his name, and only believed it was really him when I saw his face on the news. I found the post he had made talking about why he was going to do what he did.

I am still in shock. Every time I see a headline, I remember it all over again. Every time I see his name written on a poster at a protest, or I meet someone who knows his name, it doesn’t feel real to me. There’s so much on my mind right now, but here’s what I know, at this moment.

Aaron did not die in vain. He has already inspired so many to stand up for truth and justice. It breaks my heart that his life ended this way. I could never do what he did, and I don’t believe anyone should do what he did. But we’ll never get Aaron back. All we can do is hear the message he died to shine a spotlight on: the horrors of the genocide in Gaza, and the complicity we share as military members and taxpayers of a government deeply invested in violence.

Aaron is by no means the only United States military member who has felt complicit in the military’s violence, powerless to change anything, and stuck waiting until the end of a four- or six-year contract. There are thousands of military members similarly distraught, having thoughts of taking extreme actions to escape something that feels inescapable.

I got out of the air force as a conscientious objector in 2023, after going through the exhaustive process for over a year. I applied to be separated because I came to realize I did not support what the military was doing, I didn’t support its goals, and I didn’t want to earn my livelihood from something I believed was wrong.

If you’re a service member, I want you to know that you have options. You do not have to be complicit in genocide

During the process, I had so many conversations with fellow military members, a great many of whom could relate to the way I felt. One member spoke frankly with me, admitting that she had serious concerns with supporting the military. However, faced with the high costs of medical care outside the military, she commented: “If I have to sell my soul to the devil to get my children healthcare, that’s what I have to do.” Others were considering taking their lives as the only way to escape, and had no hope that they could make it to the end of their contract.

If you’re a civilian living in the United States, please, have compassion for military members. Understand that many of us joined before we knew all the evil committed by the military. Do what you can to support organizations helping military members separate as conscientious objectors before the end of their contracts, such as the Center on Conscience & War.

If someone in your life is considering joining the military, work with them to find other ways to fulfill the needs and desires that are drawing them to it, whether that’s looking for affordable ways to attend college, or more ethical ways to become a part of something larger than oneself, that actually benefits the world.

If you’re a service member, I want you to know that you have options. You do not have to be complicit in genocide. You can stand up for what you believe in. If you’re having thoughts of killing yourself, reach out to your chaplains or an anonymous hotline for help. You matter. I need you to stay alive.

Please, don’t forget Aaron. Let his death inspire you to live, with your whole being committed to the cause of justice for oppressed people. If you are a praying person, please pray for Aaron’s family. Rest in peace, Aaron.

Levi Pierpont is a conscientious objector

published in The Guardian