Ian Fishback: One of Time Magazine’s Most Influential and Our GSI

HerCampus got the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Ian Fishback, a bioethics GSI, who is pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. After serving our country with Special Forces in Iraq for 15 years, Fishback returned to the United States having witnessed some truly grave national atrocities on part of our military stationed in the Middle East. 


Facing up to the fact that something ought to be done, Fishback drafted a letter to Senator John McCain in Arizona, detailing his concerns about the abuse of prisoners caught in the crossfire of the Global War on Terror. The Senator then rallied his own forces to create an amendment to the bill, initiated by our very own Fishback, criminalizing the brutalities legalized by the Bush Administration. 


Fishback’s work got him listed as Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2006, and now he continues to spend his days here on our campus, indulging in unique cultural experiences, testing our Ann Arbor’s finest coffee shops, and unorthodoxly debating some of the most significant ethical dilemmas concerning our generation.  


HC: Your undergraduate experience at West Point’s Military Academy was arguably different to a majority of 18-year-olds today. What gave you the desire to commit to your country and make that huge sacrifice at such a young age?


IF: I think it was sheer gratitude- gratitude for the opportunities afforded to me from having lived in this country and being an American. I mean just think about yourself and your place in terms of human history. A majority of us on this college campus are in the top 1% of the human global chain in terms of how lucky we are. Everything we have the privilege of experiencing- our rights, our freedom, our peace… it is all the product of the virtue and hard work that so many people put in towards protecting those privileges. From a young age, having a father who fought in Vietnam, I was very aware of those privileges and that honorary status I received from being a democratic citizen in the United States. So, it was just a strongly innate feeling that I had a responsibility to do my part to continue that legacy.


HC: How did it feel to be one of the most influential people in the world in 2006, alongside icons like the President, Condoleezza Rice, Angela Merkel, and Meryl Streep?  


IF: I actually exclusively asked Time Magazine not to put me on that list! Especially because it wasn’t all me right? If there were different people in government at the time, if the political climate weren’t right, if my team hadn’t been as driven as they were… the letter wouldn’t have amounted to much. What people said about my role that made it seem different to everybody else’s is that it required more courage on my part, because I wasn’t going to be rewarded for my decisions and there were a lot of people who did not elect to make that stand, historically speaking. 


At the end of the day we want to live virtuously, and we want to use our strength and hone it to bring about honor and that was always the point for me. It was about the strength and the honor, and not the making of a list or being “up there” with famous people. Of course I try to constantly live up to the wonderful nobility, but on the other hand my entire purpose could have failed and then maybe I wouldn’t have been on the list. But when all is said and done, for me it is better to have served honorably and forvalues and fall or be ineffective, than to have done otherwise. There are tons of people that I have fought alongside, where we all fought for the same thing but today they are dead and never got to accomplish something like this, while I am alive and get a spot on a fancy list. But that doesn’t change the fact that they deserve to be “up there” too. Yet, their “influence” and honor gets left unsaid… so I guess in one way I’ve never believed that the list is a true measure of why I did what I did and the real impact of that action, if that makes sense.


HC: What advice would you give to students today who want to change the world and have the kind of impact that you did?


IF: Be deliberate. Be deliberate in thinking about difficult choices and policy decisions we might face. Be deliberate in trying to integrate with people around you. Interact with people that you don’t understand and do it on a daily basis. Virtue is admitting, “Hey! I don’t walk in your shoes, and I don’t know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, but I’m going to take time out of my day to do that and if nothing else I’d be a better person for it!” It’s very much about finding people and experiences that are going to hone your virtue and being genuinely thankful for that. Sometimes the younger generation tends to reduce something like charity to math, but it’s actually about being able to share someone’s truth and thinking about and practicing taking unpopular stances.  Be brave enough to walk a mile in another man’s shoes and be valiant in that you choose to stand for the contested opinion sometimes. That is the best way to experience growth, and experiencing that growth is probably the best way to make that impact.