The Deserter’s Tale

By Joshua Key as told to Lawrence Hill (2007)

Review by Dom Nozzi

When I reported on Facebook that a book I had just read – Morality Wars – was a profound, must-read book detailing how the American Empire justifies and legitimizes its criminal, imperialistic global warfare to American citizens by describing the morality of US atrocities around the world, a Facebook friend urged me to read a book she has just read.
After reading only half of it, I am so stunned by the shocking criminality of what the US was doing in the Bush/Obama Iraq war in the first decade of the 21st Century that I must also provide shocking excerpts from this book as well.

Key starts the book by describing his lower-income status, his lack of an education beyond high school, and his lack of health insurance. He was a patriotic American as a young man, and when the US Armed Forces offered him income, higher education, and health  nsurance, it was as if they were offering him a chance to win the lottery (and a chance to stop terrorism before his children would have to fight them in the US) when he was offered a chance to serve in the armed forces.

His recruiters assured him repeatedly that he would be placed in the US Army “bridge repair” corps and that he would be at a “nondeployable” base. He would not be deployed to fight a war overseas, he was repeatedly assured as he repeatedly asked for assurance.

He then learned that it was all a lie.

In boot camp, he is stunned to learn he is assigned to a combat unit, where recruits are incessantly told by commanders that Iraqis – including children – are to be dehumanized. They are all sand nigger terrorists all deserving to be killed. He visits Lieutenant Joyce and asks permission to speak. He tells Joyce that when he joined the military, he was told he was being sent to a nondeployable base, but then learns he is assigned to a combat unit. Can he fix this problem, Key asks?

“Soldier,” Joyce responds, “you obviously don’t understand the military way of life. Get the hell out of my office.”

The next day, his squad leader screams at Key: “You broke rank by speaking to…Joyce and you’re a fucking piece of shit!”

Key is deployed to Iraq and is shocked that immediately upon arrival, his platoon is engaged in seemingly endless atrocities that would make the Nazis look like boy scouts: regular raids of residential homes looking for “terrorists,” terrorizing those in the homes by blowing up the front door, rushing into the homes armed to the teeth, and completely vandalizing and ransacking the contents of the home. NEVER finding “terrorists” or weapons in ANY of the many homes they raid.

In all instances, the raids and killings are directed against completely defenseless,  unarmed civilians.

It seems clear from the description of the author that on a regular basis, a Vietnam-like My Lai Massacre was being committed by the US military in Iraq. And no reports and not
a peep of protest was made about any of them. I cannot see how any Iraqi, who witnessed
any of the many hideous actions by the US troops in Iraq, could feel anything but utter, lifelong anger against all Americans. That all witnessing Iraqis would become lifelong terrorists dedicating their entire lives to wanting to kill any and all Americans they ever see. Key asks, “How would I react if foreigners invaded the US and did just a tenth of the things that we had done to the Iraqi people?” He admits that if this were the case, he “would be right up there with the rebels and insurgents, using every bit of my cleverness to
blow up the occupiers…I would lob all the mortars and rocket-propelled grenades I could buy. No doubt about it. If someone blasted into my home and terrorized my family, I would become a force to be reckoned with. I would invent my own booby traps and come up with the most unexpected…mayhem. I would give the occupiers hell and keep at it until I was dead…”

The enormous number of incidents of atrocities committed by the US military in Iraq shocked Key. “I suspect the total number of victims [killed in Iraq by the US] would shock and astonish Americans just as profoundly as did the discovery of the My Lai Massacre.” In reading this book and thinking of the LACK of outrage expressed by Americans
compared to My Lai, I must wonder if Americans have become so desensitized to the enormous number of atrocities US troops now commit, in our name, around the world that we no longer care how evil we have become. By contrast, Key retains a sense of outrage and shame. “I shudder to imagine the thousands upon thousands of Iraqi families who this very day are struggling still with the loss of a loved one who died, completely innocently, at American hands.”

Key relates the bitter irony of his previous understanding that the US was the paragon of virtue and justice. “When American soldiers beat up, stole from, and killed Iraqi civilians during my six and a half months at war, I was them do so with complete impunity. We
were far more than soldiers fighting enemy insurgents. To civilians of Iraq, we became police officers, prosecutors, jailors, and executioners. We claimed to be bringing democracy and good order to the people of Iraq, but all we brought were hate and destruction.”

Have we reduced the chance of terrorism in the US by what we did in and to Iraq? Key answers clearly: “The only thing we gave to the people of Iraq was a reason to despise us – and perhaps to want to kill us – for generations to come…The young Iraqis who survive our raids, abuse, and detentions have all the motivation they need to seek revenge. I am not looking forward to the day they get organized.”

Are Americans more civilized than Iraqis? “Whenever I remember standing with 300 military trainees in Missouri shouting ‘Kill the sand niggers’ as loud as we could while stabbing and slashing with our bayonets at straw dummies, I say to myself that I hope the
Iraqis who survive our war prove to be more civilized than we were.”

Key was shocked to witness murder of an Iraqi child, random violence against civilians to vent anger for the frustration of not finding terrorism, and sexual abuse of innocent women, all committed by American Soldiers and officers.

He then goes on to describe a scene so horrifying that I feel compelled to write this review of the book. He notes spotting four decapitated Iraqis while on a late night patrol, allegedly looking for a riot and assault against US troops, but finding nothing of the
kind. They had their heads sheered off by an overwhelming hail of US gunfire. Two of the US soldiers are playing soccer with the heads of the decapitated Iraqis.

He describes, understandably, being utterly revolted and horrified by the scene.

There were no rioting Iraqis. The only armed men he saw were US soldiers.

He then learns that his commanding officer that night had swerved the military vehicle he was driving Key’s platoon with so that he could run over one of the decapitated heads.

Key then goes on to express his horror over the fact that his commanding officers had been silent when they came upon the scene (and one of them had actually join in the inhumane act by running over one of the heads). Key, a patriot going into the war, notes that
this event snapped the “last threads of belief I had in my country and what it was doing at war. I had always seen my fellow Americans as upholders of justice in the world, but now I had come face to face with the indecency of our actions in Iraq.”

Key hoped that a report would be written on what had happened that night, and asked if he could see such a report. A commanding officer tells him it is none of his damn business and that Key should leave it alone. “I didn’t know much about the Geneva Conventions,
but I knew one thing: what I had witnessed was wrong. We were soldiers in the US Army. In Iraq, we were supposed to be stomping out terrorism, bringing democracy, and acting as a force for good in the world. Instead we had become monsters in a residential neighborhood…I don’t have to be a a lawyer to know that armies at war were not supposed to rape, plunder, loot or pillage. They were not supposed to harm civilians or mutilate the bodies of the dead…it is wrong to attack defenseless people.”

Key goes on to describe how he will never be able to forget how US soldiers were playing around with the decapitated heads of Iraqis that were killed by the US troops. His nightmares – in which he replays that scene over and over in his head – tells him what he
“was slowly realizing: that the American military has betrayed the values of my country. We had become a force for evil, and I could not escape the fact that I was part of the machine.”

Over and over, Key notes the anger and frustration felt by fellow US troops in Iraq, and  how they regularly chose to do so by taking out this fury by massacring defenseless civilians. “Some of the men in my company wanted to take revenge, to go out and kill as many Iraqis as they could. My own anger, however, was reserved for the president of the
US…I could find no justification for our role in Iraq and could not think of a single positive thing we had done in the country. My friends had had their legs blown off, and what was it for?”

The author notes his anguish and fear in deciding he must become a deserter. That he must leave the country which he had once loved and was unquestionably loyal to. “I didn’t want to participate in an unjust war, and I didn’t believe it was right that I should
become a prisoner in my own country for refusing to act like a criminal in Iraq.”


2 Responses to The Deserter’s Tale

  1. Pingback: Books: Best Ever | Dom Nozzi's Best-Ever Hall of Fame Lists

  2. Gerald Spezio says:

    Israel ordered the total destruction of Iraq, & U.S. politicians & military delivered.

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