LICENSE TO MURDER
Killing machine. In his book, GI Joshua Key describes the brutalization of US soldiers in Iraq
By Jurgen Rose
[This book review of Joshua Key’s “Ich bin ein Deserteur – My Life as a Soldier in the Iraq War,” Hamburg, 2007 published 11/30/2007 in: Freitag 48 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2007/48/07481701.php
. Jurgen Rose is a lieutenant colonel in the German army and author of many articles critical of empire, aggression and state lawlessness.]
He really only wanted to be a welder. But the US army needed killers. Because he was poor, unsullied by excessive education and drunk with patriotism having to make ends meet somehow with his wife and two children, Joshua Key, the farmer from Guthrie, Oklahoma, became the easy prey of Staff Sergeant Van Houten. The latter was one of many recruits who had to guarantee the indispensable reinforcements in human cannon fodder craved by the giganto-maniac- US military machine. Coded with false promises, Key signed his commitment with the US Army on April 3, 2002. He was convinced he would “see the world and learn a completely new lifestyle with the army.” This expectation was fulfilled – very differently than expected.
Recruit Key learned the military life world in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri with the 35th Combat Engineer Company. There the drill sergeants roared. He and his comrades would now be trained to be the “most vicious killers on the battlefield.” Weeks of humiliation followed “”you are a stupid piece of refuse, a useless bastard”). Future fighters were broken mentally and redeveloped according to the army’s ideal. The soldier Key would grow to be a “perfect killing machine.”
Military training is accompanied by systematic hate indoctrination. Moslems are not civilians. Afghans are “filthy terrorists who deserve death.” Iraqis are only enemies, “not civilians or humans.” “A spark of humanliness may not be granted to the enemy,” Key said. All soldiers seem to wear a virtual seal “Brainwashed by US Army” on their forehead. On command, they brainlessly growl racist slogans: “One shot, one kill, one Arab, one Asian.” At the end they are perfectly trimmed for murder in the name of the “global war on terror.” “In the eyes of our army, the Iraqis were not humans but terrorists, suicide assassins or idiots. They must be disregarded as persons so soldiers can be empowered for their actions. In military training, soldiers are taught to see Iraqis as inferior. This attitude crossed the ocean with us when we went on operational missions.”
This was written on April 10, 2003. Promoted to “Private First Class,” Key now serves in the 43rd Combat Engineer Company. In his recruitment, he was promised service in building bridges on a “non-deployable military base” in the US. This turned out to be a blatant lie. Now he is in Ramadi, a city of 300,000 residents around thirty miles west of Baghdad in the middle of the so-called “Sunni triangle” where the invaders encountered the fiercest resistance. Rule Number One, the officers command, is: “If you feel frightened, shoot first and ask questions later.”
This instruction is nothing but a license to murder as Key describes in a shocking and heart-rending example. While he kept guard for weeks at a hospital, a seven-year old girl begged him for food. Gradually he understood she was simply a girl and not a terrorist. Key gave her his care ration and rejoiced over her visit when she came running to him. “I reached for my backpack,” he reports, “and when I looked up, I saw her ten feet away, heard shots from a semi-automatic rifle and saw her head burst like a mushroom.” Since not a single armed Iraqi was seen, Key was convinced one of his own people put a bullet through the girl’s head. “Her death still follows me today. I tried to learn to live with that.” So he describes his trauma.
However he could not escape his own brutalization through war and occupation. “My moral ability to judge began to crumble under the pressure of being a soldier. I felt vulnerable and had no clearly identifiable enemy to kill. We were encouraged to finish off the enemy. Defenseless civilians were ravaged. We knew we would not be called to account for our actions. We had fear and too little sleep; we were pumped up by coffee, adrenalin and testosterone. Our officers constantly reminded us all Iraqis including civilians were enemies. The temptation to steal was great. Handing out whips was completely normal; killing was easy. We were Americans in Iraq and we could do whatever we wanted.”
Key played along even if his conscience got in the way now and then. The longer the deployment, the more intensely his scruples grew. One day it dawned on him that the US soldiers were the terrorists. “We terrorized the population, intimidated and attacked them, demolished their houses and even raped their women. Those we did not kill have every reason to become terrorists. In view of what we did to them, who could criticize them for wanting to kill all Americans? We Americans had become terrorists in Iraq.”
When Key went home to his wife and children in November 2003 on a two week home vacation from his glorious murder troop, he suffered under nightmares, blackouts and grave personality changes. In short, he was a mental wreck. At the last minute in returning to his unit in Iraq, he landed in Dallas and had a revelation. “I wanted to be with my wife and children. I didn’t want to be defiled any more with the blood of men, women and children. I could not be responsible in my conscience in still fighting in Iraq.”
He deserted. For nearly 16 months, Key and his family hid in different cities across the US, always afraid of being arrested. Many years of prison were possible; the death penalty could not be excluded. In December 2004, his wife gave birth to their fourth child, a little girl. In March 2005, all of them escaped to Canada. In Toronto, the family applied for asylum. In retrospect, GI Joshua Key summarized: “My army made me ashamed of being an American.”
Isn’t shame also appropriate in Germany, shame that a German government under Gerhard Schroeder supported this blatantly aggressive war of the US and its war coalition despite massive public rejection of the Iraq war? It was the US Army that shipped soldier Joshua Key via Frankfurt Rhine-Main to military service in Iraq. Shouldn’t Germany be ashamed of violating international law and the constitution with its vassal-loyalty? Shouldn’t Germany be ashamed of still being allied with this American empire of barbarism that in the delusion of power kidnaps persons worldwide on mere suspicion to the torture hells of Guantanamo, Bagram or Camp Bondsteel?