THIS is the story of Joshua Key, an American soldier, as told to Lawrence Hill about his experiences during the US attack on Iraq.
Brought up in poverty during childhood at his grandfather'sfarm in Oklahoma, and suffering one stepfather after another, Joshua joined the US Army after high school, and says, ?I can say with relief and gratitude that I have never killed anybody, Iraqi or American. I have enough trouble as it is living with my own demons, and I?m not sure how I would have kept on going with innocent blood on my hands. But I know there is a chance that if I had killed someone else, I would have gone on later to kill myself.?
Joshua was stationed in Colorado when he was ordered to go to Iraq, a war zone, under the belief that ?somebody had to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction?; that ?somebody had to depose the evil tyrant Saddam Hussein?; that ?somebody had to make the world safe from terrorists who had overtaken Iraq and were threatening our lives?. He was brainwashed into believing the Iraqi men, women and children were ?sand niggers, ragheads, habibs, hajjis and, most of all, terrorists.?
In this book Joshua describes his first few raids on the houses of Iraqis with none of them offering any resistance??Even though not one person tried to shoot us or made any effort to hurt us, it was common for American soldiers to beat up the civilians.? He continues, ?At least every two or three days during my time in Iraq, I saw our soldiers kicking Iraqi civilians in the ribs and punching their faces until blood ran from their noses, mouths or eyebrows.?
Narrating an incident at Fallujah, Joshua says, that one day, all of a sudden he felt the ground under his feet shaking. He found that a trigger-happy American soldier had started shooting for fun and everybody else (the other soldiers) had joined in. He suddenly saw ?about a dozen body bags being carried away and was told that the victims were all Iraqi civilians.? He adds, ?The people of Fallujah were so accustomed to bullets flying that some of them walked about oblivious to the dangers.?
Joshua befriends a poor seven-year old Iraqi girl who comes every time she sees him, asking, ?Mister, food!? He gives her whatever he has and one day he sees her shot down by his fellowmen for no fault of hers. He writes, ?Her death haunts me to this day. I am trying to learn to live with it!?
After six to seven months, Joshua is allowed to return home on two weeks? leave. On having left Baghdad, he and the other soldiers with him, have to change their flight at Kuwait. He stands in a queue for checking out. He sees a soldier in front watching his bags being searched. The airport officer, while rummaging through the soldier'sbelongings pulls out something thick and asks, ?What the hell is this??
The soldier replies, ?An ear.?
The officer queries, ?Soldier, you want to take a human ear back to the United States??
On returning to his country, Joshua meets his wife at Fort Carson where his nightmares continue. ?I dreamed of decapitated heads staring at me and calling out accusations. I dreamed of children dying.? In the second week of his stay, Joshua leaves the military base at Fort Carson and escapes to Canada because, ?my conscience told me that it was wrong to return to Iraq and keep on doing things I knew to be wrong.? Finally he deserts the Army despite knowing that he had signed a paper on being recruited which was a warning from the military: ?Deserting in the time of war means death by a firing squad.?
This is a very moving and vivid account by an American soldier on the US attack on Iraq.
(Roli Books, M-75 Greater Kailash-II Market, New Delhi-110 048.)