Joshua Key deserted after one tour of duty in Iraq and is now roaming Canada with his family in search of refugee status.
The Keys are living in a van because of Joshua Key’s opposition to the US-led war in Iraq. While many opponents of the Iraq war base their opposition on media reports, Key’s opinion is based on what he witnessed when he fought for eight months in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle.
Key never thought he’d end up in Iraq in the first place. When he first enlisted, he signed up to be a bridge builder in a non-deployable unit. Despite this, the Army trained him in explosives and landmines, and sent him to Iraq in April of 2003.
In February, 2003 all the equipment from Key’s unit was being loaded onto trains to send to Iraq. “We were told that Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant and he had to be crushed. I believed there were weapons of mass destruction and war was justified. I felt like I better get it over with now so that my kids don’t have to deal with him (Hussein) in the future.”
Key’s unit was the second to enter Iraq after the invasion. Soon after arriving, Key saw evidence of an extremely disorganized U.S military. “There wasn’t enough food or water for the troops. We were told to steal water from other troops before we left on a mission so we’d have enough.”
They were in Ramadi for three weeks before it got violent. Key’s job was to patrol streets and raid homes. “We’d use explosives to blow up the front door, then six of us would run in, grab the males and send them off for interrogation and hold the women and children at gunpoint while we completely destroyed their home. Soldiers could steal whatever they wanted.”
It was an adrenaline rush at first, but after a while Key couldn’t figure out why they were raiding homes. “I started seeing the mothers faces screaming and hollering; they don’t look at it as though it’s your government who is doing this to them, they see you as being the enemy. They look at you as though they would slit your throat at any minute if they could,” he explains.
When Key’s unit moved to Fallujah, he saw the enemy fighting back for the first time. “We went from not knowing what a mortar attack was to being under attack every single night.” Even though he was being shot at, Key felt that the Iraqis were just fighting for their country.
According to Key, sympathy for the Iraqi people was one of his downfalls. “You’re told to treat the enemy as though they’re guilty until proven innocent, and to have no remorse and no regret.” During a traffic control point that Key was part of, an American tank blew up a car that passed through without permission. There was a father and his child inside. The father was dead and the boy was badly injured. Key bandaged him up and took him to the closest hospital.
“I wasn’t supposed to do this as it showed sympathy to the enemy.” Key and other U.S soldiers searched the car afterwards and there were no signs of contraband anywhere. “They just didn’t understand what stop meant,” he says sadly. There were signs everywhere that showed the military’s lack of control. At a scene in Ramadi, Key realized that no soldier was going to be held accountable for their actions. “We turned a corner and all I saw were heads and bodies. It shocked us all. There were American troops in the middle saying they had lost it. My squad leader told me to go and see if I could find evidence of a firefight and what went on. As soon as I stepped out of the tank I saw American soldiers kicking a head around like a soccer ball.
One of Key’s friends received a book in the mail from his mother titled, America Sold it’s Soul for Saudi Crude. His opinion on the war started to change after he read that book. “When I got to Iraq I asked the people why there was so much trash everywhere. They told me it was from us. I didn’t believe it until I started reading. We’ve destroyed that country in the last 14 years. The U.S government planned, organized and orchestrated the whole thing. We’re just there for the oil.”
People criticize Key for abandoning the war and not honoring his contract with the military. Key’s response to this is that he was sent to fight an illegal war for his country and that it was the military who didn’t uphold their side of the contract. “I thought I was there to promote democracy, but I think I was there to prevent it.”