The Deserter’s Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq

Carra Noelle Simpson

Joshua Key, a patriotic small-town Kansas boy, signed up for the U.S. Army to support the war effort in Iraq, seek vengeance for the 9/11 attack and support his growing family. He was also ready to change jobs, after suffering third-degree burns from a deep fryer, and driving himself to the ER because his boss didn’t care. But these dehumanizing experiences were insignificant compared to his service in Iraq, which Key describes in The Deserter’s Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq (Anansi), as told to Lawrence Hill. The story, although repetitive at times, is a vivid, clearly written account. In it he describes the brutality dealt to undeserving Iraqi civilians, who are viewed by U.S. soldiers as all Muslims and therefore all terrorists. He tells of how he gained the trust of a young Iraqi girl and shared his field rations with her family only to watch her get shot as she walked away with the food in her hands. He tells about driving around a corner to find fellow soldiers kicking around the heads of Iraqi men, decapitated by the rapid fire of M-249 rifles because scared young soldiers “just fucking lost it.” Such violence is relentless in this story, and Key’s epiphany is definitive: “We, the Americans, had become the terrorists in Iraq.” There is an ambulance-chasing sensation that comes with reading this book, and it seems almost disrespectful to comment on the content without having suffered through it, but The Deserter’s Tale needs to be read and discussed. Key offers an honest, accessible, first-hand experience of the war in Iraq that is missing in mainstream media.

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