An Interview with Iraq War Veteran Darrell Anderson

An interview with Darrell Anderson, an Iraq War veteran, on his experiences in the Iraq War. He discusses the "insurgency," the attitudes of average Iraqis toward the US military, and the attitude of average US soldiers toward the war.

An interview with Darrell Anderson, an Iraq War veteran, on his experiences in the Iraq War. He discusses the "insurgency," the attitudes of average Iraqis toward the US military, and the attitude of average US soldiers toward the war.

A: Basically, I wanted money for education. I wanted a future. At the time I joined, it was a month before the war had started. So, I was ready to go to war, and I had actually joined because I wanted to see combat and wanted to go to war. I believed that If I died for my country, I’d be a hero, and I believed all the propaganda that they feed the youth of the country about war.

Q: How did you and your fellow soldiers react to President Bush’s announcement of war with Iraq?

A: I was in basic training, so I was just fed a bunch of propaganda about going to war; all me and my friends could say is “I want to be the first kid on my block to kill an Iraqi” and stuff like that. I deployed to Iraq after the war had started, and I still believed that I was going there to protect my family back at home; that by me going to war my sister, my mom, everybody would be safer.

Q: How did they try to influence you to be optimistic about the war?

A: They didn’t really talk much about that. They just were all “hoo rah” about it and like, “lets go to war because that’s why we joined the military,” and they just pumped us up about going to war. A lot of them told us we’d just be sitting in the desert eating good chow and having fun and getting paid. They never really talked about the hardship of war.

Q: So, they never really talked about the politics of the war?

A: Oh no, they don’t talk politics in the military. All you’re taught is “kill!”

Q: Can you talk about your first serious engagement in Iraq with the so-called enemy?

A: I got there in January ‘04, and my unit had been there six months already. January through March, I’d been shot at a few times, saw a few mortar rounds land, but no real serious combat until April, when Bush gave his famous ‘bring it on’ speech, and Al-Sadr’s army had an uprising where they tried to take over Baghdad in April ‘04. The first firefight I got into was when we were protecting the Iraqi police station and came under attack for a few hours by heavy AK fire, and three or four RPGs were shot at us. A few soldiers got injured that night and one died.

I didn’t get a chance to fire my weapon since the fire was coming from a different direction, and I couldn’t shoot over my fellow soldiers. After the firefight was over, cars were coming down the road, and we started turning them away. One car came through on my side and I was ordered to open fire, but I believed it was innocent civilians because the first three cars were, and I refused orders. The windows rolled down and there were children in the back, and I thought, “I don’t care I did the right thing,” and my superiors were telling me that I did the wrong thing and next time I’d be punished.

Q: So, you were engaged with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr?

A: Yeah, Sadr’s army. All the civilians joined in .… his army was there already, and everybody in Baghdad was hating us, so they just joined the resistance …. he’s (Sadr) got a lot of troops, but you’ll only recognize half the guys fighting as his soldiers. The other guys will just be civilians picking up their arms and coming out to fight, because there’s an army to join and they can fight with them instead of just being blown all to hell by us.

Q: Can you explain if there’s a US policy of differentiation between civilians and the enemy?

A: There’s no differentiation. If we’re fired upon by the enemy, we’re ordered to kill everybody there. But those orders didn’t come until April. January, February, March it was: If you’re shot at, take cover and wait for orders to return fire. In April it became: if you’re shot at, kill everybody there, because we’re losing too many soldiers and we have to stay alive.

Q: If a soldier wanted to differentiate in combat was it possible or safe to do so?

A: I did so. I never fired my weapon in combat. There was no one there to shoot. If we were shot at, they left and we opened fire on the people that were just left behind—innocent civilians. I never fired my weapon. I could choose to fire my weapon if I wanted to as an individual soldier, but for the rest of the group… it was a situation where we were getting shot at, and you never knew who was shooting at you, and it got to the point where you just started shooting people, because you didn’t know who was who or what was what.

Q: What is the attitude of the rank and file soldier about the war?

A: When I got to Iraq in January 2004, they were already against the war. They were saying, “We’re just sitting here dying here for nothing.” They were sent there in 2003 looking for ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ and obviously they didn’t find any, and the second thing they went to war for was to protect the people, and that’s why I went there, to protect the Iraqis. Obviously, every single Iraqi hated us except for the ones that were on the take profiting from the war.

Q: Is there the same attitude amongst the officers?

A: We used to get sent out on suicide missions and my Lieutenant and my platoon Sergeant would take us to a parking lot for a couple of hours, and we’d go back and say that everything was OK. So, my Lieutenant was disobeying orders in Iraq and going on false missions.

Q: So, that was a way to get you out of harm's way?

A: Yeah, we weren’t going to go out there and die for nothing, so we’d just do our own thing. It was to save ourselves. But the less you believe in what you’re doing, the more you’re going to resist and not do it. And there was no reason to go out there and die. There was no game in the war. There was nothing to be won by going out there and dying.

Q: Why and how did you leave the military?

A: I was home for Christmas and after talking with my family, decided to go to Canada the day before I was supposed to get on a plane to go back to Germany. It was seven months before my next deployment, but I knew the time was now to make my stance. We committed war crimes in Iraq, and all our procedures went against the Geneva Convention, and I vowed as a soldier to uphold the Geneva Convention and thought it was my duty to refuse, and I didn’t really have a political ideology. I didn’t really think about it. I just thought, as a soldier, it was my duty to report war crimes. So, I went to Canada to speak out against war crimes.

Q: How hostile were the various government agencies that you had to go through?

A: In Canada, they denied my refugee application. After two years, I felt it was safer to go back [to the U.S.] alone instead of being deported. I thought I’d do more time in prison if I were deported. So basically I decided to come back. I went to turn myself in at Fort Knox and I found the Generals at Fort Knox, and they had the choice to either Court Marshall me or not, and I told them that they’re going to have to put my uniform on me and pin my medals to my chest, put me on Court Martial, and that my whole defense is going to be talking about all the war crimes we committed, all the friends I’ve seen beating prisoners to death, all the times we killed innocent civilians.

They told me I was going to go to jail for one to five years, and when I got to the base they started to break, saying, “Come in quietly and we’ll let you go.” I told them no. I was gonna keep talking, and I got to the base and three days later I was sent away with discharge papers, because the soldiers on the base were really reacting to me being there. They were like, “What the hell is going on? This guys against the war and he has a purple heart.” So, they released me. I guess they felt the longer I was at the base, the more trouble I was going to cause, the more soldiers I would have gotten on my side, and they felt it was better for the military to get rid of me basically.

Q: Do you believe that they’re leaving you alone to put a lid on the opposition?

A: Oh yeah, they put Watada [Lt. Ehren Watada] on trial, but Watada never went to Iraq. He couldn’t really say anything that the people didn’t already know. With me, I would have testified about war crimes. They didn’t want me to go to trial because it would be bad for them. So, it was their decision to release me without punishment, because it would be better for the military.

Q: What specifically are you doing for the anti-war movement?

A: I’ve been speaking at High Schools to talk to kids about enlisting, and helping to stop the recruiters. I’ve been speaking outside of bases. I talk to soldiers at the airport when I see them in uniform. They’re out there. There’s like ten or twenty thousand AWOL soldiers right now.

Q: So do the soldiers just go on leave and not come back?

A: Yeah at Ft. Knox. Thousands get out-processed every year.

Q: Do you think the Democrats will end the war any time soon?

A: No, no. If anything the Democrats will go into Iran or have a draft or something. I have no belief in Hillary Clinton or any of them, because they’re all politicians. They’re not going to stop the war.