Returning Iraq veteran says U.S. is committing ‘genocide’
by Bert Berlowe
There was a time, not long ago, when Jimmy Massey believed in war. For 12 years, he was a self-described “gung-ho” Marine Corps officer, recruiter and boot camp instructor, leading fellow Marines through the most grueling of military indoctrinations. As he once said, “boot camp is designed to dehumanize and desensitize a person to violence.”
Even as he recruited others to go to war, Massey began to question the Marines’ methods, taking advantage of economically depressed youth by misleading them on the benefits of military service. His recruiting career ended when he wrote to his commanding officer, outlining his personal concerns about the enlistment process.
March 2003, Massey went into Iraq as part of the initial U.S. invasion. He was
put in charge of a platoon of machine gunners assigned to secure roadways in
Iraq. In that capacity, he both witnessed and participated in the killing of
many innocent civilians. The impact of that combat turned him against the war.
After complaining to his superiors about the roadside carnage, Massey was shipped
out of Iraq and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He also claimed
conscientious objector status. He was given an honorable discharge from the
Marines in December 2003.
Since leaving the service, the North Carolina native has been touring the country
speaking out against the Iraq War and has written a yet-to-be published book
on his experiences, called “Cowboys From Hell.” He plans to use
the proceeds from the book to start a post-traumatic stress disorder foundation.
Massey is a founding member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), established
in early 2004 by Mike Hoffman and Tim Goodrich, who met at a Dover, Delaware,
to Washington, D.C., peace march. The organization made its official debut during
the Veterans for Peace national convention in Boston in July. Since then, it
has joined with other anti-war groups to demand an end to U.S. military involvement
These organizations are leaders in a rapidly growing movement of military personnel
who are leaving their posts in protest. Some have fled to Canada or into anonymity.
Others, like Massey, are traveling widely, speaking out against the war and
U.S. military policy.
weekend, Massey will be the featured guest at three gatherings sponsored by
Minnesota Veterans for Peace and the Iraq Peace Action Coalition. Co-sponsors
include the Anti-War Committee, First Unitarian Society, Twin Cities Peace Campaign-Focus
on Iraq, St. Joan of Arc Peacemakers, Women Against Miltary Madness and others.
Massey will be making three appearances in Minneapolis this weekend. On Friday,
April 8 at 7 p.m., he will be the featured guest at a fundraising reception
and social gathering at the CWA Local 722 Union Hall (3521 E. Lake St. Songwriter
and Vietnam veteran Jerry Rau will perform. Suggested minimum donation is $10.
On Saturday, April 9, Massey will be the guest speaker at the Vets for Peace
annual meeting at 7 p.m. at the St. Stephens School and Community Center, 2123
Clinton Ave. S. On Sunday, April 10, Massey will speak at the First Unitarian
Society, 900 Mount Curve Ave. The free event begins at 3 p.m. and features music
by local musician “Pop” Wagner and readings by local writers. The
public may attend free of charge.
Pulse: I understand that you have been on the road recently doing speaking
engagements, prior to your upcoming visit to Minneapolis this weekend. Where
have you been travelling?
Massey: I have been in some New England states and will be going to Michigan,
Iowa and Minnesota. I am speaking primarily at colleges, universities and high
Pulse: What do you tell people in your speeches?
Massey: I talk about my experiences in Iraq, but also about the economic
conscript of working class youth into the military. For a lot of kids getting
ready to graduate high school, the military looks pretty good, because their
families have no money to send them to college. They are at a point in their
lives where they don’t have many options and are susceptible to recruiters.
The recruiters convince 19- to 25-year-olds who can’t get a good job that
they can get job skills in the military.
Pulse: What kind of a reaction do you get?
I have been getting a good response. I don’t tell them not to enlist.
I encourage them to make their own choice and give them the information they
need to make it. Many of the kids have been already approached by recruiters,
so they know what I’m talking about. In some cases, I’m reinforcing
what they already knew. I am encouraged by the anti-recruitment campaigns some
students are doing on their campuses to counter the recruiters.
Pulse: When did you enlist in the Marines, and why?
Massey: I enlisted in 1992. I was a 19-year-old senior in high school
in New Orleans. My stepfather had lost his job and didn’t have the money
to send me to college, so I dropped out. I was working as a tool head but then
I discovered Bourbon Street. I lost my job and apartment and my car broke down.
I was homeless—living in a park and on the street for about a month. Then
one day, I came across a Marine recruiter while he was pumping gas into his
car. He took me to lunch. He told me that I needed self-discipline and said
I could get that in the Marine Corps. He challenged me to do that. I called
my mom collect and then rode the Greyhound bus to visit her. She had come from
the Vietnam War era and was supportive of the military. She didn’t encourage
me to join, but she didn’t discourage me either. She just said that once
I got in the marines to do what I was told to do.
Pulse: What was your military training and experience prior to going
Massey: I went to boot camp at Camp Pendleton where I literally got the
shit beat out of me within the first several months. Boot camp is designed to
dehumanize and desensitize a person to violence. If you don’t conform,
they beat you up. When I had a bad day, I got taken aside and beat up. When
you’re in the military, it’s a lot like being in a Mafia family.
You don’t step outside the family. If you break away from the family,
they’re going to do whatever they can to keep you quiet. After boot camp,
I served in the Marines for 10 years in the United States before being sent
to Kuwait. I was a recruiter and boot camp instructor. My career as a recruiter
ended when I wrote a mission statement to the commanding officers, expressing
my personal concerns with the issues of recruitment. But no one listened.
Pulse: When were you sent to Iraq? What did you think or expect would
I was sent to Kuwait on January 19, 2003, and to Iraq on March 22. I was a gung-ho
Marine. I thought we were doing the right thing. We were told that Saddam [Hussein]
had weapons of mass destruction. I knew, from reading Iraq history, about America’s
history of supporting Saddam as a dictator, that he had treated his people cruelly,
and that we were to “take him out.”
It was pretty evident when, eight months before we even left to go to Kuwait,
the Marines were training to shut down and take over the Ar Rumaylah oil fields.
We had detailed schematics and terrain models of all the oil fields outside
of Basra, and once we took care of those, all that was left was the ride into
I also was coming into contact with groups like the War Resister’s League
while I was out on recruitment duty. I started reading some of the literature
they were handing out at high schools. I became curious and started doing my
own research, finding out certain things about America’s involvement in
other countries. I knew about our imperialistic and political intentions.
Pulse: What happened once you got into Iraq?
Massey: The first time I came under fire, we were moving north in a group
when our vehicle was attacked. We jumped out of our vehicle and returned fire.
They ran away. It all lasted five or six seconds. I just assumed that they were
enemy forces, some kind of gang, sort of like the Crips in America. We were
like a bunch of cowboys who rode into town shooting up the place. I saw charred
bodies in vehicles that were clearly not from the military.
There wasn’t a whole lot of direct fighting to speak of. There were some
firefights —I mean I had bullet holes in the side of my Humvee—but
it wasn’t like major combat action. We took the highway the whole way
to Baghdad. They had no artillery, no air support. They were weakened by the
sanctions. Most of their hardware was leftover from the war against Iran. The
first Gulf War had devastated them. I don’t think they had the will or
the opportunity to fight.
far as I’m concerned, the real war did not begin until the Iraqis saw
us murdering innocent civilians. There were two incidents that turned me against
the war. The first was my experience with recruitment. The second was when I
was stationed with a machine gunner guarding the checkpoints that came in and
out of Baghdad. We were to give hand signals to moving vehicles and if they
didn’t [respond], we assumed they had ammunition that would go off, so
we “lit them up.”
(But) they were innocent civilians. We found no weapons, no explosives—nothing.
Somehow, I don’t know how he could have done it, but one guy got out of
a car we had “lit up” and wasn’t badly wounded. It turns out
he was the brother of another man in the car who had been killed. He looked
at me and asked, “Why did you kill my brother? What did he do to you?”
That hit me like a ton of bricks.
All told, I was involved in five checkpoint “light-ups.” We even
once lit up a rally of civilians after we heard a gunshot. They were young Iraqis
with no weapons.
There were 30-plus civilians killed over two days at those checkpoints. The
military wouldn’t make a distinction between what they call “collateral
damage” and murder. I said that if it happens once, it’s collateral
damage; after that, it’s murder. The bottom line is that [commanders]
don’t see the need to teach culture and humanity to men whose singular
purpose is to kill.
I killed innocent people for our government, for what? What is the good coming
out of it? I feel like I’ve taken part in some sort of evil lie created
by our government. I just feel embarrassed, ashamed about it.
Pulse: When you became so concerned about shooting innocent civilians,
what did you do about it?
Massey: I went to my commanding officer and said, “If you want
my honest opinion, sir, we are committing genocide over here.” He just
made my job more difficult, giving me extra work to do. Later, I was basically
put under house arrest. There were other Marines who were afraid to speak out
who would tell me, privately, that they supported me.
Pulse: I read in one of your previous interviews that you developed post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) during the war. When did that happen and what was it
While I was in combat in Iraq, I began having the symptoms of PTSD—nightmares,
flashbacks, agitation, jumping at any crackling sound. I didn’t know what
it was at the time. Finally, I went to see a psychiatrist. At our first appointment,
he said, “You’re a conscientious objector.” I said, “How
can I be a conscientious objector when I’ve killed people?”
Initially, they tried to trick me into staying until retirement. I told the
Sergeant Major “I don’t want your retirement and I don’t want
your benefits. We killed innocent civilians and you have to face that responsibility,
and I’m going to tell everyone what happened.” I remember his face
turned red and he said that there was going to be legal repercussions. I later
contacted a lawyer, Gary Meyers, whose practice dates back to the My Lai trials
during the Vietnam War. In the end, they backed down. There was no trial, and
I was given an honorary discharge.
Pulse: Do you still have PTSD?
Massey: Yes, I’m getting treated for it now.
Pulse: Tell me about your plans for a PTSD foundation.
I am currently publishing a book about my experiences called “Cowboys
From Hell.” All of the proceeds will go to setting up the foundation.
Pulse: What do you think should be done now about the Iraq war?
Massey: I’m for total withdrawal of all U.S. troops immediately.
Then, we should help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq.
Pulse: What do you plan to do after this trip?
Massey: I keep hanging on to the one thing my grandfather used to say
to me: “The truth shall set you free.” I’ll keep talking as
long as people listen. ||