Interview with Josh Simpson and Benji Lewis, two ex US soldiers who
fought in combat in Iraq and now publicly oppose Washington’s Global
War on Terror during their first visit to Venezuela as part
of an anti-war, pro-peace delegation from the Portland Latin America
Eva Golinger (EG): Why did you join the Armed Forces in the United States?
Josh: I was really interested in history, in a patriotic sense, World War II, Vietnam.
EG: A romantic vision?
Yes, even Vietnam, I thought it was a one time thing. I didn’t know
about CIA involvement in Latin America, or Mossadegh – that’s common,
most people from the US don’t know those things, especially when you
are 17. I ended up joining the military also for economic reasons. I
joined in July 2001 and was in basic training when Sept. 11th happened,
and everything changed.
EG: What did you think?
was nervous but excited. I happened to join the military when something
big in history was happening. I didn’t understand why 9/11 happened,
why we were attacked. I guess that people just hated us for being for
Americans. If I had to go to war to defend my country I was totally
prepared to do that. I didn’t end up going to Afganistan because I was
in the second striker brigade, and so by the time I ended up going to
Iraq I was already against the war. Today I believe they are all
imperialist wars, but then I didn’t support the war, but figured I
would still go because I had to go and I didn’t know people were
EG: Do you mean soldiers resisting or people against the war?
I didn’t know there was an anti-war movement. I was in the desert in
California on a military base, and in the military we never knew there
was a huge opposition to the war in the US, the media didn’t cover it.
I think there were tactical errors made in the US by the antiwar
movement, if people would have stopped military shipments from leaving
the country instead of just marching in the streets, if people would
have blocked railroad tracks and ports, this war would have never
EG: Benji, why did you join the military?
I came from a military family. I was encouraged by my mother and father
join. I joined the military to help people. I entered boot camp in the
Marine Corp in March 2003. I was 17 ½ years old. Once I joined I
realized it was a bad idea and thought, what did I do?
EG: When the war started?
As I was in bootcamp the invasion was happening and we would see video
clips of it set to heavy metal music to get us riled up. It was
disturbing. Before every class in bootcamp they would show videos of
people getting shot, killed, set to heavy metal music, and then as we
were invading Fallujah, the PSYOPS (pyschological operations) units
weren’t pointing the speakers at the people in Fallujah, they were
pointing the speakers at us, playing the same music as they did in
bootcamp. I distinctly remember being agitated and edgy before we
invaded the city. It became clear to me that military indoctrination is
much deeper than it appears to be on the surface.
EG: When did you go to Iraq, Josh?
Josh: September 2004 to September 2005.
EG: What did you think when you were going there?
I was against the war but at the same time figured we already started
the war and so should see it through and help the country rebuild. It
was hard to think about. I was in charge of interrogations in Irak. And
Source Operations, running sources to get information. I was in Mosul,
Iraq. In Iraq, 95% of those detained and interrogated were innocent.
The interrogations agitate the population against you. If they weren’t
terrorists or insurgents when detained, they will be afterward! The
reason why 95% are innocent and still detained is because the way to
measure succes in Iraq, unlike in Vietnam where it was a body count, is
based on the number of detainees. It doesn’t matter if they are women
or children or innocent. I didn’t participate in physical torture and
beat detainees. But I did participate in psychological torture.
EG: But you knew torture took place?
I saw the victims of the torture. The bruises and lashes all over their
bodies came from somewhere. We would send the detainees to the Iraqi
Army and Kurdish Militia that were working with us and they would do
the torture for us. I had concerns about that especially because
torture doesn’t work well for getting information.
EG: Benji, you were in Fallujah during the Blackwater scandal?
Right after. I was sent to Fallujah and there was excitement because it
was right after the Blackwater scandal and we were on a mission of
revenge. No one told us what had really happened except that US
citizens had been killed by the Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah. So I was
excited because I was going to be in a mortar unit and would be able to
do what I was trained to do, we were going to utilize our mortars. We
thought we were going to Fallujah to neutralize an insurrection, but
they didn’t tell us that the entire city had already been bombed by the
US for about a week and a third of the population was already displaced
or dead. We were being told that this was a mission of revenge, we
didn’t know they were Blackwater mercenaries that had been killed, we
were told they were just US citizens. Several batallions of marines
were unleashed on the city from every angle. It was a seige. There were
thousands of us that assaulted Fallujah. We surrounded them and cut off
their electricity and water, we bombed Mosques.
EG: The military wasn’t giving the soldiers any kind of information?
Hearts and Minds is double rhetoric. You have to first control the
hearts and minds of the troops committing these atrocities before
sending them to war. You have to lie to them otherwise you can’t fight
these kinds of wars.
EG: How did you perceive the resistance of the Iraqi people?
Josh: They were terrorists, radical, islamic fundamentalists, not people fighting for their country, that’s what we were told.
The military indoctrination is so sophisticated – you are even cut off
from members of your own batallion, you can’t ask questions, the only
thing that matters is to protect yourself and your batallion. There are
no politics. The first thing you learn is not to question, keep your
thoughts to yourself.
EG: Didn’t you know it was a war for oil?
The only reason you are there is to protect the person to the left and
right of you. Everyone knew about the oil but your only mission is
staying alive and keeping your friends alive.
Josh: You think you’re helping the Iraqis. That’s what you’re told.
EG: Why did you leave the military?
I was active duty for 5 years then I signed up for another 3 years as a
reservist. I didn’t want to go back to Irak. I was told that if you
join the reserves you can get a nice bonus and you won’t be deployed
for two years. I was naive thinking the war in Irak would be over in
EG: Why would you join the reserves and train people to go to war in Iraq if you were against the war?
I justified that by thinking I was keeping them safe by training them
well. They had to go anyway. But it got to a point when I couldn’t look
myself in the mirror anymore, I was disgusted with myself. I was
basically stuck in a moral dilemna. I want to be proud of my actions,
proud of what I am doing, but honestly, I wasn’t. I started college at
the same time. I was studying political economy at Evergreen
University, learning about US imperialism.
EG: Did people in your class know you were in the military? What did they say to you?
Josh: Yes, but people knew I was opposed to the war.
Benji: The “support the troops” campaign has altered everyone’s perception.
Josh: I’m actually opposed to that campaign. People should have been more confrontational with the troops.
EG: Like in Vietnam.
Benji: The “support the troops” campaign was engineered to allow for indirect acceptance of the war.
People are scared to criticize the troops, it’s considered the most
blasphemous thing in the world. At the same time, if you are never
criticized than you will never know that what you are doing is wrong.
You can’t criticize the troops. It’s a poverty draft, these kids just
do it because they have no other way out of poverty.
you have to criticize them, because they will say they are just
following orders, but that’s bullshit, the Nazis were just following
orders too. The military is fascist, it’s basically blind,
unquestioning obedience. Then they try to tell you that the blind
obedience is some form of courage and bravery. It’s much easier to go
with the current than against it. While I was at Evergreen I was
learning something different than what I was told in the military. I
got to the point where morally I couldn’t just be opposed to the war, I
also couldn’t even participate in the military or train other soldiers
to go kill people in a racist war. I was told in January 2008 that I
was going to be deployed to Irak and I decided I wasn’t going to go
back. I was already speaking out against the war and blocking military
shipments, I was active in direct action against the war. I was
building barricades in the streets of Olympia to block military
shipments from going out of the US ports to Irak, and for the first
time I felt like I was fighting for something I actually believed in.
It makes me cry to think about this. I was in the military for five
years and never had the chance to fight for something I believed in.
Benji: Which is why you join the military, to fight for something you believe in!
The fact that I was finally fighting for something I believed in,
against the war, was such a great feeling. I joined Iraq Veterans
Against the War and other resistance groups against the war. I helped
start the GI coffee house, Coffee Strong. The GI coffee house is right
off the military base Fort Lewis in Washington.
EG: Benji, why did you leave the military?
After my first tour in Iraq I was disillusioned and after my second
deployment it was obvious. We referred to our ourselves as occupiers.
When I got back from the second tour I was convinced that I wouldn’t go
back. I volunteered to be an Urban Combat Instructor. I trained several
urban combat batallions and one of my teams ended up in Haditha,
massacring hundreds of innocent Iraquis in a 3-day exercise. That’s on
my conscience. And it’s really sad, people in the marine corp are doing
cocaine before morning exercises. After a year, I decided I didn’t want
to go back to Irak. I had no idea there was a resistance movement. When
you get out, you want to put it all behind you. You don’t want to think
about it, you don’t want to remember it, you just want to live a small,
Benji: I moved to Oregon and met people from
Veterans for Peace. I learned that you don’t have to go back, you can
resist. I joined Courage to Resist and I began to broaden my work and
speak out against the wars in Afganistan and Iraq.
EG: Why did you come to Venezuela?
South America is in a position to resist the economic collapse in the
US. We also have plans to set up a safety net for friends and people in
the US in case the US does turn into a bigger police state
domestically. If there is a larger war coming on the planet the people
have to choose sides and this is the side I want to be on.
Venezuela is the one spot in the world where there is optimism. This
country is moving in a good direction. In Venezuela there is a lot of
really great work going on.
EG: What would you say to the Venezuelan people about the US military buildup in Colombia?
Be prepared. Neighborhood and popular militias are the most effective
way to deter the US – it’s working in Irak, and Afganistan. People with
rifles can hold out forever. You’re not going to be able to defeat the
US military with tanks and airplanes because they have more than all
countries in the world combined. Live up to the creed, socialismo o
muerte! Capitalism is in a major state of decline and it’s going to
lash out. We have to fight it however we can, it’s the only way to
exist. If Venezuela was attacked, and there was an Abraham Lincoln
Brigade to defend Venezuela, I would come here in a heartbeat.
To me it’s obvious the US is gunning for Latin America. Latin America
is one big resource for the US, that’s all they see, they see the
people as a nuisance. The only thing the US is good at is invading
other countries, that’s the only export the US still has, invasion.
Josh: It’s the war that never ends.
Josh Simpson, 27 years old, was a Sargeant in the US Army
Counterintelligence Division. He was in charge of interrogations and
source operations in Mosul, Iraq from 2004-2005. His actions resulted
indirectly in the deaths of hundreds of Iraquis. Today, Josh is the
president of the Fort Lewis Chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War
and is co-founder of Coffee Strong, a GI Coffee Shop that seeks to
mobilize soldiers against the war. Josh earned his Bachelor’s Degree in
Political Economy from Evergreen University in 2008 and is pursuing a
Master’s Degree in Teaching at the same institution. He speaks across
the US against the war and US imperialism and is very active in
blocking military shipments from leaving the US as a form of direct
action war resistance.
• Benji Lewis, 24 years old, is an ex
Marine Infantry soldier who did two tours in Iraq, both to Fallujah
from 2004-2005. His M-16 mortars killed over 500 people in Fallujah
during a three month period. Today, Benji is an outspoken anti-war,
anti-Empire activist in Oregon. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against
the War and Courage to Resist. He speaks throughout the US against the
war and organizes soldiers to resist deployment to Iraq and Afganistan.
Benji is studying English Literature and Philosophy at Lynn-Benton
Community College in Corvallis, Oregon and plans to learn Spanish.