COLONIE -- Jimmy Massey spent 12 years in the Marine Corps, including a two-month stint in Iraq. On Tuesday at Siena College, he talked about his transformation from a gung-ho staff sergeant to an anti-war activist.
Massey, who was a Marine recruiter and boot camp drill instructor before going to war, recalled that he always had misgivings about the military, especially the way recruits were "dehumanized" in basic training. But it was a red Kia at a Baghdad checkpoint in 2003 that caused a real change of heart.
"We discharged our weapons into the Kia," he said. "There were four occupants in the vehicle. Three were severely wounded and expiring fast. The driver was unscathed. While we were trying to medevac these individuals out, this young man that was unscathed came up to me and asked, 'Why did you do this? Why did you kill my brother? We're not terrorists.' "
Jimmy Massey, former Marine Corp boot camp drill sergeant and Iraq war veteran, speaks against the war at the Siena College Library. (James Goolsby / Times Union)
Massey said his commanders sometimes encouraged him to fire almost indiscriminately.
"They were painting a picture that every civilian in Iraq was a potential terrorist, regardless of age or sex." he told the campus audience in Roger Bacon Hall.
Massey showed up at the event looking more like a college professor than a Marine, sporting a trim goatee, a tweed blazer and a blue dress shirt over a turtleneck.
He took the stage in front of an American flag and a white banner proclaiming, "Support our troops, bring them home now."
The event, sponsored by the local Veterans for Peace chapter and Siena's peace studies department, attracted about three dozen people, including several ROTC students, including one who said the talk did not change his view of the war.
Toward the end, Massey had this message for those in the Reserve Officers Training Corps: "Don't want to see you go. I've seen it. It'll destroy you emotionally and physically."
A Texas native now living in Waynesboro, N.C., Massey said he had wanted to go to college to learn how to design cars but was forced to drop out after his family ran out of money. He said he joined the Marine Corps as an "economic conscript."
"We have a problem in the United States right now where we are forcing young men and women to go into the military because of the lack of funds to continue with higher education, or simple lack of peer support from outside sources," he said.
After the incident with the Kia, Massey said he told his commanding officer that the war amounted to little more than genocide. He sought legal counsel and soon received a medical discharge. He said he now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Massey, who also spoke Tuesday night at Bethlehem Town Hall, helped found Iraq Veterans Against the War and made international headlines in December when he testified on behalf of army deserter Jeremy Hinzman at a refugee hearing in Canada. At Siena, he let loose with incendiary rhetoric, even equating the U.S. military's prison torture scandal with a Nazi death camp.
"Abu Ghraib, Auschwitz, what's the difference?" he said.
In a question and answer session after his remarks, several students objected to his attitude and his refusal to view the war as a legitimate response to a brutal despot.
Freshman Paul Cassidy, who is in the ROTC program, said his attitude on Iraq and war in general remains unchanged even as Massey's comments about recruits gave him pause.
"Me personally, I think we should stay in there, until things settle down," he said, adding, "Things aren't happy in war."
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