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Phil Donahue Goes to War
By Hilary Hesse
With visions of tracking down Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, 22 year-old Tomas Young of Kansas City, Mo. enlisted in the Army on September 13, 2001. From him, as from many, the attacks elicited a fierce patriotism, and even a newfound sense of purpose. But he never made it to Afghanistan. After completing basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, he was shipped to Iraq, where he was shot through the spinal cord a mere five days into his tour. He is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Intending to make a documentary about the war in Iraq, TV talk show legend, Phil Donahue, took a tour of Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he met Young as he was undergoing rehabilitation. Deeply moved by Young’s ordeal, Donahue teamed up with director Ellen Spiro. What emerged was the telling of Young’s painful, sadly all too common, story in a film titled “Body of War.” On a literal level, the body in question is obviously Young’s, with the documentary focusing heavily on the external ravages of war. The audience is introduced to the daily struggles that accompany life in a wheel chair, ranging from difficulty with dressing to nerve pain, depression and urinary tract infections. One might extrapolate that Young’s intellectual and spiritual bodies are also referenced in the title, as we are presented with the evolution of his political consciousness, another product of the war. The hardest blows may have been dealt to his emotional body, which include having been briefly married and then left by his wife.
The other “body” is Congress. Alternating between scenes involving the hurried decisions of the U.S. House and Senate, and a devastated Young, the film makes no pretensions about the cause and effect relationship it illustrates, indicting all but the 23 congressmen who stood in opposition to the war. According to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, “Body of War” would have been equally, if not more, effective had it featured only a broken Young. However, part of the film’s power lies in its chronicling of the relatively simple A to B decisions that led to the invasion of Iraq and juxtaposing that with mind-blowingly complicated aftermath: the daily plight of maimed vets like Young becomes even more deplorable in light of such egregious congressional irresponsibility. “Body of War” reminds us that things could have and should have gone differently.