Body of War is a poignant documentary directed by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue (yes, that Phil Donahue).
The film is a look into the struggle and the courage of a soldier who returns from Iraq in a wheelchair. Tomas (pronounced “Thomas”) Young was one of the many thousands of young American men and women who heard George W. Bush’s rallying cry on the ruins of the World Trade Center and signed up for duty.
Tomas was a 22-year old kid from Kansas City, Missouri who anticipates being shipped off to Afghanistan, instead he is diverted to Iraq. On April 4th, 2004, one month after arriving in Iraq, he was on his first mission in Sadr City when his unit was ambushed, he was shot and immediately felt his body go limp.
What followed was months of rehabilitation and lifetime of medical issues that Tomas has to use a variety of medications to deal with. Nevertheless, he marries his longtime girlfriend (she asks him). It is not an easy life. Tomas finds himself being invited to speak at a variety of peace rallies and marches with his wife as chauffeur and nurse. Extraordinary measures have to be taken to help Tomas’ body, as it can no longer regulate itself. In addition to battling the urinary tract infections, fever and the like, Tomas also battles the demons of depression which adds to the woes of his existence and that of his devoted wife.
One of the film’s most touching moments, literally, is at a rally in Washington D.C. when Tomas wheels himself near a line Gold Star Families (families of soldiers who died in combat). In talking with Tomas, they reach out to touch his face. It’s almost as though Tomas is a living representative/shrine for their loved ones. They console each other.
Later, Tomas is taken to meet a wheelchair vet from the Vietnam era. Not only does the elder vet have more experience, we find out that he received better treatment 40 years ago than Tomas received 2 years ago. Watching the more elder man impart his acquired wisdom for coping with the challenges of their common condition is both educational and humorous.
The film’s high point is a meeting between Tomas and Senator Byrd, who is seen through out the film excoriating his colleagues about the consequences of their impending vote to allow Bush to put men and women in harm’s way. The vote count on the war is interweaved throught out the film, as are and damning clips of various members of both bodies reciting pre-invasion talking points on Iraq, with most of the Republicans and a good number of Democrats sounding as if they are trying to outhawk Bush.
Body of War is ultimately an intimate look at the consequences of the vote to engage in war. It is a film that should be seen and studied by politicians and citizens alike, not only to be reminded of how easily America was deceived into a war, but what havoc such deception has on the lives on soldiers like Tomas Young and others who did not return.