Go see “Body of War,” in order to viscerally feel the injustice of the U.S. involvement in Iraq

June 7, 2008 | By | 3 Replies More

Tonight, I had the privilege to attend a private screening of Phil Donahue’s new movie, “Body of War.” The film was shown to several hundred people attending the 2008 National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In his introduction to the film, Donahue indicated that “We have the most sanitized war in our history.” His point was that the American people cannot deal appropriately about this war if they can’t see the images related to the war. He implored, “Show the people the sacrifices the men and women of this country are making.” The American people cannot feel the pain caused by this war, because the full story of the war is not available to them, thanks to the continuing media blackout of all inconvenient images and stories. Instead of learning about what’s really happening in Iraq, the American people keep getting distracted with things like entertainment parading as news or tax cuts.

Donahue stated that the US involvement in Iraq has caused more than 20,000 “grievous injuries,” a fact which he finds “beyond horrible.”

What are the kinds of images that the American people are denied? Everyone knows about the government’s attempt to keep Americans from seeing pictures of coffins of soldiers returning from Iraq. There are equally dramatic pictures available, however. One of those was briefly shown in the film, and it was run only in the Rocky Mountain News. It is a photo of a woman who wanted to sleep next to the coffin of her husband (James Cathey, an Iraq soldier) while military guards stood by. This was to be her last night with him. She slept on a little mattress almost underneath the coffin.

Donahue’s point is straightforward. “Show us the war. We are adults. We can then decide if you want to end this damn war now.”

Donahue learned of the subject of the movie, Thomas Young, while visiting with Ralph Nader. It was Nader who tipped off Donnie that there was a young man, recently returned from Iraq, who might serve as a good subject for the kind of film Donahue was interested in making. Donahue traveled to the military hospital where he met Thomas, though Thomas did not meet Donahue until later because he was then in a coma. When Donahue finally met a conscious Thomas Young (in Kansas City), he noticed antiwar bumper stickers on the family kitchen table. Until then, Donahue had no idea that the subject of his film, Thomas Young, had antiwar feelings. After he saw those bumper stickers, Donahue thought to himself, “Maybe we really have something here.”

It was at the same time that Donahue learned about Thomas Young that he also happened to meet Eddie Vedder of the band Pearl Jam (also through Ralph Nader). Vedder offered to compose music for the film, which he did in five days, free of charge.

I don’t want to ruin the film by discussing too many of the specifics, but I will reveal that it is an emotional journey for the subject of the film as well as the audience. Only five days after traveling to Iraq, Thomas Young was shot in the shoulder, which caused him to become a paraplegic. Much of the movie uses the way Young deals with his injuries as a backdrop for the fact that so many members of Congress were obtuse to the human cost of this Iraqi invasion. The film is made ever more emotionally poignant due to the intense involvement in Thomas’s life by his new wife and his mother. The film also features a two intense moments with Thomas’s stepfather, a ditto head.

Thomas Young turns out to be a hero both in the way he deals with his injuries and in the way he speaks out as an activist following his return home. All is not well for Thomas, however, and these challenges are a emotionally wrenching journey for filmgoers.

Another hero of the film is Senator Robert Byrd, who eloquently did everything in his power to turn back the tide of war-mongering in Congress. As it turns out, Byrd was one of only 23 senators who voted to deny George Bush powers to invade Iraq. The film cleverly intersperses the Congressional debate with the struggles of Thomas Young.

The superb editing of this film is apparent throughout. Donahue commented that he wanted to be very careful to not make the film “preachy,” and he succeeded in this.

“Body of War” is being released soon, though there is no distributor for the film. It will not be a financial success. Nonetheless, it has played to rave reviews. In fact, one of the members of Congress who voted “yes” to the Iraq invasion, privately viewed the film and told Donahue “This film should be shown in every college and every university in the country.”

At the conclusion of the showing at the NCMR2008, it received an extended standing ovation.

Donahue admits that there is no mass market for a film of this type, a fact that is utterly depressing given the need for films like this. As Donahue commented, “If you’re not going to use free speech, stop spilling their blood.”Luckily, the film does have an financial afterlife. It will apparently be picked up by Netflix, and there will be other availability in scattered markets. You’ll need to look closely to see if it’s playing in your town. You could even make some phone calls to try to get the independent theaters in your area to play this film.

Donahue explained that in the big media, “you are rewarded solely by the size of the crowd you can draw.” Therefore, we’ll never hear about stories like that of Thomas Young in the big media. In order to get this story out, we’ll need to build media from the grassroots up.

When the country is beating the drums for war, all movement is seen as progress, and anybody getting in the way of the military action is branded a coward. This is not a new theory. It was made plain many decades ago in a speech by Herman Goring. It is also a point made by another new movie, “War Made Easy,” which will be screened at this same media reform convention tomorrow night. The conclusion of that film is that if the President wants to go to war in this country, it will happen. That’s the nature of our politics, our media and our citizenry. It’s a very sad story, indeed.

After the film and Q&A, Donahue graciously stayed around to meet some of the people who attended the screening and to chat with them.

Phil Donahue - NCMR2008

I shook Donahue’s hand and told him that I write for a blog that draws 4,000 visitors every day. I told him that when I sat down to watch his movie, I doubted that I would learn anything new because I’ve long been a serious student of the Iraq conflict and the political backdrop. I admitted to Donahue that was wrong, however, because this film got “under my radar and it was emotionally stunning.” Donahue looked at my badge and said “Dangerous Intersection . . . it would be good if you could talk about the film on your blog.” I told him that “That’s why I’m here.”

As many people know, Phil Donahue was host to a highly-ranked show on MSNBC in October 2002. In fact, it was a leading show on MSNBC. Around that time, however, the network required him to have two conservatives for every liberal Donahue had on his show, while Phil Donahue himself was considered to count for “to liberals.” His show was canceled prior to the Iraq invasion, in order that it not offend the conservative segment of the MSNBC audience.  Donahue’s show was replaced with a reactionary and inflammatory show hosted by Michael Savage.

Donahue reminded the audience that every metropolitan newspaper in the country supported the Iraq invasion, and that there is “no better evidence of corporate corruption of the news media.” To be branded “liberal media” these days inevitably “decreases the value of the corporate stock.” Prior to the invasion, only “funny people” like Al Franken and Stephen Colbert could publicly express their opposition to the war.

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Category: American Culture, Iraq, Military, Politics, Psychology Cognition, Videos, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Campbell Gibson says:

    You are incorrect in one of your facts!

    Bob Graham voted AGAINST the war resolution and was one of the most outspoken opponents of the war before and since. His famous line was "there will be blood on your hands" in exhorting his colleagues to vote against the bill.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Campbell Gibson: Thank you for the correction. I took notes carefully and reported what I (thought I ) heard. But you are correct, that Bob Graham voted against the war resolution. I have edited the post to remove his name. Donahue spent considerable time talking about allowing a private screening to a member of Congress who voted for the resolution, and how he held his breath waiting for that person's reaction, which was ultimately what I described in the post.

  3. Mary Longhurst says:

    Erich, Thanks for this post. Great job of summing up Donahue's message and the palpable energy surrounding the showing of this film at the National Convention for Media Reform. Sadly, the point about this film not being a "financial success," despite myriad rave reviews, is a tough reality. I witnessed that in Seattle this past April when, the very next day following Body of War's opening night (which was packed because of Donahue's appearance), I was shocked at the sparse number in attendance. And this was after what I felt was great local coverage of the film with interviews on the local NPR station and in the newspapers. So the tragedy here is two-fold: not only in the devastating toll this war is taking on the lives of people like Tomas Young, but also that not enough people will hear their stories. I feel this film needs to be shown not only in "every college and every university," but also to every teenager across our nation.

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