Sunday, May 11, 2008
Body of War
Tomas Young was scheduled to appear at a special screening of Body of War in Nashville Saturday night, so Dave and I both felt an obligation to show up and support the cause. I have to admit, I was not really all that eager to see the film, since I knew it would be sad and infuriating, but I'm glad we went. The film is well made, and I came away admiring the honesty of Young and his family. The whole point of the movie is to show the toll of the war on one injured soldier, and it does that without generally pandering to the viewer's inner empathy whore. Of course, there are a couple of moments that get dangerously close--this is a Phil Donahue production, after all--but the movie is mostly frank and unflinching. If you can't stand the idea of watching a grown man catheterized by his mother, or hearing the the intimate details of Young's struggle to have a sex life, this might not be the movie for you.
The scenes of Young's home life and his involvement with the anti-war movement are punctuated with snippets of the "debate" in Congress over the resolution authorizing Bush to go to war, and with a roll call of the vote in the Senate. The takeaway here is supposed to be that our leaders let us down--Bush deceived us all, while Congress surrendered its authority to hold the executive in check. Robert Byrd is practically canonized for his passionate speech in opposition to the resolution, and the names of the "immortal 23" who voted No are lovingly recited.
It's easy to get suckered in to this view of events, but as far as I'm concerned it's bullshit--dangerous bullshit. Hearing the names of the Yes voters, including such supposed Bush enemies as Clinton, Kerry, Edwards, Biden, et al., is a potent reminder that mainstream liberals are as rabidly protective of the American empire as the neocons. The Dems are every bit as tainted as the Republicans, and it's ridiculous to think that their return to the White House, if it happens, will herald some new moral order. The vote for Bush's war was not a unique failure of our government--it was the system working the way it's been working for a very long time.
The failure, in the end, is our failure. The fear-mongering from Bush and his supporters in 2002 about mushroom clouds, serrin gas, etc., was transparently phony, and hearing it again made me marvel at our collective willingness to be deceived. Americans chose not to speak out against the war, to swallow Bush's lies, because we couldn't be bothered to confront the truth. We still can't. The fantasy of the War on Terror feeds our smug righteousness, and comforts us with the idea that we're being looked after by a powerful Daddy state. Even after the disaster of Iraq, we still cling to it, fat and happy slaves that we are. It's keeping us in Iraq, and may lead us into Iran very soon.
Young is no slave, though he paid a high price for his liberation. He was an engaging, articulate speaker at the screening, and I was happy to see that he looked stronger and healthier than he does in the film. (Apparently, the VA has taken more of an interest in his welfare since the movie's release.) Still, it must be an incredible challenge for someone in his condition to travel around the country promoting the film, and his courage isn't very well rewarded. There were fewer than 100 people at the screening.