On September 13, 2001, Tomas Young watched President Bush stand atop the demolished World Trade Center and promise to smoke the evildoers out of their holes. Young decided to join the army to do his part, with the expectation that he'd be sent to Afghanistan. But less than three years later, he was stationed in Sadr City with too little training and too little armor, and within five days, he caught a bullet in the spine and returned home paralyzed. He joined an organization called Iraq Veterans Against The War, and after getting married, spent his honeymoon at Camp Casey in Crawford, TX, in support of Cindy Sheehan.
Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro's documentary Body Of War cuts between Young's daily life—which involves a lot of travel, speeches, and interviews, along with a lot of medication—and the October 2002 Senate debate over the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution." One senator after another stands up and makes eerily similar statements about their solemn responsibility, and how Saddam Hussein is more dangerous than Hitler, and how there's no reason to wait for "a smoking gun that may be in the form of a mushroom cloud." But some—23 in fact—raise questions. How much will this cost? What happens after we invade? And why is Congress so eager to pass its constitutional responsibility to declare war on to the executive branch?
What makes Body Of War such a powerful documentary isn't the clever rhetorical device of debate vs. reality—which, frankly, loses some of its impact after a while—but the way it documents American life in the '00s. Between Camp Casey, Hurricane Katrina, the New York City transit strike, VA hospital scandals, and the controversial White House Correspondents Dinner where President Bush made fun of the hard-to-find Iraq WMD, Body Of War purposefully depicts an America in turmoil. But it also depicts an America far more capable of living with contradictions than the "Red State/Blue State"-obsessed cable-news pundits would have us believe. In a way, the hero of the film isn't Young, but his mother, who stands by him (even changing his catheter in one painfully graphic scene), and also loves her staunchly Republican husband and her younger son, who's about to be deployed in Iraq himself. A lot of Body Of War is about rash decisions, from going to war to enlisting in the military to getting married. But Young's mother is a model for how we can gracefully cope with those choices.