- Phil Donahue
one of the best known talk show hosts in US television history, his show was on the air for more than twenty-nine years. In 2002, he returned to the airwaves, but he was fired in 2003 on the eve of the war by MSNBC because he was allowing antiwar voices on the air.
- Ellen Spiro
award-winning filmmaker of Body of War.
- Tomas Young
Iraq war veteran and the main subject of the documentary Body of War. On April 4, 2004, his fifth day in Iraq, Young’s unit came under fire in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad. Young was left paralyzed, never to walk again. Released from medical care three months later, Young returned home to become an active member in Iraq Veterans Against the War.
As the US occupation of Iraq enters its sixth year, we take a look at a new documentary that captures the struggles of one of the tens of thousands of US troops injured in the war. Body of War is directed by filmmaker Ellen Spiro and veteran broadcaster Phil Donahue. The film tells the story of Iraq war veteran Tomas Young. On April 4, 2004, his fifth day in Iraq, Young’s unit came under fire in Baghdad. He was left paralyzed, never to walk again. Released from medical care three months later, Young returned home to become an active member in Iraq Veterans Against the War. We play excerpts of Body of War and speak with Tomas Young and with filmmakers Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Two more grim milestones were reached this past week in the Iraq war. The US occupation has entered its sixth year, five years after the invasion began, March 19, 2003. Just days later, the US military death toll in Iraq reached 4,000, when four soldiers died in a bombing in Baghdad. The number does not include at least a hundred private contractors who have also lost their lives.
For Iraqis, five years of war has brought incalculable suffering, with estimates of more than a million civilian deaths, an unknown number of wounded and more than four million displaced. While the suffering of Iraqis is largely absent from public awareness, there is growing attention on the plight of young Americans sent off to war. A new documentary captures the struggles of one of the 30,000 US troops injured in Iraq. Body of War is directed by filmmaker Ellen Spiro and veteran broadcaster Phil Donahue.
The film tells the story of Tomas Young. Just two days after the 9/11 attacks, Tomas signed up for the military after hearing President Bush’s Ground Zero pledge to go after those responsible. Young wanted to deploy to Afghanistan, but instead was sent to Iraq. On April 4th, 2004, his fifth day in Iraq, Tomas’s unit came under fire in Sadr City. Young was left paralyzed, never to walk again. Released from medical care, Young returned home to become an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Body of War begins with a shot of Tomas Young going about his daily struggle to dress himself, made difficult by his paralysis. Interposed are the voices of lawmakers, Republican and Democratic, who voted for the Iraq war in October 2002, including Senators Schumer, McCain, Ensign and Clinton. They’re followed by one of the few congressional dissenters who stood up to the Bush White House: Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
But first, the film begins with the opening bars of the song “No More” by the musician Eddie Vedder — a song he wrote for Tomas Young. Today on Democracy Now!, Body of War.
EDDIE VEDDER: [singing “No More”]
I speak for a man who gave for this land,
took a bullet in the back for his pay,
spilled his blood in the dirt and the dust,
and he’s come back to say
that what he has seen is hard to believe,
and it does no good to just pray.
He asks of us to stand,
and we must end this war today.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Now, Mr. President, today we’re faced with the most solemn decision a lawmaker can make: whether or not to authorize the use of military force.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Voting for a course of action that will send young Americans off to fight and die for their country is the most solemn responsibility every member of this Congress will undertake.
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN: We need to approach this issue as if we are sending our very own children to war.
REP. DICK ARMEY: When he puts on that uniform, he’s my baby, and I have fear.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: This is probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.
REP. TOM LANTOS: The great debate we begin today represents the opening act of a drama that promises to define the twenty-first century.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: My hands tremble, but my heart still throbs. I read this quote: “Naturally, the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.” Hermann Goering, president of Reichstag, Nazi Parliament, 1934.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Robert Byrd in Body of War, a new documentary by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue. In a moment, we’ll speak to the subject of the film, Tomas Young, but first the filmmakers: Ellen Spiro joins me from Austin, Texas, award-winning director; here in the firehouse studio, Phil Donahue, one of the best known talk show hosts in US television history. His show was on the air for more than twenty-nine years. In 2002, he returned to the airwaves to MSNBC, but was fired in 2003 on the eve of the war, because he was allowing antiwar voices on the air.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Phil Donahue, this remarkable film, Body of War, how did you get involved? How did you meet Tomas?
PHIL DONAHUE: I met Tomas through Ralph Nader, a longtime friend, has been on the Donahue Show more than any other person. In our twenty-nine-year history, Ralph was the most oft featured guest. He brags about that in his speeches. And so, I went — I was on the bus in 2000, where I met Eddie Vedder in the 2000 campaign, and then, of course, the roof fell on everybody who supported Ralph. So I went to see him after the ’04 election. I was not a part of that campaign. And he said, “A mother at Walter Reed wants to meet me. Would you like to go?” And like a week later, off we went, and I met this young man. And I thought the American people should see this, and I nominated myself to try and do that.
AMY GOODMAN: To make a film about Tomas Young.
PHIL DONAHUE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: He was paralyzed, just five days in Iraq.
PHIL DONAHUE: He’s a T4, so the bullet came down here and exited between his shoulder blades. So Tomas is paralyzed from the nipples down. And the closer you get to Tomas, the more you — this is the pain, this is the harm in harm’s way. This is a drama that is taking place behind the closed doors of thousands of homes in this country, people who’ve sent loved ones to this war and have come back with injuries that alter the lives not only of those who are injured, but the whole family as well.
And our film shows the valor of a mother. I mean, you see a mother who’s a mother duck in this movie. I mean, she looms. She checked the temperature, the blankets, everything at Walter Reed, never left his side. So this is a story of hope. It’s a story of resurrection, this young man trying to come up from the ashes. All of that is in our film and so wonderfully captured by a great cinematographer, Ellen Spiro.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you meet, you and Ellen?
PHIL DONAHUE: I met through DeeDee Halleck. I was on a plane, accidentally seated next to her; she was my seat mate. And we talked, and I said, “Boy, I met this young man at Walter Reed. Man, I’d like to — can I do a movie? Is this possible? Should I try?” So, immediately, she gets out her laptop, and she gives me Ellen Spiro 's number. I called her, and here we are on Democracy Now! three years later.
AMY GOODMAN: DeeDee Halleck, the mother of public access, Deep Dish TV, Paper Tiger.
PHIL DONAHUE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Ellen Spiro, you're joining us from Austin. It seems like you basically lived with Tomas Young. How did you do this film so intimate, so real?
ELLEN SPIRO: It really, Amy — it was a matter of spending time with the family. And when I first met Tomas on my first trip to Kansas City with Phil, I knew that he was a remarkable young man. We had no idea where his life or his story was going to go, but I could feel his spirit. I could feel that he was different, that he wasn’t just going to sit at home and, you know, wallow in his injury, that he was going to take what happened to him and turn it into something bigger than himself. So he’s a real hero in this story. He’s a sort of real-life contemporary character like the one in Born on the Fourth of July, who comes home, and he’s suffered the worst possible thing imaginable, but he turns that around and he becomes a very powerful voice in the culture. And he finds his own voice in this film, so it’s a very hopeful story. It’s about somebody who was betrayed by the government, who turns his life around and is really making a difference in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be joined by Tomas Young in the last segment of our broadcast. We’re talking to Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue. Their film is called Body of War. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now back to the film, to Body of War, our subject for this hour, another excerpt beginning with Tomas Young and his fiancee. They’re followed by more voices from the congressional floor, the Senate roll call of "yes" votes authorizing the Iraq war, followed by some dissident voices.
TOMAS YOUNG: It was April 4, 2004, and I took a shot right above the left collarbone. After I spent time in a field hospital in Kuwait; Landstuhl, Germany Air Base; Walter Reed; as well as a rehab hospital in St. Louis, I finally made it home to Kansas City, Missouri on July 16, 2004.
BRIE TOWNSEND: This is cripcollege.com, and it’s for learning about life in a wheelchair. But my favorite part is the message board. If something I haven’t experienced with Tomas is going on, like right now and his bowel problems. I posted that, and it says, “The problem is Tomas is having accidental bowel movements every four to six hours, it seems. He is very concerned for our upcoming wedding and events. And on the day of the wedding, he’s terribly worried about having an accident while he’s in his tux. He is starting to get very excited about our wedding, and it would break my heart if he had to experience something like that on such an important day. Please help us!”
SEN. BILL NELSON: The threat posed by Iraq grows with each passing day.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Bayh, aye.
REP. JOSEPH PITTS: It’s a danger that grows every day.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Bennett, aye.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Each day that goes by, he becomes more dangerous.
SEN. MIKE DeWINE: More diabolical.
REP. JOSEPH PITTS: Every day, Saddam Hussein grows stronger.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: His capabilities become better.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Biden, aye.
REP. JOSEPH PITTS: Every day, Saddam Hussein builds more chemical and biological weapons.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: The longer we wait, the more dangerous he becomes.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Bond, aye. Mr. Breaux, aye. Mr. Brownback, aye. Mr. Bunning, aye. Mr. Burns, aye. Mr. Campbell, aye. Ms. Cantwell, aye. Mrs. Carnahan, aye. Mr. Carper, aye. Aye, aye, aye, aye.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Wait! Slow down! Don’t rush this through.
AMY GOODMAN: And there you have Robert Byrd, the senator, one of the twenty-three. Phil Donahue, in the film, they eventually meet, Tomas Young and Robert Byrd. But the significance of what Robert Byrd did?
PHIL DONAHUE: Well, he’s up there. It’s the most valiant drama of a loser I’ve ever seen. He was not able to move his colleagues. He did get twenty-two to join him. Please — he begged them. The life —- he looked at the camera. “The life of your son may depend on it, the life of your daughter.” He’s saying, “Write! Write! Let’s hear from you people!” I mean -—
AMY GOODMAN: He’s holding up the Constitution.
PHIL DONAHUE: Yeah. And, you know, here was a man who had this radical idea that we should obey the United States Constitution, and he was largely patronized.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, your program on MSNBC, short-lived as it was, went right along this time from right around October 2002, the time of the vote —-
PHIL DONAHUE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —- until the eve of the invasion, when you were unceremoniously dumped.
PHIL DONAHUE: I did a whole hour with Robert Byrd from a hotel in Washington. And I said, “You’re alone out there. Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this?” And he looked at me, and he said, "Power. They want power." And this Congress took their — just closed their eyes and handed him permission, which is not constitutional. The Congress didn’t vote up or down. The Congress said, “Here, if you have to, Mr. President,” and then if he has — if he thinks he has to and he goes and something goes wrong, they’re covered. It’s amazing and largely unreported upon.
AMY GOODMAN: Ellen Spiro, the clips of the senators and the congressmen repeating what President Bush says over and over, as you have Tomas Young trying to figure out which medications to take. Talk about the kind of metronome, the beat throughout this film of the vote.
ELLEN SPIRO: Well, Body of War is never boring. And in addition to this very personal, very intimate and heroic journey of Tomas and his mother and his family, we have this congressional debate happening, which is a very dynamic interplay of two different elements in the film. And it’s — when you watch this, you’re seeing an exposé, you’re seeing something in a way that you’ve never seen before. And this is largely due to Phil Donahue watching every second of that debate and culling from it these little gems, these little bits and pieces, where you see that the whole thing was scripted and that our, you know, congressmen were repeating that script in a way that is pretty damning and pretty revelatory.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to a clip of Body of War, Tomas Young listing the array of medications he has to take every day. But first, the voices of President Bush and the supporters of war. This was right around the time Congress voted to authorize the invasion.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Harbors these terrorists.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We know that Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy: the United States of America.
TOMAS YOUNG: Wonder if the Bushes and the people at Fox News and people like that had a big sigh of relief when the hurricane hit. “I know it’s a horrible tragedy,” they must have said, “but thank God we don’t have to talk about Cindy.”
My pillbox separates them out for the week. This is Carbamazepine. It is a nerve pain medication.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Ms. Collins, aye.
TOMAS YOUNG: This is a drug called Coumadin, and it’s a blood thinner.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Craig, aye.
TOMAS YOUNG: This is Tizanidine. It’s an anti-spasm medication.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr.Crapo, aye.
TOMAS YOUNG: This is Gabapentin,
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Daschle.
TOMAS YOUNG: It’s a nerve pain medication.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Aye.
TOMAS YOUNG: This is Buproprion.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. DeWine.
TOMAS YOUNG: It’s an antidepressant.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Aye.
TOMAS YOUNG: This is Omeprazole.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Dodd.
TOMAS YOUNG: It’s for morning nausea.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Aye.
TOMAS YOUNG: And this is morphine. It’s a narcotic. And in this situation, the effect is not to get high, but to kill pain. And so, I have to take more and more of it to stop the pain.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas Young, counting out his medication. He is the subject of this new film called Body of War that’s opening all over the country. It just opened at South by Southwest, the film festival in Austin. We were at Winter Soldier, when vets and active-duty soldiers started coming in from the showing of the film in Austin, Body of War, the true story of an antiwar hero. Phil, as you were choosing the clips of the debate — we just saw Hillary Clinton in this one — they’re carefully juxtaposed against the President. The very same lines that he used were repeated over and over.
PHIL DONAHUE: These were the talking points which were written by the White House Iraq Group, WHIG. This was the assembly of advertising agency warriors. These were the people who, for example, name our invasions now. "Shock and awe." Imagine. “Rolling Thunder.” You know, this is the name of invasions that drop bombs on people. I mean, and then they would take these White House talking points, and these senators would — "A smoking gun can become a mushroom cloud." On and on. And you can feel the pace, the heartbeat of the nation begins to accelerate. And Saddam is outside your bedroom. Saddam’s under your bed. Saddam is here. He’s got this, he’s got that. And bingo! This president to this nation by the ear right into the sword. Amazing what you can do if you scare the people.
AMY GOODMAN: This is a clip of Tomas Young. He had come to New York. He was speaking out against war, no matter how sick he felt. Here, he was addressing an audience — yes, Phil?
PHIL DONAHUE: We should say that Tomas is — his respiratory system is knocked out, so that in order for him to cool, he has to put ice gels in his vest to keep him — and so, under the hot lights of the church, he — but he keeps going. This is true grit right here.
AMY GOODMAN: And it was the transit strike.
PHIL DONAHUE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, it took him hours to get to this church.
PHIL DONAHUE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: People waited for hours. This was Lafayette Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York.
TOMAS YOUNG: Well, thank you all for coming. I — on the way down here, I was kind of worried that I would be — get here, and I’d be speaking to an empty church, it took me so long. But for the few minutes I got to hear this wonderful choir behind me, well, it began to dawn on me that you all would have been pretty good even if I hadn’t showed up. You’ll have to excuse me for a little bit; I get a little lightheaded every now and again. So hold on. I’d also like to — that during this speech, I may say the word "uh" a lot and stammer a little bit, so forgive me for sounding a bit presidential.
I called my recruiter on around September 13, 2001, when, if you all can remember, the President stood on the rubble with a bullhorn and said we were going to get the evil-doers that did this. And, oh, man, hold on a second; I’m starting to — thank you. Alright, let’s hope that’s a little better. But — and he led the rah-rah around the country and got everybody really excited, and I was excited. And I wanted to go to Afghanistan and get the people that did this to us. But after I joined the Army, it became clearer and clearer to me that we weren’t going to go to Afghanistan, that we were going to go to Iraq.
And more and more, it began to feel — with statements like George Bush saying that he sought the approval of a higher father than his own and things like that, it really concerned me that President Bush was trying to use Jesus Christ as an advocate for the war, but I always remembered, at least from the Bible that I read, Jesus Christ was always about peaceful things and love and “whatsoever you do unto the least, my brother, you do unto me.” And it just shocks me that a man who tries to live his life by such devout Christian philosophies seems to skew so much on this one issue.
I don’t really — I have to — excuse me, again. Sorry, it’s a little hard to regulate my body temperature, and it is hot up here.
But I heard somebody once say that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. So just everybody keep together and stay strong, and one day we’ll get what we need to get done. And thank you all for waiting, and I hope I didn’t disappoint.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas Young at the Lafayette Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York. Phil, you were in the balcony there. Ellen Spiro, you were filming Tomas continually having to put his head between his knees in his wheelchair to — well, explain what happens to Tomas, Ellen.
ELLEN SPIRO: Well, he’s just — every day, he’s contending with issues that have to do with his body. And I think that, you know, one of the main challenges is that he never got the kind of care that he should have from the VA system, no fault of the individuals working there; they’re just dealing with people from several generations now. And Tomas didn’t get good care. He was mostly given pills to deal with his medical issues. And when we first met him, you know, he was pretty much addicted to morphine. And it was his own willpower that got him off of the morphine. And it’s a remarkable thing to watch him emerge, you know, as a full and powerful voice from this sea of medications. And he does it without a whole lot of help from the VA.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Crawford. This was August of 2005. Democracy Now! had just been there, a large gathering. Of course, Cindy Sheehan had set up Camp Casey in honor of her son. And yes, they did join together their stories, Tomas Young and Cindy Sheehan, because Casey also — well, he wasn’t wounded like Tomas in Sadr City, April 4, 2004; he was killed. Tomas Young came to Crawford with his new bride for his honeymoon. There, he met Cindy Sheehan.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Momentarily, we’re going to speak with Tomas Young, a twenty-five-year-old disabled Iraqi war vet. He’s here on his honeymoon.
TOMAS YOUNG: I can no longer control my body temperature. And when I go outside in the heat, I have to wear a cooling jacket that has frozen gel inserts to keep my body temperature regulated and cooled.
They tell me the feeling dizzy after our warm days and all this will go away eventually, once I get used to my injury. God, I hope they’re telling the truth.
Hi. Nice to meet y’all. I’m Tomas Young.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nice to meet you.
TOMAS YOUNG: I’m Tomas, by the way.
Hey, I’ve got time to do an interview.
I called my recruiter on September 13. I wanted to go to Afghanistan. And I only managed to spend maybe five days in Iraq until I got picked to go on my first mission. There were twenty-five of us crammed into the back of a two-and-a-half-ton truck with no covering on top or armor on the sides. For the Iraqis on the top of the roof, it just looked like, you know, ducks in a barrel. They didn’t even have to aim.
I’ve got meetings, and I guess I’m a busy man.
BRIE TOWNSEND: We’re coming! We’re coming!
CINDY SHEEHAN: I also want to introduce Tomas Young. He was fighting in Sadr City and wounded the same day Casey was killed. And he was part of the 1st Cavalry, too.
TOMAS YOUNG: I also would like to demand a meeting with the President, because I feel he owes me some explanations as to why a soldier can volunteer to go over and fight for his country and lose his ability to walk, plus a lot of other important functions, and why I am not worth the funding for stem-cell research.
Sorry, but we’re going to have to cut this short. I need to go find a table to lean on for support. So are we good here?
REPORTER: Yeah. Thanks a lot.
TOMAS YOUNG: Thank you.
CROWD: [singing] America, America, God shed His grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood from the sea to shining sea.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Body of War with Tomas Young in Crawford in the summer of August 2005, where he meets Cindy Sheehan. We are about to go to Tomas Young where he lives in Kansas City, but before we go, Ellen Spiro, who co-directed this film with Phil Donahue, last words?
ELLEN SPIRO: Please come see Body of War. The story of Tomas Young is incredibly surprising and inspiring, and watching this film will change you.
AMY GOODMAN: Ellen, thanks so much for joining us. Ellen Spiro is the award-winning filmmaker who got together with Phil Donahue to do this film. When we come back from break, we’ll be in Kansas City, as well as here in New York with Phil Donahue. Tomas Young will join us. He just made it to the studio, wheelchair and all. Stay with us.
Our hour, we are spending on a new film that is out called Body of War. Phil Donahue, in the studio with us in New York, co-directs this film. Tomas Young now joins us from Kansas City, Missouri, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, the subject of the documentary.
Welcome, Tomas. I’m glad you made it to the studio.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
So tell me about what it is like for this film, now that you’ve been followed everywhere around the country in the making of it, to be out. We were in Silver Spring at Winter Solder, the hearings of active-duty and veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, and soldiers were trickling in from South by Southwest, where you had been in Austin for the opening of the film.
Well, it’s been an amazing honor to travel the country with this music that I’m putting out on this album and the movie that has been an amazing experience to make, and to reach out to soldiers that are speaking out against this war and to try to touch lives on an individual basis has been an incredible experience. But right off the bat, I have to address something that Dick Cheney said yesterday in response to the —
Maybe we have a clip. Maybe we have a clip of what Dick Cheney had to say. Let’s give it a try. I think this is from our headlines today. This is the Vice President, Dick Cheney.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The President carries the biggest burden, obviously. He’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, an all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us.
That was Dick Cheney. Tomas Young, was that the quote you would like to address?
Absolutely. From one of those soldiers who volunteered to go to Afghanistan after September 11th, which was where the evidence said we needed to go, to the master of the college deferment in Vietnam, the last conflict we didn’t go into voluntarily, many of us volunteered with patriotic feelings in our heart, only to see them subverted and bastardized by the administration and sent into the wrong country. Yes, we volunteered, but we didn’t volunteer where you sent us to go. And I realize that we don’t choose where we get to go, but we at least should be sent in the right places to defend the Constitution, just as we volunteered to do. That’s all.
Tomas, I wanted to go to a part of the film, Body of War, which was the White House Correspondents Dinner of 2005. It’s very interesting, because you were watching it. It includes President Bush joking around about the missing WMDs, as well as First Lady Laura Bush. This is the clip.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Those weapons of mass destruction got to be somewhere. Nope, no weapons over there. Maybe under here.
LAURA BUSH: I said to him the other day, “George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you’re going to have to stay up later.” Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife.
CATHY SMITH: They’re so insulated. They don’t want to know about people like Tomas and the four or five percent of the population that is actually sacrificing for this war.
That last voice is Tomas Young’s mother, Cathy Smith. Tomas Young is shown in the film watching the White House Correspondents Dinner and hugging his little brother. Tomas, your reaction to the skit?
Well, my reaction is twofold. I’d like to tell Laura Bush that there are probably several — there are probably a couple thousand desperate housewives who are quite missing their husbands and would love to have their husbands there to go to bed early before 9:00. And for the President to be so glib about a lie that he told the American people and my brothers and sisters in arms to get us to go to war so blindly and patriotically for this country, it’s offensive to me as a soldier, first, and as an American, second. And now, that clip that I was watching was recorded from the year previous, so I had a full year for that wound to fester and boil, as far as my anger and resentment at the President making that joke and looking around the Oval Office as if the weapons of mass destruction were under his desk.
Tomas, I wanted to go to, well, near the end of the film, when you meet Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. We’ve been playing his impassioned speeches on the floor of the Senate, which figure prominently in the film. In this clip, Senator Byrd proudly reads to you the names of all the twenty-three senators who voted against authorizing the invasion of Iraq.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: I’m going to read you the names of these —
TOMAS YOUNG: The immortal twenty-three?
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: The immortal twenty-three. Alright, here we are. H.J. Res. 114, that’s the resolution.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Senators voting in the negative.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Here are the twenty-three: Akaka.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Akaka, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Bingaman.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Bingaman, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Boxer.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mrs. Boxer, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Byrd. B-Y-R-D, right there.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Byrd, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Chafee, Republican.
He’s a good man.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Chafee, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: He stood with us. Conrad.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Conrad, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: What’s that one?
TOMAS YOUNG: Look like Jon Corzine.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Corzine, yeah.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Corzine, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: I don’t have my glasses on. What’s that one there?
TOMAS YOUNG: Dayton.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Dayton, yeah. God bless him. He’s leaving us after this year.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Dayton, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Who’s that?
TOMAS YOUNG: That’s Senator Durbin.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Durbin. This one?
TOMAS YOUNG: Senator Feingold.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Feingold.
TOMAS YOUNG: That would be Bob Graham from Florida, I think, Senator.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Yes, it would be.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Durbin, no. Mr. Feingold, no. Mr. Graham of Florida, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: And we go all the way down here to Daniel Inouye.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Inouye —-
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: There’s a man who has really sacrificed. He gave his arm.
TOMAS YOUNG: From Hawaii, yeah.
SENATE ROLL CALL: No.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Yes, sir. He’s a real hero.
TOMAS YOUNG: Here’s another one of my heroes.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Jim Jeffords.
TOMAS YOUNG: Senator Jeffords, the one that switched sides of the aisle.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: He’s one of my heroes, too.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Jeffords, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Kennedy, Leahy and Levin.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Leahy, Mr. Levin, no, no, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Mikulski.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Ms. Mikulski, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Murray.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mrs. Murray -—
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Patty Murray.
SENATE ROLL CALL: No.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Reed from Rhode Island, Sarbanes.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Reed of Rhode Island, no. Mr. Sarbanes, no.
TOMAS YOUNG: Stabenow.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Yeah, Debbie Stabenow.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Ms. Stabenow, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Wellstone, that’s the man who gave his life shortly thereafter.
TOMAS YOUNG: And then Wyden.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: And Wyden. He’s still here.
SENATE ROLL CALL: Mr. Wellstone, no. Mr. Wyden, no.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Twenty-three. Seventy-seven to twenty-three. The immortal twenty-three. Our founders would be so proud. Thank you for your service. Man, you’ve made a great sacrifice. You served your country well.
TOMAS YOUNG: As have you, sir.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Senator Robert Byrd meeting Tomas Young in his Senate office. Tomas, what was that moment like?
Well, meeting Robert Byrd was — it was an amazing experience. After only talking to him for a couple minutes, I found myself wanting to ask him to be an adoptive grandfather to me. He is truly — I mean, when you look at the fact that the day he fell in front of his house, he went in and cast a vote on the Senate floor, then went back to his office and only went to the hospital when his aides told him he didn’t look so well. So it kind of makes you think twice about calling into work when you have an upset stomach.
Tomas, I haven’t even given you a chance yet to say hi to Phil Donahue, who’s here in our firehouse studio in New York, Tomas Young in Kansas City. Phil?
PHIL DONAHUE: Tomas.
TOMAS YOUNG: Yeah, I heard you were there. I was wondering if I was going to get a chance to say hi.
Well, you’re doing real well without me, Tomas, as always. I mean, this is a hugely powerful antiwar voice here. People just — I’m telling you, he speaks, and nobody talks. I mean, you can hear a pin drop. It’s wonderful how he’s exploiting his own — he has the power for the wrong reason, to be sure. And we can walk. And all of us have to remember that. And he’s — but, you know, he wheels out on that stage, and people just fall silent and listen to every word. It’s wonderful to see.
In fact, you’re going to be showing this film in Washington next week. Tomas, will you be there?
Absolutely. I have a screening on April 2nd with Robert Byrd and some other invited guests, and then I’ll be there for the opening on April 4th.
That is true, and we also open in New York on April 9th, Landmark Theaters, our home for the next several weeks. We go to Boston from New York and then San Francisco. We’re going to do LA, Chicago. And we think we’ve got something here that will really move the American people. I mean, this is a story of a family. And Ellen did such a fabulous job on the film, and we can’t wait for you to see it.
Speaking of family, I wanted to play a last clip, play a little part of it, and it’s with you, Tomas, and your mom, Cathy Smith, who is helping you insert a catheter. It’s a tough one.
Alright. I’m going to lift up, and you’re going to slip that under me.
CATHY SMITH: OK.
TOMAS YOUNG: OK. This is hard to do from this angle. Help me out here, Mom?
CATHY SMITH: Yeah.
TOMAS YOUNG: Must be hard. I’ve been meaning to change those. OK, now, in this bag, you’re going to take this lube out. OK. Instead of lubing up the end of that, you’re going to lube the head of the penis.
CATHY SMITH: OK.
TOMAS YOUNG: ’Cause it uses less lube. You’re just going to lube right over the hole.
CATHY SMITH: Like that?
TOMAS YOUNG: And now you’re just going to insert the catheter. And I really kind of wanted you to put the glove on the hand that was going to put the catheter in, but OK. You seriously can push in a little quicker than that.
CATHY SMITH: No, I can’t.
TOMAS YOUNG: Are you nervous?
CATHY SMITH: Yeah, I have never done before.
TOMAS YOUNG: OK.
CATHY SMITH: Is it coming out?
TOMAS YOUNG: Yeah, it’s coming out. Hey, Mom! We generally tend to watch what goes on up there.
CATHY SMITH: I’m trying to move it so it doesn’t just go everywhere.
TOMAS YOUNG: Good plan. You saw that works swimmingly. Look at that, you’ve got pee on your hand.
CATHY SMITH: I know. You know what? It’s not the first time I’ve had your pee on my hand.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomas Young and his mother Cathy Smith. Tomas, how does it feel to have such an intimate look about how to live your life every day, your struggle?
TOMAS YOUNG: Well, first of all, you showed me and — my mother and I in that scene, and I have to take my hat off to how amazingly strong my mom is. And I wouldn’t be where I am today and feeling like I can be independent and step into life on my own if it weren’t for her help and strength through these last three or four years.
But as far as letting people into the dark nooks and crannies of my life, as it were, if we were just going to show me trying to get up a ramp and with a little bit of difficulty or me transferring in and out of chairs in a van or off of my bed, people wouldn’t really see the true cost of what I’ve had to go through. And so, the more we show, the more the average American boy or girl thinking about potential enlistment — and, well, obviously, in my situation, maybe more males than females —
Tomas, we have four seconds.
— that they’ll know more and realize they shouldn’t make impetuous decisions about enlistment.
We’ll have to leave it there. Tomas Young, thanks for being with us, Phil Donahue. Body of War opens all over the country within these next few weeks.
TOMAS YOUNG: Thank you for having me.