Yesterday in Washington DC, we interviewed Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, who co-produced the documentary on the Iraq War, Body of War. The subject of the film is Thomas Young, an Iraq war veteran who was shot through his fourth vertebra and is paraplegic. It is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. On Friday, we are going to interview Thomas Young. Living with the injuries he sustained in that war tires him out, so, he could not join Donahue and Spiro when we interviewed them yesterday. He graciously agreed to reschedule our interview and meet with us tomorrow morning. Once we have that interview in the can, we will be producing an audio/videowebcast and public radio show on the Body of War. It is coming soon.
This week I have been thinking a lot about the veterans of this Iraq war. I watched Body of War three times preparing for our interviews with Phil Donahue and the others. I have been talking with Josh Kors who exposed how the Department of Defense labeled over 20,000 veterans with “pre-existing conditions” so they could deny them millions of dollars in benefits. And last Monday I gave a keynote address to veterans and those who work with disabled, addicted and homeless veterans.
The photograph of him taken during the battle of Fallujah with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, eyes staring off, with blood and dirt on his face became the iconic image of the young, tough, swaggering American war hero. He was a teenager then. His image was used and abused to support the war and entice other young people to join up. James Miller, who suffered severe PTSD, is now home in Kentucky, violent, angry, reflective and alone. He refused to let his image or name be used to support Bush’s war.
There are now over 4,000 American service people who have died in Iraq and almost 29,000 wounded or horribly maimed and crippled. There are tens and tens of thousands more who were wounded in body and soul. They estimate that up to 40% of returning vets will suffer from PSTD. The National Guard, whose rate of PTSD is astronomical, gets few federal benefits.
Our advanced medical technology kept those 28,000 badly wounded service people alive. If this were Vietnam, most of them would be dead. Yet the system of medical care for our veterans is in worse shape now than it was forty years ago. There is a scene in Body of War, when two veterans, one from the Iraq war and the other from the Vietnam war, both in wheelchairs, are talking. The Viet vet said he was in the hospital for a year with his wounds and was taught how to care for himself. The younger Iraqi war vet was in the hospital for only three months.
We went into this war without thinking about the consequences for Iraq, and for our veterans. All this mayhem and blood spilled for what?! For oil? For strategic political hegemony?
Yes, it was for oil. Yes, it was a war to protect our oil interests and our allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel. We produced many shows on the lead to up to this war. In that, we discovered Project for A New American Century, a think tank in Washington DC. Papers written over a twenty year period by all the shining lights of the Bush administration (Abrams, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Libby, and others) lay it all out in clear detail why we need to invade Iraq: protect the oil and secure American political power in the Middle East.
So now the Bush administration has gotten us into this madness, we have to deal with our responsibility to Iraq, a nation we have torn asunder, and to our veterans. We will be paying for the steep social and fiscal costs of this war for a generation, maybe more.
I don’t mean to rant or bring you all down, but when I meet and interview veterans of this war, and when I interview Iraqis here and in Iraq, I become so angry at what has been done to us. Now, we as a people have to make it right.