Body of War: Donahue’s Iraq


Co-directed by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue—yes, that Phil Donahue—Body of War is neither the most cinematic nor the most elegantly crafted of recent Iraq War documentaries, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most deeply affecting. Where Spiro and Donahue triumph is in putting a human face on the war—namely, that of U.S. Army Specialist Tomas Young, a patriotic Kansas City youth who was shot through the collarbone and paralyzed from the chest down after less than a week on the ground in Baghdad. Unambiguously angry and direct in an old-fashioned protest-movie way (complete with original, Phil Ochs–ian anthems composed and performed by Eddie Vedder), Body of War follows Young’s bittersweet homecoming, his adjustment to life in a wheelchair, his conversion into an anti-war activist, and the gradual collapse of his marriage. But the most devastating scenes in the film are arguably Spiro and Donahue’s found-footage flashbacks to the 2002 debates in both houses of Congress leading up to the authorization of war—eerily sound-alike soundbites that turn Body of War into the latest uncredited Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake.