The Bodies of War

by DANNY ALEXANDER

In March, paralyzed Iraq veteran Tomas Young received national attention for a “Last Letter” he wrote to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, calling out their “insane vision” and demanding that they “beg for forgiveness” from both the Americans and the Iraqis devastated by their senseless war. Young announced at that time that he would soon begin refusing medical treatment and nourishment, which meant he’d die in a few weeks.

But on May 19 Young announced that he’d decided he wanted to live longer. He made this decision after a powerful concert by Tom Morello’s Nightwatchman in Young’s hometown, Kansas City, and pre-show discussions with Morello. (The announcement that Young had chosen life has not made headlines, so far.) He specifically credited the support he’s received as a main factor in making it worthwhile to stick it out longer.

The Nightwatchman performance accompanied a screening of Body of War, a powerful documentary about Tomas Young’s struggle. Young came home a paraplegic after being wounded only five days after he arrived in Iraq in 2004, then became a quadriplegic in 2008 after suffering a further pulmonary embolism and brain injury. Five years of suffering led him to hospice care, but never deterred him from fighting against the U.S. wars in the Middle East and western Asia. However, Young still remained too ill to attend the event, billed as “A Tribute to Tomas Young.” He and his wife Claudia Cuellar did appear in a five-minute filmed update centered on an interview with Phil Donahue, one of the producers of Body of War. Later in the evening, Young and Cuellar were beamed in via Skype.

Tom Morello played host and musical headliner for the evening. It featured openers Ike Reilly (from Morello’s hometown of Libertyville, Illinois), wielding some hard-rocking acoustic guitar, and Jacob George (a three-tour Afghanistan vet from the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas), playing what Morello called “heavy metal banjo” and leading the audience in anti-war call and response. Donahue was in attendance, and Morello credited him with pulling the event together.

After the openers and the films, Morello began his own version of the evening’s fight for life, alone on stage with an acoustic guitar. He had the crowd cheering and singing along from the start. During “Flesh Shapes the Day,” Morello’s foot-stomping intensity shook all his harmonicas and their racks off the stage. Carl Restivo, from Morello’s band the Freedom Fighters, joined him to play Ben Harper’s role on “Save the Hammer for the Man” and lend second vocals when Morello broke out his “Arm the Homeless” electric and performed “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” After calling the song a tribute to all those unsung fighters striving for justice every day, Morello’s famous guitar solo–which swung through scratching and harmonic riffing to Hendrix-like teeth picking–seemed more clearly than ever a history of rock and rap as a voice for those fighters.

All of the musicians came together for a gleefully uncensored sing-a-long of “This Land Is Your Land.” Then, as if to illustrate the point that this house is your house, everyone was invited down to the stage for “World Wide Rebel Songs” and a very emotional reading of Morello’s “Until the End.”

After the set, the audience asked questions of a smiling Tomas and Claudia. Young’s mother, Cathy Smith, was in the house thanked Morello directly for inspiring her son to keep fighting a while longer. Young didn’t disagree and thanked everyone who supported him, but added, “I want to spend more time with Claudia.”

The promise of a new chapter in Young’s life closed out the evening, but what everyone there promised each other was new life to fight the battles waiting outside in the morning. With Morello passing a hat for Paralyzed Veterans of America and Young promoting the Wounded Warriors Project and calling for the release of Bradley Manning (imprisoned in Kuwait for three years now because he leaked video that shows a military helicopter murdering two dozen people, including two journalists), the evening closed as some cross between a tent revival and, albeit in just a little theater in the heartland, an all-time great anti-war rally.

Danny Alexander writes for  Living in Stereo and Rock & Rap Confidential, where this column originally appeared. He can be reached at: danny.dalexand@gmail.com

Rock & Rap Confidential is now available for free by emailing: rockrap@aol.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future