FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail