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The Nixon administration attempted to defuse the negative political
fallout of the My Lai massacre by claiming that it was a unique event
and the work of a rogue outfit. Veterans who knew differently assembled
in a Detroit hotel conference room in 1971 to publicly confess to the
torture and massacre of civilians, and to testify that this was SOP
(standard operating procedure) in a war of attrition against the
Vietnamese. "Winter Soldier" is a 95-minute document of the testimony.
The simplicity of the film-making gives the content a starkness which is entirely appropriate.
This film is finally being given national distribution through Millarium Zero, thirty-three years after it was made.
Parallels with our current involvement in Iraq are unmistakable and chilling.
Probably the most self-critical Vietnam-related film to have been made in
the U.S. (which might explain its scarcity), WINTER SOLDIER is a
moving and disturbing documentary about the inculcation of eager, pliable
young American men, of a conscienceless barbarism. The fact that the
of 'Nam vets, convened in front of spectators and a camera crew to convey
their opposition to the war, is made up predominantly of articulate,
sensitive-seeming men may point to why these particular people broke free
the bonds of pleasure-killing faceless innocent civilians ("gooks"), and
came to realize the profound inhumanity of their and their peers' actions
and, far worse, the actions of the U.S. military in creating
Unlike the callousness of the soldiers interviewed in documentaries like INTERVIEWS WITH MY LAI VETERANS and MILLS OF THE GODS, these speakers appear ashamed, penitent, and destined to spend the rest of their days with horrible memories of the torture and massacres they took part in, as well as anger at a government that made them pawns, not only in an imperialistic gambit disguised as a mercy mission, but also in a morality-play tug-of-war back home.
This film appears to have been all but lost to the ages, which is a
shame since its a very moving record of what a group of soldiers
experienced during their time in Viet Nam.
The film consists of panel testimony before and to an audience of the horrible things that the soldiers saw and did while fighting for truth justice and the American Way. That is inter-cut with one on one interviews with the film makers. Its mostly just talking heads, but its rarely boring since what these men have to say is so interesting it ends up being more like talking to friends over coffee than being lectured.
What comes through is the sincerity of the speakers who pull no punches in telling you what its like to fight a war in a hostile land of no clear cut enemies. (And yes the film echoes frighteningly with events currently transpiring in Iraq where reports on the news and interviews with soldiers find the same phrases and reasonings being repeated)
This is a haunting film that effects you not so much in the viewing, but rather in the thinking. It is not an easy film to forget and it will play in your mind much more forcefully as you think about it afterward.
If the film has any real flaw is that at 95 minutes its about 20 minutes too long. Its not that the material is bad, rather that its too much to take in and like the vet who's seen too many killings you turn off to the sights before you.
SEE THIS MOVIE. Find it and see it. It is still as vital today as when it was made.
9 out of 10.
Powerful thought-provoking and sometimes almost unwatchable documentary
about the men who were sent to South-East Asia to fight what has became
the worst diplomatic and military disaster in America's 230 year
history the Vietnam War. Filmed in late January and early February 1971
in a Detroit Howard Johnson that includes among the 125 Vietnam
veterans in attendance the now Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. The
film has former as well as a number of active Vietnam Vets spilling
their guts out on how they not only survived the hell in Vietnam but
now how they'll never be the same again physically mentally and
emotionally from the experience of participating in that war.
We get to see, in a number of photos and film clips, and hear story after story by former US combat veterans both soldiers and US Marines ,looking more like hippies then clean cut all-American boys, telling of the horrors that they not only went through but in many cases participated in. The horror stories were told had to do with a number of My Lai-like massacre's as well as countless random shootings knifing and fatal beatings of innocent Vietnam civilians caught in the crossfire. Were also told about defenseless and tied-up North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong guerrilla prisoners of war most of them thrown off, alive and terrified, from US Army helicopter's in mid-flight over the Vietnamese jungle.
Most of the Vietnam Veterans in the documentary were in combat as early as six months before it was filmed and we see how they changed so suddenly this after they served their time and were no longer in danger of being sent back to Vietnam again. We hear the ex-GI's and US Marines emotionally and heart-fully speaking not only for themselves but for those young Americans who were to be sent overseas to continue the war that at the time was already some seven years old; if you count the notorious Gulf of Tonkin incident of August 1964 as the beginning of a full-scale US military involvement in that conflict.
The incidents relived by most of the US combat veterans in the film are so gut wrenching that some of the GI's and US Marines actually broke down in tears reciting them. It's was almost a miracle that they would, after what they went through, even want to talk about their experiences in that war-ravaged country. The combat vets tell their personal stories before an audience, many who were in tears themselves in hearing what they had to say, knowing that they'll be looked upon as monsters by the very people whom they were supposed to be fighting for and who's rights and liberties that they were supposed to be defending. Many of the men in the documentary ended up on drugs or became alcoholics and in some cases even killed themselves because of the trauma that they suffered. After seeing "Winter Soilders" It's a wonder that now in 2006 there are people, who were of age in serving in that war but didn't, who still feel that it was justified and that the US should not have withdrawal after the fall of Saigon in the spring of 1975. The war actually ended for the US in a signed armistice with the North Vietnamese government in January 1973.
Seeing this startling documentary now and having it shown to millions of Americans, on DVD Video tape and cable TV, is very timely. "Winter Soilders" will not only bring the war in Vietnam back home after over thirty years to the American public in the knowledge of just what a major disaster it was not only for the US which lost some 60,000 US servicemen dead and almost 300,000 wounded and missing but the Vietnamese who lost an estimated 3 to 4 million killed in the 11, 1964-1975, year conflict. The documentary will also help change the minds of those Americans, now well under 50%, who still feel that the equally unpopular and unwanted War in Iraq going on now is worth the blood and money that it demands of the American public in lives, already almost 3,000 killed, and money, 346 billion dollars as of Nov. 30, 2006.
In fact the war in Iraq is even more illegal then the Vietnam War was back then. Unlike in Vietnam the US invaded and occupied Iraq and was not asked by it's government, like it was by the South Vietnamese government back in the early 1960's, to send US troops to fight and die there to protect it's freedom and security. Another big difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that there was no armed insurgency in the latter, Iraq, like there was in the former, Vietnam. The growing Iraqi insurgency that has cost more then 90% of the US casualties in Iraq only materialized and grew after the invasion and occupation of that country by the US and it's so-called "Coalition of the Willing" in the spring and early summer of 2003.
This film is a documentary shot at a Howard Johnson motel in Detroit
over 3 days, in February, 1971, when 125 Vietnam military veterans
gathered to offer personal testimony about atrocities and gratuitous
violence they had witnessed or participated in during military service
in Vietnam, i.e., violent acts by U.S. servicemen and U.S.-paid
civilian mercenaries during the Vietnam conflict. The gathering was
called the "Winter Soldier Investigation" and was the first such public
testimony ever to have occurred in connection with the Vietnam war.
As one critic noted at the time, the film is more a document than a documentary. Technically it is dull: for the most part a single stationary camera records one speaker after another, C-SPAN style. But the stories here are told with chilling detail and emotion, or, equally moving, lack of emotion, after the fashion of many former combatants who suffer from PTSD and avoid re-experiencing the overwhelming feelings that their trauma mobilized originally, through suppression or dissociation from awareness. Among many others, there is a brief scene depicting a young John Kerry at the meeting.
The film was later shown at a Congressional hearing in 1972. It has never received wide distribution in the ensuing decades. Yet there is obvious resonance of the stories told here with concerns today about state-sponsored torture (Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib) and gratuitous killing and wounding of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The directing group (the "collective") was made up of 18 young documentarists based in New York City, including Barbara Kopple. This was a co-production of the Winter Film Collective and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. My ratings: cinema values: 5/10 (C); significance of content: 8/10 (B+). (Seen on 11/15/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.
This is virtually ninety-plus minutes of testimonials of 'war crimes' by Vietnam vets at a conference in 1971, and while all of the atrocities - there's no other word for them - were the kinds of things I'd seen before, the sheer numbers were what got to me. Not the numbers of tortured and dead; that number I don't suppose I'll ever digest. It's the numbers of decent Americans like you or me who through exaggerated training of 'manhood', became savages. One can better understand what it must have been like to come home to our normal world of shopping malls, fast food, and sitcoms, and try to stuff back the memories and repressed emotions that made one kill children for fun and hack off body parts for a reward of a six-pack. Actually, I still can't understand it. I don't suppose I'll ever know at one point one stops becoming human, but at least I did find some hope in seeing these hundreds of men who found their humanity again after the war. Don't think that this is a film that tries to make Americans look bad, for virtually every culture in the world has had its share of atrocities. The atrocities are the symptom; war is the disease. From that perspective, I wish the film had gone further in having someone articulate the ignorance that these guys had in even going into this war. They really only understood why they were sent to fight when they returned, and it's that ignorance that is the virus that our government - that all governments and extremists - like to spread. The most upsetting image I saw in this film was a snapshot of an American soldier smiling over the exposed body of one of his kill. The chill down the back of my neck hit me before my mind brought up what it reminded me of. The smile on that soldier's face was the exact same smile that one of the soldiers Abu Ghraib had as he stood over a pile of naked bodies and crooked his thumbs up in a sign of victorious glee. The horror is that it just never stops.
This film consisted almost entirely of talking heads, but held the
attention of the audience from start to end at a screening organised by
the Socialist Workers Party. It was introduced by a Vietnam veteran
slating the UK Labour party for applauding Tony Blair "the 2nd most
hated man in the world" on his farewell speech.
The film was mainly shot at a public hearing, organised by Veterans against the war (featuring John Kerry), where former soldiers talked about truly disgusting atrocities against men, women and children that they saw or themselves committed. They are described in a matter-of-fact fashion, because they were an everyday occurrence. They also talk about how they were trained, the dehumanising mindset they were trained in and the realisations they came to on returning to the US. Cut into this were interviews with audience members including a dissenting black veteran talking with members of VVAW about why he thinks there are not many Afro-Americans in their movement.
Too often when atrocities occur, it is the soldiers that are scapegoated, when it is governments that send them out brainwashed. This film gives them a chance to put their side of the story, causing conflicting emotions- should you feel disgusted with them as murderers or pity them as young conscripts deceived into fighting, brutally trained to act like animals. Though it is grim, it is also heartening that they had the courage to stand up against their government and attempt to stop the genocidal war. The sort of film GW Bush and Blair should have watched years ago.
I thought I knew about Vietnam. I hadn't really studied it as such and,
in England, it isn't taught very in depth, if at all in the state
schools so I only thought I knew about it from various sources that I
had absorbed it from during my life: Movies being the main source
which, I used to think, rightly so in most cases, were just
sensationalism and that a lot of the horrific things were just made
worse for the movie. I had read the odd article too and I was aware of
certain atrocities but even then it din't seem to sink in and really
get into my brain just how bad that terrible war was. It wasn't like
any other war.
In the words of one of the veterans on this film, it was like a game where the winner is the one who kills the most...be them civilians or Viet Cong.
Watching this made me close to tears.
To hear the guys that actually committed these horrendous acts against what were, in the main, innocent civilian villagers who knew nothing of what they had supposedly done to deserve it and were shot for fun or just because they happened to be there,..well, hearing the guys telling the stories makes this one of the most harrowing yet poignant movies you could ever watch.
I think it should be shown in schools as a matter of course.
Man turned into Animal by the system that convinced him he was doing it for his country; his people; his fathers and his freedom.
What a load of rubbish.
These guys suffered so much and when some of them even attempt to tell the horrors they just cannot face it. You can see the look on their eyes: It tells it all.
I recommend this to anyone who has come by here to see if it is worth watching or not. Not only worth watching but it is REQUIRED VIEWING! Please keep this and show it to your children when they are older so that they might see what happened in this dark period of our so called 'civilized' history of the 20th century.
I hope those veterans were somehow able to put their ghosts to rest but somehow I doubt that.
People will believe what they want to believe. That's about it. I have no doubt that these men were telling the truth. They weren't trying to one up one another-who could brag about killing children. They were trying to show that atrocities were common in Vietnam, which they were. It's too bad more veterans don't talk about their experiences. The more people know about warfare, the less likely they will be to support it. And that was the aim of the Winter Soldier panel. And that is why it was banned. The American media was so scared of this documentary, they refused to show it. The truth needs to be concealed or ignored, so that the U.S. government can continue interfering militarily in the affairs of other countries. The US media has continued to conceal coverage of combat footage since the Vietnam War. Just recently Wikileaks exposed combat footage that would have outraged Americans from coast to coast, yet it was only mentioned on CNN and not shown, and not mentioned or shown on all the other network and cable news. So the truth is more than ever ignored. Let the censorship continue.
In 1971,a group of enlisted men,back from a tour of duty in Viet Nam, went to Washington & testified as to what horrors they carried out while on duty (and after which,they threw their conduct medals on the lawn of the White House,in protest of America's invasion of South East Asia). The hours of testimony was filmed in black & white,16mm in what looked like what was shot (potentially)for newsreel format (i.e.raw,primal,do it yourself),by unknown sources (on screen credits are unlisted,outside of the film's title). The film was intended for air on television,but was yanked & never even saw any kind of distribution (at that time,anyway). I'm guessing it was the same geniuses that got Francine Parker's 'F.T.A.' yanked that same year. Years later,with the war in Iraq at the centre of controversy (and the downfall of George W. Bush's popularity,among other things),the original 16mm footage of 'Winter Soldier' was found,re-printed on 35mm film stock (with additional 16mm colour footage,shot at various battlefields at the time,also blown up to 35mm),and given distribution as an independently released documentary. What we see/hear is the raw,unvarnished truth of the various soldiers (including to be,future Presidential hopeful,John Kerry of Massachusetts) pouring their hearts out at what they were forced to do,under military pressure,that would/should reduce anybody who considers themselves as human,to tears (I know I did). This is not an easy film to watch,but an important film for anybody who is an advocate for world peace,anti war activist,or human rights advocate. Not rated by the MPAA,but contains horrific testimony of human rights violations & strong language. Not for young children
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