This feature-length documentary focuses on the efforts by troops in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to oppose the war effort by peaceful demonstration and subversion. It speaks ... See full summary »
For three days in 1971, former US soldiers who were in Vietnam testify in Detroit about their war experiences. Nearly 30 speak, describing atrocities personally committed or witnessed, ... See full summary »
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This feature-length documentary focuses on the efforts by troops in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to oppose the war effort by peaceful demonstration and subversion. It speaks mainly to veterans, but serves as a ready reminder to civilians that soldiers may oppose war as stridently as any civilian, and at greater personal peril. Written by
Steve Fenwick (email@example.com)
Lessons Lost: GI's Speaking Truth to Power During the Vietnam War
By 1968 the civilian anti-Vietnam war movement was beginning to expand, young men were escaping to Canada to avoid the draft, and former combatants were starting to protest the war. Like most Americans, I had no idea that at the same time there was a snowballing anti-war movement taking place right within the ranks of active duty military personnel.
Awareness of the disconnect between Pentagon and White House rhetoric, on the one hand, and realities on the ground in Vietnam, on the other, especially our massive extermination of civilian lives, began to seep through every pore within the military, prompting protests that were strikingly varied, creative, and, while often made up of small, localized actions, collectively impressive. To the point that by 1971, as one army colonel put it, the active GI anti-war rebellion had "infested the entire armed services."
David Zeiger, writing and directing his first feature for the big screen, does a splendid job of pulling together the stories of participants in this unprecedented, diffuse, largely unorganized, multicentered movement. There are plenty of talking heads, but they aren't experts, they're people reminiscing today about their personal antiwar activities 35 years ago while on active duty. (We also see old shots of these same people when they were young and in uniform.)
We hear from participants in actions as diverse as the following examples indicate: Proliferation of forbidden antiwar newspapers on military bases; Passive refusal to participate in antiriot actions at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Party Presidential Convention; Boycott of a chain of jewelry stores located near military bases that pandered to men about to go to Vietnam (Their selling point: the prospect of dying in Vietnam made it urgent to buy a bauble for your wife or mother now, before you go. The ads were juxtaposed with photos of soldiers who had recently died).
And more: An Air Force Intelligence group based in Thailand that refused to transmit further intelligence because it was being used as a basis for undisclosed Cambodian bombings; A group of active duty Army personnel that swore not to fight, rioting after their mass arrest and incarceration in an overcrowded Army stockade; A physician - a dermatologist - who refused to continue training Special Forces medics to treat skin infections of Vietnamese children part of a "win the hearts and minds" campaign once he learned that we were killing untold thousands of civilians by napalm bombing of villages; Pilots refusing to fly bombing raids; The first major mass public testimony by former combatants about atrocities against civilians, at a 3-day conclave in 1971, in Detroit (memorialized in the film, "Winter Soldier").
These stories and many others are told here, involving officers as well as grunts, from every branch of the service. What is so compelling is that the passion of these people has not ebbed despite all the years that have passed, and the many sacrifices and punishments they absorbed consequent to taking a stand. Perhaps there are also people out there who stood up against the war from within the ranks and later regretted doing so. We don't meet any of them.
We do meet Jane Fonda, who reminisces with evident conviction today, about her participation, along with Donald Sutherland and other entertainers, in the unauthorized "FTA" variety shows they conducted near military bases during the Vietnam war, antiwar shows that roused huge crowds as they mocked the Bob Hope tours.
The men and women inside the military and among civilians throughout this country who bravely spoke truth to power during and after the Vietnam war gave the U.S. peace movement its best opportunity since the Civil War to acknowledge the costs of war and seek a better way. Western Europe figured it out. But we didn't. Lessons learned became lessons lost. And, God help us, look where we are today. My grade: 8/10 B+.
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