Winter Soldier

Winter Soldier is a documentary that shows reports by 109 U.S. soldiers of atrocities they committed and saw committed by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. It was banned by network television when released in 1972.  Using the 1971 Detroit Winter Soldier Investigation as its basis, the film features interviews with Vietnam veterans who saw or participated in the crimes paired with footage of the war. The purpose of the Winter Soldier Investigation was to show that American policies in Vietnam had led to war crimes. The film serves as a permanent reminder of the tragic effects of war and the human capacity for cruelty.  The Winter Soldier investigation went through great lengths to make sure the participants were legitimate. Each veteran’s authenticity was checked before the hearings by the investigation event organizers, and subsequently by reporters and Pentagon officials. In addition, they also gave specific details about their units and the locations where the events had occurred. Those who wanted to testify were carefully screened by the officers of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and care was taken to verify the service records and testimony of the veterans.  Wikipedia and other sites I found with Google give stats and links to those who spoke out in this doc, and these men certainly seem to have the credentials. The evidence I have found so far seems to support this as being accurate. The events detailed by the veterans giving testimony in this documentary are still shocking and deeply disturbing even after forty years. What is perhaps more disturbing is that despite concerted efforts to discredit these soldiers, none of the testimony was found to be fraudulent – much of it subsequently corroborated by the Pentagon itself.  Far from being debunked, innumerable similar stories of atrocities in Vietnam have surfaced over the years since Winter Soldier was made.  As a child born just after Vietnam, I interviewed many of the men I knew who went there, and by comparison some of these stories are actually pretty tame.  For those of you who think that America is not capable of atrocities – that it’s something that only other countries do – be prepared for a real eye opener. I thought I would come away hating these men for what they did, but the more you listen to them talk, the more you realize just how the military prepares men for their duty by turning them into killing machines and seeing the enemy as subhuman. I had heard that James Henry had spoken up and reported atrocities he had seen while serving his country in Vietnam. I had worked with him for over four years in the same company and never heard this until after he had passed away. If I could go back and talk to him, I would tell him I was proud of him for speaking up. Now I know why there was that distant haunted look some times when he thought no one was looking.  These brave men are speaking out about a government that was lying to its people. Whenever there’s a documentary that has any factual info regarding war, politics, or our environment you get some closed-minded conservatives saying it’s a lie / propaganda / half truths.  Whether you’re left or right, or consider yourself in-between or neither, I would recommend watching this film and deciding for yourself if what is said really happened.  War is an atrocity in and of itself, and if we really want to be civilized people we need to seek out ways to avoid it. And when we do send the precious lives of our young men and women into battle, we better be really sure we are doing the right thing.  Now fast-forward 30 years. The only reason we were able to go into Iraq and Afghanistan is because we were able to forget how ugly things got in the last few years before we got out of Vietnam. The horrific thing about it is that it’s going on again right now.  The stories which now come back from Afghanistan and Iraq are similar by comparison, and yet the same murderous genocides continue there today.  Civilians dying by the thousands. Go to YouTube and search on “winter soldier” and you will see soldiers from the current wars testifying.  (Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan was an event at which more than 200 U.S. military veterans and active duty soldiers, as well as Iraqi and Afghan civilians, provided accounts of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. The event was inspired by the Winter Soldier Investigation of 1971. It was organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War and held in 2008, timed for the fifth anniversary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.)  Abu Ghraib was made possible because we did not recognize that in our zeal to scientifically condition soldiers to be able to kill without remorse, (read On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, and Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning) combined with a total war mentality, and a complete disregard and disdain for the history and culture of people living in the places where we make war, we cannot help but follow a path toward atrocious behavior.  This film is a must see – lest we forget once again what we are all capable of doing to one another, and lest we continue to condone and deny atrocity. Should you see it? Yes. But this documentary is not meant for children at all. The brutality of it all is just mind-boggling.  Difficult to watch but must be seen. Documentary 1972 NR 96 minutes.

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