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"Winter Soldier" Showing in Chicago

By Barry Romo

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Thirty-four years ago, VVAW organized an inquiry into war crimes; it was called called the Winter Soldier Investigation. Held in Detroit over four days, 125 people testified about war crimes, racism, and imperialism in the context of the war in Vietnam. This was truly a historic event. For the first time in history, war veterans got together to expose their government while the war in which they had fought was still going on.

The right wing attacked the event (and they brought it up again to attack Kerry in last year's election). Nixon and his administration challenged the testimony, and they went after VVAW. Yet with all the intelligence agencies at his disposal, he couldn't find any lies or liars.

The Winterfilm Collective made a documentary about the event; called "Winter Soldier," it came out in 1972. Shown mostly on college campuses, it never made it into the mainstream in the good old USA. But in Europe it was a hit, winning documentary awards and being shown in theaters and on television. Some members of the film collective went on to make top documentaries, including Barbara Koppel ("Harlan County, USA"), Robert Fiore ("Pumping Iron"), and Nancy Backer ("Born into Brothels").

It was forgotten by most except VVAW, and we would show it occasionally.

But last year's attacks on John Kerry, who shows up very briefly in the film, brought back interest, and people wanted to see it. As a result, screenings of a new print occurred in major cities around the country recently. At many of these screenings, many old and new VVAW members participated in discussion groups afterward.

In Chicago, for instance, we spoke at eight showings over eight nights to packed crowds at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Normally Q&A goes on for half an hour after any documentary. After screenings of "Winter Soldier," however, discussions went on for more than three times that. We could have gone longer, except for the fact that the workers had to close the film center and go home.

It was a chance for us to talk about the present as well as about the past. For example, we were able to highlight the fact that torture as U.S. policy did not begin with Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay.

If you missed one of these showings, you'll soon get a chance to purchase a copy. The film is coming out on DVD at the beginning of 2006. Watch for the announcement in the next issue of the Veteran, or check our website (www.vvaw.org).

Barry Romo was an infantry lieutenant in Vietnam, 1967–68.
He was a member of the minority panel on racism and moderator of the Americal Division panel
at the Winter Soldier Investigation, where he joined VVAW.

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