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A Slice of History
By Dave Kettenhofen (Reviewer)
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Directed by Michael Lesser
(Milliarium Zero and Winterfilm, 2005)
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It's hard to shake the brutal honesty of this film. So many young men baring their souls in the hopes that their country would come to its senses and stop the murderous war in Vietnam. Originally released in 1972, this account of the Winter Soldier Investigation, an inquiry into American war crimes, is now available in the DVD format and is an instant classic.
The Winter Soldier Investigation took place in Detroit, Michigan on January 31 and February 1 and 2, 1971. More than 100 veterans testified to war crimes they had committed or witnessed in Vietnam. Their testimonies attempted to show the inhumanity of war, illustrating how they were trained to see the enemy as less than human, so that brutalizing them wouldn't seem quite so bad. Atrocities were shown not to be just isolated incidents but the norm in many units.
This film is mesmerizing and flows naturally. One by one, these veterans relate their personal stories of torture, racism, free-fire zones, the burning of hamlets, carpet bombings, etc. It is an extremely moving experience; there is really nothing to add—the testimonies tell it all. It's about innocence lost. It's about taking a stand against what is morally wrong. It is about being a patriot!
There are some out there (Swift Boat liars and the like) who have attacked the Winter Soldier Investigation and its participants as lacking credibility and being fraudulent. Anyone drawing that conclusion after viewing the heartfelt testimonies portrayed here is either wearing blinders or is a total idiot with no conscience. This film is truth.
The DVD contains many bonus features that really make it a complete package. There's a discussion with the filmmakers in which they relate their feelings and perceptions while making the film and in the present. The testimonies of veterans from the Americal Division and the First Marine Division are shown in separate shorts. Scott Camil is profiled, including a recent interview with him. "The Winter Soldier Files," which are several historical documents, are downloadable on DVD-ROM. And what I found to be best of all was a stills gallery of many incredible, candid photos from Operation RAW, the Winter Soldier Investigation, and Dewey Canyon III by VVAW photographer Sheldon Ramsdell.
I feel that the Winter Soldier Investigation is an iconic event in the histories of both VVAW and the antiwar movement in general. Its stories must be preserved and its message must be passed on. Honor the courage of the veterans who put it all on the line here. Add this DVD to your collection.
Dave Kettenhofen is a Vietnam veteran (1970–71), a VVAW national coordinator, and a member of the Milwaukee chapter of VVAW.