You Have to See This! Winter Soldier (1972)

“In boot camp, we used to every night we had to say–before we went to bed, we’d have to sing the Marine Corps Hymn, and laying at attention in bed,we’d sing the Marine Corps Hymn, and then we’d say,”Another day in the Corps, sir, for every day’s a holiday and every meal’s a feast. Pray for war. Pray for war. God bless the Marine Corps. God bless my drill instructors. Pray for war.” And every night we had to say that, and when we’d run and we’d sing songs, we’d sing, like, they’d say, “Kill, kill, kill.” And when we–at our–at judo practice and knife fighting practice and bayonet fighting practice it was always, that was the yell: “Kill, kill, kill.”’

One question I kept asking myself during this film is “Why did it take so damn long for this to be released on DVD?” and in today’s climate, why doesn’t this film have a deluxe release from Criterion, Kino, or Olive Film? It’s disappointing that this time capsule that reveals what war and the military truly is, has yet to be seen by a majority of Americans. If you’re looking for true accounts of Vietnam, if you’re looking for frank grisly accounts on the sheer brutality of the war and on the plight of Vietnamese civilians during this time, you’d really have to look no further than an actual American soldier.

In February 1971, one month after the revelations of the My Lai massacre, an astonishing public inquiry into war crimes committed by American forces in Vietnam was held at a Howard Johnson motel in Detroit. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War organized this event called the Winter Soldier Investigation. More than 125 veterans spoke of atrocities they had witnessed and committed. Though the event was attended by press and television news crews, almost nothing was reported to the American public. Yet, this unprecedented forum marked a turning point in the anti-war movement.

The service men in 1972’s “Winter Soldier” talk of their life on the battlefield with a sense of fondness, a fondness that really displays their true mental state as a result of the war they took part in. Their ability to discuss the gruesome stories with a slightly disturbing smile at the opening really only shows how much they’ve adjusted to the atrocities in their own fractured,  dysfunctional manner.

How do you convince a nation that the war they’re supporting is pointless? How do you do so when the media, which the nation follows, only sensationalizes the war, and discusses only half of the story? How do you fight an administration who denies such first hand accounts? If those questions seem awfully familiar to you, then it only goes to show that no matter how much things change, the more they stay the same. If you want the true story, you need to go nowhere else but to the men who fought in the battles.

And what you hear during “Winter Soldier” is not for the squeamish. I dare you not to turn away when you’re watching “Winter Soldier” I dare you because there is no other documentary out right now that bears such a historical parallel than this film. And for you to turn away from this would really only show how utterly clueless you’d be to our history. “Winter Soldier” explores with down to Earth simplicity, the “Winter Soldier Investigation”, a series of media events that discussed and shed light on the sheer cruel practices of torture and murder that occurred during the Vietnam War.

Obviously, this event was never publicized by the mainstream media, apparently the result of a president attempting to shy away from negative press during a time where the American public were kicking themselves for electing him to office. A group of honorably discharged soldiers sit at a press table in front of an audience, and recollect much of the disgusting and utterly disturbing stories during their services in the Army, and what you’ll hear is utterly appalling, yet when you explore the soldier’s mindsets, you have to wonder if patriotism really is a disease.

Here we have a group of men taught that America was always justified, that the soldiers were heroes in spite of murdering, raping, and torturing innocent civilians, with a complacent nation whom never sought out the truth, and an administration who sought out to sidestep the torture in exchange for positive press to induce the war further.

“Winter Soldier” is already a grueling experience, but once you begin to realize how it correlates with our current situation involving Iraq, you’ll find yourself squirming in discomfort and you’ll be tempted to turn if off. “Winter Soldier” is shot in a simple stark gritty black and white that further envelopes it into a shocking reality, and when compared to other political documentaries, there’s simply no one-side about it.

This was what the Vietnam War was; this was what we refused to acknowledge. Whether it was hearing about a man having his skin peeled off, or the soldiers shooting down three year olds out of boredom, I had a truly difficult time sitting through this film, I was even disgusted, but then I kept telling myself that this was reality then, and this is reality now. It’s been said that those who do not study history, are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps the next generation will be able to hear what’s really happened during our wars and maybe learn from us.

And then maybe we’ll step from out of our bubble and keep this from ever happening again to our children; maybe in a perfect world. All I can say is that this film has to be seen. It deserves to be acknowledged.