Winter Soldier (Sous-titres français) [Import]
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The more things change, the more they stay the same. Thus it should come as little surprise that while the events described in Winter Soldier took place during the Vietnam conflict, the 2006 home video release of this 1972 documentary more or less coincides with recent, eerily similar revelations regarding the activities of U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq, including the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the alleged slaughter of civilians in the town of Haditha. The film centers on a day in January, 1971, when more than 100 former soldiers turned up at a motel in Detroit to give testimony as part of an investigation sponsored by a group calling itself Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Their stories are genuinely chilling, as they matter-of-factly describe civilians being thrown from helicopters, villages burned, children shot, women raped, and innocent people tortured, maimed (cutting off their ears was popular), or even skinned; the notorious My Lai massacre of 1968 was apparently more the rule than the exception. Some eighteen documentary filmmakers took part in the making of this production, including Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.) and Robert Fiore (Pumping Iron). But there is no great artistry on display here--the film is mostly a succession of talking heads, appearing in grainy black & white (there are also a few photographs and occasional color film footage shot in Vietnam) and recounting how they were brainwashed into believing that the atrocities in which they participated were "in the best interests of our nation," as one puts it, especially since "it wasn't like (the Vietnamese) were human." Unlike Emile de Antonios In the Year of the Pig, Winter Soldier gives us nothing from the other side--the opposition to the opposition, if you will. All we have are the vets' terrible (and highly credible) tales of how officers who witnessed or took part in these horrors wrote them off as Standard Operating Procedure. Strong stuff, but the film starts to become repetitive and ultimately tedious after it passes the one hour mark. The abundance of bonus features, including a current interview with the filmmakers and three shorter films addressing the same theme as the main feature, will be of interest mainly to gluttons for punishment. --Sam Graham
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Someone said: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Well, this is the history we forgot, and are now repeating. What is worse, having our young people offered up as cannon-fodder for hailburton, or turning them into murderers and torturers at Haditha, Abu Grahib and how many other places? This film illustrates how it all happened before just as it's happening now.
I disagree with the Amazon reviewer who finds the film artless and boring after an hour. It's a differenet aesthetic, not trying to zap you or entertain, but build a slow cumulation of facts. It does get more and more depressing but that's the point. And the best part of the film is the last section, which focuses on Scott Camil, and delivers a small message of hope: this man has re-evaluated his humanity, and has changed for the better. (BTW, Camil is the infamous VVAW 'terrorist' John Kerry failed to turn in for supposedly proposing to bomb something or other in some meeting -- interesting to look at the real person here...) The point is that as individuals and perhaps as a nation, even though we may have done horrible things, we can find a redemption by coming clean, coming correct, and witnessing for peace and justice.
125 soldiers testified at the Winter Soldier hearings. Their stories of rape and torture and random killing so terrified the Nixon Whitehouse that a "plumbers" type group was set up to discredit them. The only piece of information to come from that thorough investigation was the fact that Al Hubbard was an enlisted man and not an officer. No, he didn't say he had served in Vietnam, in fact he didn't testify at the Winter Soldier hearing at all. A 30+ year orchestrated disinformation campaign has managed to turn one miniscule fib into a complete slander of 125 honorable veterans.
Winter Soldier isn't about valor or lack of valor. It is about war and what happens in war. It should be required viewing for each and every Congress Member, each and every time they vote from the comfort of their chambers to send young people into the depths of hell. It should be required viewing by every American before we spend one more penny on Iraq or even consider another mission unaccomplished in Iran. War is a failure of civilization, not the means by which we expand it.
At the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington one can talk with the veterans of that war. Whether or not they were a part of the protest movement, or were supporters of that war, the effects of the rape of a country are with them still.
We will have many more ravaged souls after the current conflict ends.
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