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Winter Soldier - The Film

Movie review: 'Winter Soldier'

Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 16, 2005
by Colin Covert

4 out of 4 stars

This devastating documentary was shunned by TV networks and theatrical distributors in 1972. At the height of the Vietnam War, more than 100 honorably discharged, and in some cases highly decorated, veterans gathered in Detroit to put their denunciation of the war on the record, detailing horrors they witnessed firsthand or personally committed.

The event was organized by recently returned veteran John Kerry and other antiwar activists such as Jane Fonda and Dick Gregory. The purpose was to tell the American public about the ugly realities of the war and to let the soldiers unburden themselves. For more than three decades, the film has been the subject of rumor, speculation and controversy: It erupted again during the last presidential campaign. Now it is finally receiving a limited nationwide release, a time capsule from a painful chapter in U.S. history that eerily foreshadows recent shameful episodes such as the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The presentation is documentary filmmaking at its most basic. Eyewitnesses address the camera, recounting what they have seen. They tell of children being shot dead for mild acts of rudeness, hamlets being blasted by artillery as part of a drinking game and bound prisoners routinely being thrown from aircraft, all with the full awareness of officers at all levels. Capt. Rusty Sachs, a former Marine helicopter pilot, recounts being ordered not to "count prisoners when you're loading them on the aircraft; count them when you're unloading them [because] the numbers may not jibe."

For many of those testifying, the line between war and murder was blurred to insignificance.

One soldier said his rules of engagement with unknown Vietnamese were, "If they run, they're [Viet Cong soldiers]. Shoot 'em. If they stay, they're well-disciplined V.C. Shoot 'em anyway."

This carnage was carried out not by demented killers, but by men who were conspicuously normal.

The testimony offered in "Winter Soldier" has been criticized as a litany of left-wing clichés about the Vietnam War. Writing about the film in the National Review, Mackubin Thomas Owens, a professor at the Naval War College who led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam from 1968 to '69, asserted that many self-described veterans were actually imposters who had never seen combat. See it and judge for yourself. Whatever you conclude, there's no doubt that "Winter Soldier" is a powerful document from a painful chapter in history.


Eat the Document
Stuart Klawans, The Nation

Film Echoes the Present in Atrocities of the Past
David M. Halbfinger, The New York Times

Film is stark document of Vietnam War and the times.
Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

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