A Film You Shouldn't See
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 1972
I don't get to the movies very often, but I've hardly ever walked out on one. I did the other night, though, because I couldn't handle it.
The magnitude of what has gone wrong in Vietnam has caused us to tuck the war's atrocities and terrors into our national subconscious. The film "Winter Soldier" trots them back out again, and the role of American GIs in the war seems to become too ugly to accept.
"Winter Soldier": won't get mass distribution in our land of idealism for a long time, I suspect, although it won first prize for documentaries at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The three national television networks and public television have declined to run it, and it isn't in the regular movie houses, as Cannes prize winners often are.
It has run only on two New York noncommercial television stations. It is being shown on some college campuses, under sponsorship of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I saw an hour of it at St. Louis University the other night - it runs 95 minutes. It will be shown again this week on other campuses: Meramec at 1 pm Wednesday in the student center; the University of Missouri's J.C. Penney Auditorium Thursday at 10:45 am; Washington University Thursday at 8 pm; and a few other sites still to be determined.
I'm not sure what it means when our college generation can handle such a film and its elders may not, unless it says that the younger folks never have known much violence in their lives.
"Winter Soldier" was filmed during informal hearings last year in Detroit, where 200 young veterans of the Vietnam War - officers and foot soldiers- tried to inform the American people about some of the atrocities we have committed in Southeast Asia. The trade magazine Variety says that "its sheer cumulative power transcends any propagandistic level and makes a shattering statement on the degradation of war." It says the Pentagon was unable "to criticize or refute any of the testimony."
The full testimony was published in the Congressional Record of April 6 and 7, 1971 and was published in book form by Beacon Press, "The Winter Soldier Investigation: An Inquiry into American War Crimes." But Americans haven't rushed to read about it.
The film is interspersed witth actual scenes of the grim destruction of a people. The matter-of-fact detailing of grotesque behavior by witnesses themselves contrasts with how some break down and cry at their remembrances. They speak of shooting farmers for sport and-in those days of body counts-reporting them as Viet Cong dead. One scene shows a GI, one of the witnesses, holding a dead civilian as a trophy.
In the Winter Soldier Investigation, these 200 young Americans made their confessions to the nation. One of them, Scott Camil, goes on trial soon with other veterans, not for his role in Vietnam, but for "conspiring" to disrupt the Republican national convention.
President Richard M. Nixon said the other day he opposed amnesty for young men who refused to serve in Vietnam, contending they must pay the same price as those who served and died. Or killed. But in Winter Soldier you see that's hardly the question. It's how do we achieve amnesty for the American soul, which knows it has been guilty of sin in Vietnam, and doesn't have the guts to face the issue.
A shattering statement on the degradation of war
The power to rivet your gaze to the screen and glue you to your seat
Atrocities and artless innocence