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"Winter Soldier"

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"Winter Soldier," a documentary of the 1971 Detroit Winter Soldier Investigation, a conference/interview/soul-baring with more than 200 GIs returned from the Vietnam War, is more depressing evidence that they do.

At the time, with the forces for and against the war at each other's throats, the movie was too controversial to be aired on television. The information it contained was so scandalous to the government that its filmmakers, out of fear, released it anonymously. It's easy to see why. The movie is a combination of soldiers' confessions from the front combined with the pictures they brought back: grotesques reminiscent of the infamous scenes at Abu Ghraib, of leering, grinning U.S. soldiers getting their snapshots taken next to corpses, of soldiers burning villages and brutalizing villagers.

As is often the case, the words are worse than the pictures. These tales, often told in laconic, level tones (probably a result of the storyteller, offering eyewitness testimony, trying not to break down), speak of systematic cruelty that was in no way limited to a few situations involving rogue participants. Murder, torture, rape and other abuses are repeatedly described with the chilling appellative "SOP" — standard operating procedure.

The irony inherent in these by-now-familiar stories is how the justification grates against the reality. For if the enemy is subhuman — the standard rationalization — what are the men who burn their homes and gang-rape their teenage daughters?

"We were Americans," one GI says of his disbelief in his own actions. "We were the civilized people." "Winter Soldier" shows in brief but lasting impressions that war is never a bringer of civilization, no matter how loudly the warmonger may insist. It is only a destroyer, one that destroys the victor along with the victim. S

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