Soldiers Speak Out: 1971 and 2008
by Carol Baum
|Viet Nam Veteran and Winter Soldier participant Rusty Sachs throwing away his metal.|
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier
and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country;
but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
- These words begin Thomas Paine's first Crisis pamphlet, written in 1776 to inspire the colonists in their struggles with the British.
Winter Soldier Investigation,
1971: Viet Nam Vietnam
Veterans Against the War requests your presence at the Winter Soldier Investigation (an inquiry into US War Crimes in Indochina). The hearing will be held at the Howard Johnson's New Center Motel Lodge, Detroit, Michigan, January 31, February 1 and 2, 1971. The purpose of this investigation is to preclude the further scapegoating of individual soldiers for what is in fact Official United States Military Policy.
- The invitation to the Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI), found in WSI's FBI file.
WSI was held one month after the revelations of the My Lai massacre, in which Lt. William Calley was held responsible for the massacre, by US soldiers, of civilians. WSI was intended to prove that incidents like My Lai were not an aberration but instead the result of US policy, and that war crimes were common procedure.
109 veterans representing almost every major combat unit came to the three-day investigation to give testimony about war crimes they had seen or committed. They were grouped by unit into panels, so that they could corroborate each other's statements and establish that their experiences were the result of unit-wide practices. Testimony covered broad policy concerns (such as the use of chemical agents) as well as incidents of war crimes (such as torture). There were also open discussions on such topics as "What Are We Doing in Vietnam," racism in the military, and press censorship. Over 700 veterans attended WSI.
The hearings were monumental in their revelations. Immediately following WSI, several congressmembers announced they were calling for congressional investigations based on the testimony. A complete transcript was eventually entered into the Congressional Record and thereby made available to the public.
Outside of Detroit, with the exception of Pacifica Radio and a few left-wing publications, WSI was barely covered by the media.
Winter Soldier, 1972: The Film
Knowing that this story needed to be told, a group of independent filmmakers came together as the Winterfilm Collective to document WSI. Over the next eight months they edited the raw footage into the 95-minute documentary Winter Soldier. It was released in early 1972 and won praise in Europe but was hardly shown in the US.
In 2005, Milliarium Zero, a company whose purpose is to obtain and distribute strong political films, picked up Winter Soldier. "The context is why we wanted to do it," stated one of the owners. The war in Iraq has made the film as relevant as it was 37 years ago, with scenes that could have been ripped from today's headlines.
The film has had some theatrical showings, to rave reviews. The Washington Post reported that the film is "an eerily prescient antiwar plea and a dazzling example of filmmaking the eloquent, unforgettable tale of profound moral reckoning."
The Syracuse Peace Council will show the film in support of the upcoming Winter Soldier hearings (see box). We thank the distributor, who, when asked about rights to show it, said that anyone could show it in the next month for free.
Winter Soldier, 2008: Iraq and Afghanistan
In 1971, a courageous group of veterans exposed the criminal nature of the Vietnam [sic] War in an event called Winter Soldier. Once again, we will demand that the voices of veterans are heard.
Once again, we are fighting for the soul of our country
Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan will feature testimony from US veterans
who served in those occupations, giving an accurate account of what is really
happening day in and day out, on the ground.
- From the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) website, ivaw.org
Tuesday, March 4, 7 pm
The Red House
$5-10 sliding scale
Net proceeds to help local IVAW members attend Winter Soldier 2008
Introduced by members of IVAW and Veterans for Peace
For information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 472-5478
From March 13-16, 2008, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will gather just outside Washington, DC to share their experiences with the people of the United States and the world. Their testimony will show that wrongdoings in Iraq and Afghanistan are once again not isolated, random incidents.
Because of space constraints, the event is not open to the public. However,
there will be various ways to listen to and watch it:
Live television through Dish Network (March 14 and 15 only)
Live video stream on the web (entire time)
Live audio stream through kpfa.org (March 14-16)
Check ivaw.org for updates. Also, the Peace Council might be able to organize group showings - contact SPC if you're interested.
IVAW has created a short film featuring three IVAW members who will be testifying at Winter Soldier. You can view the film at ivaw.org.
How to Help
Come to SPC's screening of Winter Soldier (1972).
Tell people about the upcoming Winter Soldier hearings.
Ask the local media to report on it.
Organize people to watch and listen to it together.
Help send local IVAW members to the hearing (make checks payable to SPC, with IVAW/Winter Soldier in the memo line).