Flickhead
Film Review
By Ray Young

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Winter Soldier

Photographed and edited by Fred Aronow, Rhetta Barron,

Robert Fiore, Barbara Jarvis, Barbara Kopple, David Gillis,
Benay Rubenstein, David Grubin, Jeff Holstein, Lucy Massie Phenix,
Michael Lesser, Nancy Baker, Michael Weill.
96 minutes. Released in 1972.

Available on DVD from Milestone Films, $24.95. Call them at (800) 603-1104.

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    Winter Soldier is a filmed record of the veterans who gathered to relate stories of the atrocities that they and others had committed in the Vietnam War. Held on January 31, 1971, more than 125 voices spoke of horrors beyond comprehension, the rape, mutilation and mass murder of Vietnamese civilians, their villages burned to the ground, their culture irretrievably lost at the hands of the American military.
    The term ‘Winter Soldier’ is a spin on the opening of a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Today, any “triumph” associated with Vietnam is tenuous at best.
    Following World War II and Korea, it was a particularly ugly milestone that unraveled America at the core, polarizing young from old and hawk from dove. In the end, the rightwing conservative was faced with the grim fact that their President was a fraud and a thief; while the leftwing liberal had deflated some pride with a dose of in-your-face compassion.

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Above: Scott Camil, a compelling voice and presence in the film.

    After it premiered at Cannes in 1972, Winter Soldier has been rarely seen in the United States. Its recent revival both theatrically and on DVD was surely prompted by the events unfolding in Iraq. While the film leads one to question the dehumanizing aspects of military training over the concept of war itself, the truly alarming difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that America’s youth is no longer in solidarity, no longer rejecting the hideousness that’s been systematically foisted upon them. To some, the American invasion of Iraq is cool.
    It’s a tragic reality: a young generation more or less eager to destroy, manipulate and torture with the aid of advanced weaponry under the auspices of a government fueled by the military-industrial complex—something that Dwight D. Eisenhower, an Army General no less, warned us about ages ago. Could this thirty-five-year-old black-and-white movie ever hope to sway the confused, ignorant and angry masses?
    The veterans sit at a dais, talking about squeezing the dignity and life out of beings which they were brainwashed into believing were not human. Later in a hallway, a black veteran goes on a tirade about how it’s all based on racism, something that the white man couldn’t possibly comprehend. He’s right, of course. How else to explain the flagrant disregard for another person’s life unless one believes they’re superior?
    As for the film itself, it offers no flourish or grand gesture. It simply reports moments from an event, voices speaking of things once buried in the closet. “The first thing we do is burn down the village and kill everyone just to show we weren’t fucking around,” says one vet. “We just wiped ‘em out, women and children and everything.” These ex-soldiers mirror who and what we are, what primitive ugliness lurks inside our minds waiting to be conditioned and groomed and cut loose, and the times that try men’s souls. But will anyone listen? If George W. Bush can get reelected after Fahrenheit 9/11, it’s very, very doubtful.

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