By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
For three days in early 1971, over 100 Vietnam vets gathered in Detroit for what was called the "Winter Soldier Investigation." Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the goal was to discuss atrocities took part in or witnessed, and to identify the policies that led to them. "Winter Soldier" is the 95-minute documentary that chronicles the investigation. None of the sixteen or so filmmakers are identified.

The Nixon administration tried to portray the Mi Lai massacre in which about 500 Vietnamese civilians were brutally murdered, as a unique event. But these Vets went to Detroit to assert that it wasn't unique at all, it was standard operating procedure (SOP). Vets, including a young John Kerry, interviewed their peers. Interviews were interspersed with brutal war footage and some personal photos.

Some themes emerged from the testimonies: The vets had viewed Vietnamese people as non-humans -- a form of racism --, which led to treating them as objects. The vets were trained to believe they needed to kill or they would be killed. To prepare them for combat the vets were emotionally traumatized and trained in reflexive killing. And, most importantly, the atrocities were consistent with policy, and condoned and encouraged up the chain of command.

The film was made in 1972 and did not get distribution until now. For over 30 years it has only been shown in university classrooms and screened at the Whitney Museum. The graphic descriptions of abuses and stark filmmaking are affecting.

Seeing the footage of these anguished young men bravely grappling with their unspeakable experiences, admitting their participation and urging an end to the war is heartbreaking, and even life changing. These men risked their lives, saw their friends die, sacrificed their mental health and then gave us the gift of truth in the Winter Soldier testimonies. “Winter Soldier” is an important film that every American voter should watch to understand what it really means to go to war.

My thanks to Henry Iasiello, Vietnam Veterans of America, Northern California District Director Council for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for his valuable consultation.

For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield. ©
Air date: September 7, 2005
More Information:
Documentary about the Winter Soldier Investigation in Detroit, Michigan in 1971