Presentation of ‘Winter Soldier’
by Fiachra Ó Luain
‘War at Home’ category Berlin Film Festival
8th of February 2008
The name ‘Winter Soldier’ in a homage U.S.A. founding father Thomas Paine’s 1766 phrase:
"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 his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
This quote came from the American revolutionary war when in Valley Ridge, Pennsylvania, the American Continental army wintered from 1777 through to 1778. This was a time of great suffering for George Washington’s army, but it was also a time of retraining and rejuvenation. The fighters at Valley Forge were suffering terribly from hunger, frostbite, and missing their families. Many deserted. In a mood of desperation and despair, George Washington called in the best of the revolution's writers -Tom Paine- to raise people's sprits in the middle of the winter, which is when he coined the term "Winter Soldier" to describe the few men who remained in the trenches of the revolution through the toughest of times.
Based on the Nuremburg Principles the ‘Winter Soldier Investigation’ took place in Detroit, Michigan from the 31st of January until the 2nd of February 1971. This film was made out of reels and reels of footage filmed in a Howard Johnson hotel over the three days with over 125 veterans from all over the country. It was an act of collective confession. Noam Chomsky also attended a number of these war crimes trials by these veterans, who he said were “really impressive people doing wonderful work”.
It is the testimony of U.S. servicemen returned from Vietnam who spoke of war-crimes that they had witnessed and indeed committed. This was only one month after the My Lai massacre became public. My Lai was a U.S. military action in which the whole population of a village was systematically asassinated. This was also immediately after the military draft had ended, and with it the large scale student opposition to the war which up to that point had been growing steadily, though of course the broad societal rejection of the war was still smouldering. This made the soldiers at home and abroad feel more vulnerable of being scape-goated for the crimes of the Whitehouse and the Pentagon.
Lt.. Rusty Calley was the highest ranking officer to be charged with responsibility for the My Lai atrocity. A lieutenant is the lowest rank of officer in the United States Army. The Pentagon’s statement on the matter was that My Lai was “an isolated instance of abherrent behaviour.” The soldiers felt that Lt. Calley was being used as a scape-goat to detract attention from the larger picture of the genocidal warfare being played out from Washington. These are the consciences, the voices, the prayers and the tears of soldiers who were asked to go beyond their call-of-duty. Men and women who personally paid the price of becoming a player in a racist test-ground for the Military industry-complex as the Vietnam war was.
‘Winter Soldier The Film’ was edited in New York following the investigation in Detroit. My father was one of the Winter Soldier Collective who made this film. ‘Winterfilm’ had their headquarters in a loft at 405 E. 13th Street near Avenue A in Manhattan. The film was edited in the summer of 1971 at the Peter Styvesant Familial Estate in Allamuchy, New Jersey. My father ( Joe Bangert ), tells me that it made him think when he saw a tiger's head labelled 'Indochine- 1890' mounted over the fireplace in the main dining room of the mansion where the editing was done. Another aspect of 'Winter Soldier' that has never been written about was that as they were editing the film at 'Tranquillity Camp' in Allamuchy two of the female editors had miscarriages. Such were the psychological effects of editing this film going over hundreds of hours of testimony and inevitably learning each frame by rote, each phrase and utterance.
I know from my own family’s experience that these people who were courageous enough to make such a film still suffer for their sacrifice of bringing the reality of the war home, fighting for a future worth living for.
On one particular evening 'Winter Soldier' was screened in the uptown apartment of then Senator Jacob Javits. David Frost showed up with Diane Carole and Zufikar Ali Bhutto, the father of the late Benazir who was also present. After the screening Mr. Bhutto said: “What is amazing about this country, is that it is possible to see such a wonderfully honest film while this war actually still goes on.”
This film first came to Europe via ‘L'Assemblie Mondiale pour la Pas y la Independence de la Peuples Indochinoise’ being shown in the Palace of Versailles. This was during the hiatus in negotiations between the Vietnamese and the Americans at all levels, including the Whitehouse. It was a time when the cynicism of a war-mongering Nixon administration became untied and started losing its grip on the control of their citizens’ minds. Delegates from more than 80 countries attended. Jean Paul Sartre was present along with soldiers from both sides of the war. My own father Joe Bangert, went with George Katsiaficas and John Kerry, along with others from the the Vietnam Veteran’s Against the War.
In the metro on his way to Versailles a copy of the film was snatched from my father’s bag by a CIA agent who later dissappeared into the crowd: though he was found out later to be the Philip Agee who at the time worked for the CIA posing as a leftist in the Liberation New Service though he consequently opposed the agency with his book ‘Inside the Company’. Luckily there was a second print of the film also taken to Paris. The screening went, drawing tears from international eyes and engaging hearts at a continental level in the negotiation that followed.
The Vietnam Veterans Against the War was the main organizational force behind this film, but we have to remember that here as well as in any and every movement it is about the people, individuals from every walk of life, each with their own personal reasons who take the time to think, travel, write, argue, discuss the reality of an unjust war in attempt and determination to end it. This film is about the right of each person to have their voice heard, particularily if they have been asked to kill or be killed for any reason. The Anti-Vietnam War Movement was a massive movement in every country in the world, none more so than in Germany. This is clearly evident from the exhibition here in the Amerika Haus.
The Vietnam War was parralelled in so many other countries with similar struggles. It became the metaphor for a much larger struggle for freedom of expression and the right to hope and transform the world for the better like the Anti-Nuclear movement did in Germany long into the eighties, inspiring the citizens of my own country to also successfully do so in Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford in an unprecedented movement of all strata of Irish society that lasted three years before ultimate final victory.
‘Winter Soldier’ is a film that is relevant to the U.S.A., Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Ireland, Germany, the United Kingdom and France, it is relevant to Darfur, Chad and to Afghanistan and Australia.
It is a rescue of the soldier. A rescue of morality. A rescue of our human selves.
Our voices, before any other, are the parts of us that allow us become more than a lone soul in the ether-drift. Our ears are needed to recognise this process as the sound of the bedrock being hit by those who dig deep to build futures for humanity, to fortify our relevance and keep in tune with the world that owns us.
One of the participants in Winter Soldier was a young John Kerry, the man who gave testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee marking a move in the establishment consensus towards ending it. Thirty three years later that man ran for President against George W. Bush but failed to win. In 2004 just as in 1971 a whole industry developed to try to discredit the testimony shown here today, gloating in a few items they found - which in the words of Chomsky “could well have been planted by infiltrators”. John Kerry lost in 2004 perhaps because he failed to speak out and convince in the way he did in Washington D.C. in April 23rd 1971.
That is great problem of our times: For all of our technology we cannot always communicate. There remains a lot to be said. There are many simple truths to be told. If they were told, listened to and acted upon we could all easily overcome the foregone gloomy conclusion that if a large-scale war breaks out we could not do anything about it other than fall in line behind our respective governments’ positions.
This is “the great urgency of now” that Barack Obama cites from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and we can all help each other make the difference that is needed if we listen and act as humans, we always have and we always will, the question is when, sooner or too late?
On the 30th of April 1975 the Vietnam War finally ended, after a decade long campaign that started off as being very unpopular. For example in October 1965 a demonstration in which Noam Chomsky was going to speak at in Boston Common was broken up by counterdemonstrators, many of them from universities such as Harvard. Chomsky recalls of the events:
“Not a word could be heard. There were hundreds of state police. For once I wasn't sorry to see them. That day the radio was full of bitter denunciations of the demonstrators who dared to say a critical word about the bombing of North Vietnam --awful, but a sideshow; it was the South that was always the main target, but in those days talking about that was like talking Greek to a speaker of Swahili. The next day the Boston Globe, the supposed paper of the liberal intellectuals, chimed in with its own hysterical condemnations.”
Carol Chomsky and their daughters also needed police protection when in the very beginnings of the resistance to the war an angry group of people stoned the Women’s meeting they had organised to discuss the war. They just stood in silence while they were attacked with cans of food. People now call the Vietnam War the first defeat of the United States of America but I would rather call it the first victory of its kind for American soldiers and their colleagues who were brave enough to speak their truth and state the obvious in a very graphic way that could not be ignored. By naming and opposing the atrocites that they had witnessed and themselves commited, they ended them.
We as Europeans cannot help end this war until we stop blaming Americans as a whole for the war we resisted in 2003 while everyday we become more tangled up in the overall plan for a large scale war ourselves. It is again time to give recognition to the Americans who do make a difference, as was done in 1968 and until the end of the Vietnam war. We must all realise what we can do ourselves and offer the resisters in the United States an arm of support and exchange by helping stop our own countries’ collusion with the focus group of the most cynical corporations who seized power in Florida in 2000. One obvious thing that needs to be done is the establishment of a War Crime Tribunal in The Hague to examine and deal with those responsible for what happened in the run-up to the war in war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each country needs to make its efforts and we cannot let them hide behind Bush when he is gone but perhaps some countries will have more to answer for than others.
It saddens me to tell you that the very leadership of Ireland has wilfully broken the country’s constitution time and time again. Along with Frankfurt, Shannon airport is the single biggest gateway for the U.S. military to the Middle East as they send their troops and armaments. This is a very constitution, one that makes us the only European country to have a referendum on such issues as the Nice treaty and also soon on the Lisbon Treaty. We rejected the Nice Treaty in 2001 with no consequence other than being asked to vote again on the exact same treaty again in 2002.
Our defense minister Willie O’Dea who allows the U.S. military send over half of the American troops in Iraq through our regional civilian airport in Shannon putting Irish citizens at risk in a war that they do not agree with. Minister O’Dea has shares in and is a political ally of an oil company that operates in Iraq called ‘Petrel’, personally providing them with seed investment in another venture of their’s with ‘West Africa Diamonds’. Africa - where most of our Irish U.N. peacekeeping troops are now stationed - more including friends of mine who will soon be deployed to try stop the bloodshed in Chad.
We would always like to think that when our soldiers leave home it is for the best reasons but it is not always like that. That is why it is important for citizens and soldiers alike to speak out. Efforts to point out the Irish government’s collusion in the illegal war against Iraq have been quite successful, even validated in the Supreme Court. Yet somehow although the accusations have been upheld, the same courts have so far failed to punish those guilty of International War Crimes. The fact is that activists in Ireland are still being tried by judges who at least in one instance are personal allies of George Bush, one who was invited to his inauguration. I just speak from an Irish point of view but every land has its own tale about these last eight years and it’s time to spill the beans on the planners, perpetrators and facilitators.
Nearly upon us is the 5th anniversary of the February 15th demonstations that gathered millions of people in the largest worldwide protest in human history. At the moment the real struggle against the war is coming from inside the U.S.A. and the U.S. military. Like servicemen and women, veterans of the Iraq invasion who watch the strings being pulled for an attack on Iran. For example last week’s sabotage of the underwater communication cables that connect Middle East, South Asia and Africa to the rest of the world and to eachother. These are operations that can only have been commited by United States Navy submarines according to an article by Richard Sauder.
And let us also keep in mind that the Internet is a stated objective for some military experts in Washington D.C. While just before their last budget the outgoing U.S. administration signed a $22 billion dollar deal to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia. This and the whole backdoor approach of the Bush-Cheney Administration towards an attack on Iran, sucking in Pakistan and the whole region, including both Israel and Palestine, is another simple truth that needs to shouted and stopped right now. It must be shown up, spelled out and denied. Perhaps the best people to do this are those who know about it personally.
In very many cases the same men and women who are asked to perform the very deeds that could condemn us all if their human reaction and voice were absent. Such is the importance of this film.
This film is a call on citizens and patriots of all countries to put our flags aside and stamp out this international treachery, as right now, as it was in the early seventies, we are late and it is now an emergency matter.
The same is happening again and the same or similar and up-dated response is again needed from those soldiers of honour, Winter Soldiers. The Iraq Veterans Against the War are currently organizing: “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan” This event will take place in Silverspring, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C. over the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. It will be the biggest gathering of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans so far, alongside Iraqi and Afghan survivors. Eyewitnesses will share in this public investigation and a film will be made of what comes out.
Please watch this film with your utmost attention and if it rings true to what is also happening right now perhaps you could support the Iraq Veterans Against the War in any way you can. This ia film about soldiers coming home to themselves as they courageously spell out a far-too-long unspoken truth.
‘Winter Soldier’ is all about standing up and speaking one’s truth without fear of the consequences in a rearguard defense of society’s morality and is about the answer being the latter when people in their position ask themselves the question:
“Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?”
Further information is available at: http://www.ivaw.org/
DISTRIBUTION Winter Soldier is distributed by: Milliarium Zero P.O. Box 128 Harrington Park, N.J. 07640 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 201.767.3117 800.603.1104201.767.3117 800.603.1104
Friends of Veterans for Peace Actions Links
- Minstrel Boy
- Soldiers for the Truth
- St. Francis House Peace & Justice Community New London, CT
- Veterans for Peace National
- Iraq Veterans Against the War
- Appeal for Redress
- The Military Project
- GI Rights
- Iraq Body Count
- Military Families Speak Out
- Vote Vets
- Veterans for America
- Arlington North Liberty Bell Mall Phila, PA
- Viet Nam Veterans Againist the War - VVAW
- Cape & Islands Peace Community
- ANSWER CT
- Delaware Valley Veterans For America
- Cape Codders for Peace & Justice
- United for Peace & Justice
- Connecticut Coalition For Peace and Justice
- United for Justice with Peace
- Merrimack Valley People for Peace
- Arlington East - Cape Cod
- Veterans for Peace Maine
- Gen. Smedley Butler Brigade VFP
- Citizen Soldier