Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another War Documentary: Winter Soldier; and Some Books

As a semi-counterpart to Shoah (see previous post), I watched Winter Soldier (streaming on Netflix) -- a documentary containing footage of Vietnam veterans discussing their experiences in Vietnam -- as well as some boot camp stories, etc. The vets all participated in the Winter Solder Investigation (actually an anti-war event, not a government investigation), which took place in Detroit in January and early February 1971. The film includes some still photography from Vietnam, but it mostly shows men sitting at a microphone in a hotel conference room describing what they saw and did in Vietnam.

To say the least, this is a depressing film, but it should also be necessary viewing for anyone interested in the Vietnam War or warfare and soldiering in general. I've seen a lot of Vietnam War films (dramas) and read a fair number of books on the topic, but I had never heard of this film until recently. Apparently, its 1972 distribution was limited. It is also a testament to how powerful testimony can be (as in Shoah).

A few themes and details emerge, some of which are well-known but receive clear articulation here. First, there is a great deal of testimony (with supporting photos) about village destruction and displacement of civilians. It's absolutely devastating (and at least serves some contrast to destructive but more moderate and controlled activities in Iraq and Afghanistan). The dehumanization of the Vietnamese -- and the American soldiers -- also figures in much of the testimony.

I had intended this blog to be more about writing and books (mostly crime fiction), so in that spirit, I'll name a few somewhat related titles. Kent Anderson, who wrote what is probably the best Portland cop novel (Night Dogs (the protagonist is a Vietnam vet, too)), also wrote a Vietnam War novel that is worth reading: Sympathy for the Devil. (Anderson was a two-tour Green Beret in Vietnam.) On the theme of U.S. servicemen in Asia, Martin Limón's police procedural Jade Lady Burning (set in South Korea) is worth checking out. Karl Marlantes monumental Matterhorn (my post about that book is at this link) is now out in paperback and might be the best combat novel I've read. If you want to read something heroic -- and uncritical of the war, but still fascinating -- check out Charles Henderson's Marine Sniper (discussed here), a non-fiction account of Carlos Hathcock, the titular marine sniper.


Cap'n Bob said...

The protagonist of my two mysteries (LOVE, DEATH AND THE TOYMAN and THE TOYMAN RIDES AGAIN) is also a Nam vet.

Doug Levin said...

Thanks, Cap'n Bob. I'll have to look for your books. (I still haven't gotten an ebook reader, but it might not be too far off.) I'll be interested in seeing how the war figures.