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Did anyone else cringe when she or he saw the subtitle of the new Captain America movie: "The Winter Soldier". From what I've seen floating around, the movie is a deep-dive into violence, warfare and triumphant patriotism (please correct me if I'm wrong), the very impulses and emotions that just mire us in bloody crisis after bloody crisis. And that is the precise opposite of a more recent historic meaning of "The Winter Soldier".

From January 31, 1971 – February 2, 1971, a group of Vietnam veterans testified at a public event largely organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War about a patterns of war crimes and atrocities committed by the U.S. and its allies against the people of Vietnam. The hearings were dubbed "The Winter Soldier" hearings, essentially paraphrasing Thomas Paine:

In the winter of 1776, almost two hundred years before, Thomas Paine wrote "These are the time 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." Seeing themselves as the "winter soldiers" paraphrasing Thomas Paine, whose battle was, in part, to make their experiences common knowledge to the American and world public, the veterans who came, presented their own personal testimony concerning the commonplace atrocities, supported by documentary photographs often of their own taking.
A lot more about this in a moment. I suppose I gasped when I saw the subtitle partly because I recalled the Vietnam-era meaning of the hearings--the opposite of glorifying violence and war--and, in particular, it hit me because just last month, I visited My Lai during a trip to Vietnam.

I'm shocked how many younger people today don't even know that name--and, truthfully, even younger Vietnamese (meaning twenty-somethings) are, at best, vaguely familiar with what happened there but, certainly, most have never been to My Lai; it's generally a place you won't find on most tour stops, certainly not those provided by U.S. tours (you have to find your way there).

In March 1968, American soldiers landed in helicopters in the the village of Sơn Mỹ which was divided into four hamlets: Mỹ Lai, Co Luy, My Khe, and Tư Cung. The soldiers shot, raped and killed 504 villagers, mostly women, children and old men. The memorial site also makes note of the U.S. helicopter pilot who, disgusted by the atrocity, flew a number of the villagers to safety.

Many of the villagers were cut down as they tried to escape on their bicycles or on foot, a terror marked at the memorial by tracks and footprints recreated in cement.

This canal where I stood...
...was not filled with water when this iconic picture was taken, and shocked the world:
The museum at the site remembers the dead
The list of the dead
Here is the complete transcript of those hearings, a transcript that was read into the Congressional Record by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, who, it's worth mentioning, was a Republican.

I thought I would just reprint the opening statement of William Crandell:

"Over the border they send us to kill and to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten." These lines of Paul Simon's recall to Vietnam veterans the causes for which we went to fight in Vietnam and the outrages we were part of because the men who sent us had long ago forgotten the meaning of the words.

We went to preserve the peace and our testimony will show that we have set all of Indochina aflame. We went to defend the Vietnamese people and our testimony will show that we are committing genocide against them. We went to fight for freedom and our testimony will show that we have turned Vietnam into a series of concentration camps.

We went to guarantee the right of self-determination to the people of South Vietnam and our testimony will show that we are forcing a corrupt and dictatorial government upon them. We went to work toward the brotherhood of man and our testimony will show that our strategy and tactics are permeated with racism. We went to protect America and our testimony will show why our country is being torn apart by what we are doing in Vietnam.

In the bleak winter of 1776 when the men who had enlisted in the summer were going home because the way was hard and their enlistments were over, Tom Paine wrote, "Those 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." Like the winter soldiers of 1776 who stayed after they had served their time, we veterans of Vietnam know that America is in grave danger. What threatens our country is not Redcoats or even Reds; it is our crimes that are destroying our national unity by separating those of our countrymen who deplore these acts from those of our countrymen who refuse to examine what is being done in America's name.

The Winter Soldier Investigation is not a mock trial. There will be no phony indictments; there will be no verdict against Uncle Sam. In these three days, over a hundred Vietnam veterans will present straightforward testimony-- direct testimony--about acts which are war crimes under international law. Acts which these men have seen and participated in. Acts which are the inexorable result of national policy. The vets will testify in panels arranged by the combat units in which they fought so that it will be easy to see the policy of each division and thus the larger policy. Each day there will be a special panel during the hours of testimony. Today, a panel on weaponry will explain the use and effects of some of the vicious and illegal weapons used in Vietnam. Tomorrow there will be a panel on prisoners of war composed of returned POWs, parents of a POW, American POW interrogators and vets who served in our own military stockades. Every witness throughout the three days will be available for cross-examination by the press after their initial statements and questioning by their fellow-vets who are acting as moderators.

We had also planned to present a panel of Vietnamese victims of the war who would testify by closed circuit television from Windsor, Canada. Last Wednesday, after we had spent a great deal of time and money arranging to bring these people to Windsor so that they could tell the people of the United States and Canada what we are doing to their country, the Canadian government denied them visas. We need not speculate upon the motives and policies of the Canadian government as our primary concern is with the motives and policies of our own government.

In addition there are two evening panels. Tonight at 7:30 a panel which includes Sid Peck and John Spellman will discuss what we are doing to Vietnam. Tomorrow night at 7:30 two psychiatrists, a lawyer, and three vets will discuss what we are doing to ourselves.

It has often been remarked but seldom remembered that war itself is a crime. Yet a war crime is more and other than war. It is an atrocity beyond the usual barbaric bounds of war. It is legal definition growing out of custom and tradition supported by every civilized nation in the world including our own. It is an act beyond the pale of acceptable actions even in war. Deliberate killing or torturing of prisoners of war is a war crime. Deliberate destruction without military purpose of civilian communities is a war crime. The use of certain arms and armaments and of gas is a war crime. The forcible relocation of population for any purpose is a war crime. All of these crimes have been committed by the U.S. Government over the past ten years in Indochina. An estimated one million South Vietnamese civilians have been killed because of these war crimes. A good portion of the reported 700,000 National Liberation Front and North Vietnamese soldiers killed have died as a result of these war crimes and no one knows how many North Vietnamese civilians, Cambodian civilians, and Laotian civilians have died as a result of these war crimes.

But we intend to tell more. We intend to tell who it was that gave us those orders; that created that policy; that set that standard of war bordering on full and final genocide. We intend to demonstrate that My Lai was no unusual occurrence, other than, perhaps, the number of victims killed all in one place, all at one time, all by one platoon of us. We intend to show that the policies of Americal Division which inevitably resulted in My Lai were the policies of other Army and Marine Divisions as well. We intend to show that war crimes in Vietnam did not start in March 1968, or in the village of Son My or with one Lt. William Calley. We intend to indict those really responsible for My Lai, for Vietnam, for attempted genocide. General Westmoreland said in 1966:

    I'd like to say that let one fact be clear. As far as the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam is concerned, one mishap, one innocent civilian killed, one civilian wounded, or one dwelling needlessly destroyed is too many.

    By its very nature war is destructive and historically civilians have suffered. But the war in Vietnam is different; it is designed by the insurgents and the aggressors to be fought among the people many of whom are not participants in or closely identified with the struggle. People more than terrain are the objectives in this war and we will not and cannot be callous about those people. We are sensitive to these incidents and want no more of them. If one does occur, mistake or accident, we intend to search it carefully for any lesson that will help us improve our procedures and our controls. We realize we have a great problem and I can assure you we are attacking it aggressively.

We need not judge Westmoreland's bland assurances nor need we pass responsibility for these crimes. You who hear or read our testimony will be able to conclude for yourselves who is responsible.

We are here to bear witness not against America, but against those policy makers who are perverting America. We echo Mark Twain's indictment of the war crimes committed during the Philippine insurrection:

    We have invited our clean young men to soldier a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear not to follow. We cannot conceal from ourselves that privately we are a little troubled about our uniform. It is one of our prides: it is acquainted with honor; it is familiar with great deeds and noble. We love it; we revere it. And so this errand it is on makes us uneasy. And our flag, another pride of ours, the chiefest. We have worshipped it so and when we have seen it in far lands, glimpsing it unexpectedly in that strange sky, waving its welcome and benediction to us, we have caught our breaths and uncovered our heads for a moment for the thought of what it was to us and the great ideals it stood for. Indeed, we must do something about these things. It is easily managed. We can have just our usual flag with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones. We are ready to let the testimony say it all.[emphasis added]

More recently, the Vietnam era hearings inspired a similar lookat what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan:
In the spring of 2008, inspired by the Vietnam-era Winter Soldier hearings, Iraq Veterans Against the War gathered outside Washington, D.C., and testified to atrocities they personally committed or witnessed while deployed in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. In this book are the powerful words, images, and documents of this historic event.

The collective testimony of the dozens of veterans present at the hearings showed that well-publicized cases of American brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal are not isolated incidents perpetrated by “a few bad apples,” as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. As the testimony shows, such injustices are the logical outcome of U.S. foreign policy. Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan preserves and honors the participants’ courageous contributions in order to ensure that people around the world remember their stories and struggles.[emphasis added]

My guess is that the filmmakers, the producers and the p.r. mavens did not set out to undercut meaning of "The Winter Soldier". Worse: they were probably completely unaware of what it means.

Which is probably just as sad.

My Lai is just a symbol of war. There are countless massacres and atrocities that are never spoken about and are even bigger in the strict human toll.

But, the power of "The Winter Soldier" hearings was that those men (who were subjected to broad attempts, never successful, to discredit the evidence and testimony) essentially wanted to say: this is what war does to human beings, what war can make people do.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Marvel Studios/Disney seems to have simply (6+ / 0-)

    "Kept faithful to the source material' the first violator seems to be the comic book authors

    I want 1 less Tiny Coffin, Why Don't You? Support The President's Gun Violence Plan.

    by JML9999 on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 10:26:49 AM PDT

    •  Nobody objected to Winter Soldier's name in comics (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JML9999, Ellid, MPociask

      There are many things to get upset about in Superhero action films, but then name "Winter Soldier" must be at the bottom of the list.

      The character's been around for years. I think Ed Brubaker, the character's creator, used the name because it recalls Vietnam atrocities. In the comics, the evil Russians took Captain America's old teen partner from WWII, and made him a bad guy superhero. A sorta Commie anti-Captain America. Written at a time when DC did a story of baby Superman's rocket landing in Russia instead of Kansas.

      Don't get your panties in a wad. The character does nothing to change the effort of the real Winter Soldiers.

  •  First, thank you for the diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, rbird, MPociask

    And the retelling. It is important to hear and remember. I wasn't born yet when those hearings took place and my knowledge of the events was inadequate. So thanks for the diary.

    As for the movie, I have not seen it yet, but I have read numerous blog articles about it and I watched the first Captain America movie. Like all the marvel movies of late, I expect that it will have lots of scenes of slow motion violence and fighting. I can't speak much to the value of this, but as to your point that the filmmakers were ignorant of the context of the Winter Soldier, I wouldn't be so sure.

    My understanding of this movie is that it shows a break between the hero and SHIELD, the government agency, because the hero cannot abide the things the government is doing. He believes the agency has lost its way. Wouldn't that fit, in some small way, with referencing a wartime atrocity committed by our government?

    I'm not trying to say that a comic book based movie will do a sensitive treatment of the issues between a soldier and the government that gives him orders, only that maybe the writers understood the reference. But I haven't see it yet.

    Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. -Thoreau

    by CenPhx on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 10:28:43 AM PDT

  •  Did the winter soldier hearings (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CenPhx, melfunction

    ever produce any convictions for war crimes?

    •  I don't believe so (5+ / 0-)

      Partly because of the attempt to ignore and discredit.

      Follow me on Twitter @jonathantasini

      Visit Working Life.

      by Tasini on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 10:45:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Calley got house arrest (3+ / 0-)

        He was originally sentenced to life in prison, but Nixon stepped in and granted a temporary commutation...which ended up being a pardon. He did three years house arrest.

        The soldiers who participated were never prosecuted.

        Travesty of justice.

        Join Essa in a revolt against the gods. Continue the fight, Causality.

        by rbird on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 11:59:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Here is an interesting article (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I hope the links works, but if it doesn't, you can search common dreams archives.
          The article starts with: does new look at documents...
          It goes in well with this diary.
          IPad doesn't do links well.

          Nobel peace prize winner Barack Obama did not just pick up that 3:00 am phone call, but, as has been noted, he mostly stayed on the phone making war and sending out drones for his entire terms in office.

          by snoopydawg on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 06:45:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  From the article. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            A brutal scene following the March 16 massacre in My Lai, South Vietnam. (Photo: Ronald L. Haeberle/ US Army/ Wikimedia Commons)
            President Richard Nixon may have been personally behind an attempt to cover up the brutal killing of over 500 Vietnamese civilians by American soldiers in the South Vietnam village of My Lai in 1968, according to historians who spoke with CBS journalist Evie Salomon.

            Handwritten notes by Nixon's chief of staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman taken during a December 1, 1969 meeting with the president read: "Task force - My Lai," adding beneath "dirty tricks [...] not too high a level" and "discredit one witness," in order to "keep working on the problem."

            The note "reads like a threatening to-do list," writes Salomon.

            Ken Hughes, a researcher with the University of Virginia's Miller Center Presidential Recording Program, told Salomon that "Haldeman's note is an important piece of evidence that Nixon interfered with a war-crime prosecution."

            Marking the 46th anniversary of the March 16 My Lai massacre, Salomon spoke with a number of historians who conclude that these documents are evidence that Nixon attempted to sabotage the court-martial trials by burying the testimony of American helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson—who witnessed the massacre and attempted to report on the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed men, women and children.

            Nobel peace prize winner Barack Obama did not just pick up that 3:00 am phone call, but, as has been noted, he mostly stayed on the phone making war and sending out drones for his entire terms in office.

            by snoopydawg on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 06:48:14 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Of course not. n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CenPhx, rbird

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 10:52:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Can't really call house arrest "punishment" (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CenPhx, melfunction, nchristine

        I would have loved to have seen the original life sentence upheld, but Nixon had to step into the process.

        As to the culpability of senior officers...nothing was proved. Medina walked.

        As to the actual murderers, not one of them faced any time for their crimes.

        I'm all for sending this to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. I don't think there's a statute of limitations on war crimes.

        It still pisses me off, and I was just a kid when it happened.

        Join Essa in a revolt against the gods. Continue the fight, Causality.

        by rbird on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 12:05:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I don't think (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I don't think the term 'Winter Soldier' originates in the 1960's, I think it's a much older term.

    Good girls shop. Bad girls shop. Shoppin', shoppin' from A to Z!

    by Zornorph on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 10:48:45 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for explaining the history. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CenPhx, melfunction

    The movie is just a comic book superhero film, but it is about how a government (not ours) turns a good man into a monster. Maybe we can use it to help people think about how we misuse and damage our soldiers.

    "The Democrats are the lesser evil and that has to count for something. Good and evil aren't binary states. All of us are both good and evil. Being less evil is the trajectory of morality." --SC

    by tb92 on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 10:54:55 AM PDT

  •  it's a reference to the Vietnam meaning (5+ / 0-)
    From what I've seen floating around, the movie is a deep-dive into violence, warfare and triumphant patriotism (please correct me if I'm wrong)
    Captain America in the comics alternates, sometimes he's the trusting, "obedience to the law is freedom" side of the 1940s, sometimes he's the last remnant of FDR idealism fighting against corrupted modern America. Winter Soldier is mostly the second one.

    THIS MIGHT INVOLVE SPOILERS IF YOU WANT TO SEE THE MOVIE, but I'll talk about the comic book version which is probably a little bit different.

    Winter Soldier in the comics is a special forces cyborg ninja guy the Soviet Union kept in suspended animation and only thawed out whenever they needed somebody killed. So they codenamed him Winter Soldier because he's a soldier and he's frozen a lot.

    Then he gets loose after the Soviet Union collapses, and Captain America tries to catch him. But doing that he finds out Winter Soldier was originally a second American super-soldier fighting in WWII at the same time as him, doing all the shady war crime stuff the army didn't want their propaganda character associated with. So Winter Soldier coming back exposes a bunch of bad stuff the US government was doing, and pisses off Captain America.

    •  That squares with what I've heard about the film (0+ / 0-)

      The comic is a little different - the Winter Soldier is Cap's old sidekick Bucky Barnes, who isn't enhanced except for getting a bionic arm - but that's the plot in a nutshell.  It has nothing to do with Vietnam.

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 12:38:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wrong about the "triumphant patriotism" (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rbird, MPociask, CenPhx, melfunction, WB Reeves

    It's about a New Dealer (Captain America, yes, really, the character in the comics has been an FDR liberal from the beginning) confronting the modern security state and its roots in Dulles-style "let's bring the Nazis in from the cold, they have technology we can use" anti-Communism.  From everything I've heard it's pretty merciless about condemning drones, pre-emptive war, and all those nice little goodies, and is probably going to have conservatives just about wetting themselves from rage.

    As for the Winter Soldier himself...others have pointed out above that the character is ten years old, was created by an Army brat who grew up on military bases and almost certainly knew Vietnam veterans, and was the Captain America who confronted the Tea Party in a story arc about four years ago.  No insult was meant.

    This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

    by Ellid on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 11:25:24 AM PDT

  •  eh, better things to attack (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WB Reeves, Ellid

    Quote from the first Captain America movie:

    Abraham Erskine: Do you want to kill Nazis?

    Steve Rogers: Is this a test?

    Abraham Erskine: Yes.

    Steve Rogers: I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies; I don't care where they're from.

    And from the new one:
    Steve Rogers: [sees SHIELD operating] This isn't freedom. This is fear.
  •  That year was a travesty of horrors (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    snoopydawg, Ellid

    The Winter Soldier including John Kerry was the beginning of telling what REALLY happens in war zones and in the meantime we were gearing up for Watergate.  

    Vietnam was a very unpopular war whereas WWII was not.
    Korea was just forgotten.   If you are not defending your homeland, then why is the horror of WAR always the answer in so called civilized nations?

    My husband says he recognizes as many threats to democracy in the legislature than he ever did in the jungles of SE Asia.

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 01:58:50 PM PDT

  •  The deeper meaning (0+ / 0-)

    I don't think the creators of the character had other things in mind than you do. In the comic book, the character of the Winter Soldier was a good all American kid who became Captain America's sidekick. He is captured and brainwashed and unwillingly becomes an assassin. He then recovers his memory, and has to figure out what to do with the truth he's faced with of what he had to do against his will.

    I can not say I'd blame you for taking offense at the use of the term based on history, and your experience. But some of us who have read this stuff are in complete agreement with you. Now, what Disney does with it through Marvel is another story.

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