When you wonder if the national media's biggest film critics rave over movies based on their own personal politics instead of the product they're watching, you can always think of Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday. The D.C. premiere (in one art house theater) of a revival of the hard-left documentary "Winter Soldier," chronicling John Kerry and others trying to create (often falsified) accounts of American soldier atrocities in Vietnam, gives Hornaday the chance to rave over it today, calling it "extraordinary," "spellbinding," "impressive," "stunning," and even authentic as it reminds of our atrocious position in Iraq:
Recreational killing of civilians, rape, arson, torture: They did it, or saw it, all. Having been trained to see their enemies as less than human -- they were always called gooks or commies -- and having been taught to dissociate from the violence they were committing lest they be killed themselves, they simply learned not to care...
As its subjects speak of their lack of training in the Geneva Conventions, their confusion over what constituted torture, the lack of accountability of their superiors, the misuse of military propaganda, even the use of white phosphorous (nicknamed Willie Pete), it's clear that, as a scholar once observed, history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
Regardless of their views on conflicts past and present, everyone should see "Winter Soldier," if only to understand that when we speak of military sacrifice, that means psychic as well as physical. And on another level entirely, the film presents a gripping portrait of something that we don't often see portrayed with such authenticity on-screen: the act of a man defining himself. Several of the film's subjects, chief among them a Florida native named Scott Camil, are seen grappling not only with their experiences overseas but also with the very definition of manhood, whether as constructed by cultural mores or one's own inner code.
"Winter Soldier" is an important historical document, an eerily prescient antiwar plea and a dazzling example of filmmaking at its most iconographically potent. But at its best, it is the eloquent, unforgettable tale of profound moral reckoning.
Brent Bozell has noticed Hornaday has a rather predictable liberal take on authenticity at the movies, as you can see here and here. In a nutshell, "The Passion" was all wrong, and the satirical movie "Saved!" was unmistakeably authentic, since it made cracks about religious-right teenagers planting pipe bombs at Planned Parenthood.
There are many places on the Net for a second opinion on Winter Soldier, such as wintersoldier.com, and CNSNews.com reporter Marc Morano did quite a bit of reporting on this last year. In their Friday tabloid Weekend section (featuring music, restaurant, and movie reviews), the Post also interviewed Jane Fonda and sympathetically titled the little piece "Fonda's 'Winter' of Redemption." (The writer is Christina Talcott.)
"In my book [her memoir, 'My Life So Far'], I call the 'Winter Soldier' chapter 'Redemption,' because I feel that is what the WSI represented for those brave men. They were asking Americans to hear them in their collective truth-telling." Among the soldiers who testified were Scott Camil, Rusty Sachs and future senator John Kerry, all of whom were members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Fonda said "Winter Soldier" shows the psychological impact of the war on service personnel: "Starting with the Vietnam War we began training soldiers differently. In my book I talk about secret meetings I had with military psychologists who were really worried about what was happening to our combat personnel. 'We're turning them into killing machines,' one of them said to me. This began because the military discovered that in World War II and Korea, soldiers weren't killing enough (in their opinion), so they changed training procedures."
However, Fonda insists, "it's critical that we understand that the soldiers are not to blame. How they were trained, how their officers either gave the green light or turned a blind eye to what was happening on the ground is what matters. When you put young people into an atrocity-producing situation where enemy and civilian are commingled, where the 'other side' is dehumanized, we cannot be surprised by what these men report in the film."
Fonda insists, "We have not learned the lessons of Vietnam. The returned veterans tried valiantly to tell us what the lessons were, [but] most of us turned our backs. . . . Today the returning antiwar Iraq vets are being called 'unpatriotic.' We must listen to what they have to say."