It is a popular myth that “hippie protests” in the U.S. demoralized our troops in Vietnam and led to our failure to win the war. This film reveals a rarely talked about truth, which is that the war was ended by an organized anti-war movement within the military itself.
In the mid-60s, there were a handful of individuals and small groups who chose to face courts martial rather than perpetuate the war. One individual interviewed is Dr. Howard Levy, a dermatologist who was tasked with training Special Forces troops to treat minor skin ailments. The idea, he says, was for the Green Berets to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people by treating a few children with impetigo, after which the Vietnamese would welcome U.S. troops, who would then murder (possibly) those same children along with everyone else in their village. When he refused to continue training soldiers, Levy was court martialed and convicted of disobedience and seeking to promote disloyalty.
The movement grew through underground newspapers distributed to GIs both stateside and in country, and by coffeehouses near Army bases where GIs congregated to discuss resistance to the war.
By 1971, GIs had formally organized, creating such groups as WORMS (We Openly Resist Military Stupidity) and VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War.) Following the public exposure of the My Lai massacre, VVAW organized the Winter Soldier investigation in Detroit. From January 31 through February 2, 1971, discharged service people from every branch of the military, along with medical personnel and civilian contractors, testified about atrocities they had witnessed and/or participated in. The purpose was not to defend the actions of Lt. William Calley (the only officer convicted of war crimes in connection with My Lai) but rather to expose the lie that the massacre was an isolated and aberrant incident. Such massacres were, they claimed, the inevitable consequences of U.S. Military policies.
Nixon decided to switch from a ground war to an air war after the Pentagon estimated that over half the ground troops in Vietnam were openly opposed to the war. Unprecedented numbers of soldiers were deserting or being jailed for defying military authority and refusing to follow orders. The air war strategy worked for a little while, but soon the Navy and the Air Force were also sabotaging communications and missions, forcing the U.S. to withdraw from Vietnam in 1975.
For the next twenty years, the U.S. government attempted to bury the reality of GI resistance to the war, to the point where many people today believe the “Rambo” version of Vietnam, including the apocryphal story of the Vietnam vet who was spat upon and called “babykiller,” and even people who saw news footage at the time have forgotten that the enthusiastic audiences to whom Jane Fonda delivered her anti-war messages were not hippie protesters but active U.S. troops.
For a documentary about the Winter Soldier investigations, click here.
For other films about politics, click here.