Retelling the Story of the Vietnam War

Mark Bradley, Ph. D is the author of Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam and offered approaches to approach misrepresented narratives of the Vietnam War at a recent Teach-In.

Domestic Racism Informs Foreign Affairs

Winter Soldier (1972) documents the events of the Vietnam War through face to face testimony from soldiers who were actually there. The stories they tell tend to create a counter-narrative to the many official, U.S. Government approved narratives about the war.

The racial narrative of American soldiers in the Vietnam War is addressed directly in Winter Soldier. With testimony and candid conversations, the subject of race in the Vietnam War on equal terms as the often more exposed combat experience. Teach-In speaker Mark Bradley expertly highlights part of the film where a black veteran talks to a couple of white soldiers and forces them to examine “another set of things going on here.”

The real issue is that the thing… is racist, man… I had all the hell I had in the army because of racism. Now dig this, your reason for being here is different from mine.

The same goes for a later scene where a Native American soldier makes the audience think about the various wars that have occurred in American history. In a powerful testimony we’re reminded that in the Indian Wars, the Civil War, the American War in the Philippines, the War in the Pacific, Korean War, and the Vietnam War, domestic racism informs American foreign affairs.

Justifications Are Political

No war has good results. Nevertheless, death and destruction are often countered by those who are willing to say that because crimes happen among all combatants, American’s actions in the War were justifiable. Bradley notes how, during the Vietnam War, when other combatants caused damage it was used as a justification of America’s actions. The result of these justifications, Bradley points out, becomes a distracting political argument.

A Veteran’s Opinion

In the audience, a veteran spoke up about his experience with anti-war films. He says that not many people saw Winter Soldier not out of lack of interest but, because it wasn’t well disturbed when the film was released in 1972. The same goes for thousands other films that revolved around social justice movements at the time that were not popularized more.

If films like Winter Soldier were more widely circulated people would have a more complex and malleable understanding of the War and the soldiers. In saturated and underground markets, Winter Soldier as a single documentary did little to impact people’s existing views of the War. The film countered an authoritative narrative, but could not subvert preconceptions. It needed to gain a larger following. If Winter Soldier gained the attention it deserved in 1972 there’d be more valid counter-narratives of wars today. Perhaps its current relevance wouldn’t seem like a missed opportunity.

This is why we have to stop the War. Because not only are we killing our brothers in the Armed Forces, and brothers on the other side, but we’re killing innocent people man.

About Teach-Ins

Facets organizes regular Teach-In. These are free events where the discussion of important topics are led by experts like Mark Bradley. Their insights are paired with some of the most illuminating films in the cannon. You can see the entirety of this Teach-In, conversations with experts, and more on Facets’ YouTube channel.

Author: Sarah Jordan is finishing her degree in communications while writing extensively here as the Editorial Intern at Facets.

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