Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Winter Soldier Investigation
The Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) took place in Detroit 1/31-2/2, organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and supported by such luminaries as Jane Fonda and Mark Lane. Three continuous days (Sunday thru Tuesday) of testimony by returned Vietnam Veterans documented charges that "atrocities" such as My-Lai are not aberrations of individual pot smoking soldiers but instead illustrate the everyday nature of the war in Indochina and the policies that direct it.
Before a packed hail of spectators approximately 100 veterans described incidents and policies that they themselves either witnessed or carried out. Probably over 2,500 local residents heard parts of the testimony, which was open to the public. While the press was well in attendance, the WSI apparently received limited and rather sceptical reporting around the country. One development was that Senator McGovern and Congressman Conyers (Detroit) issued a statement in Washington calling for a Congressional investigation and hearings based on the testimony at the WSI (particularly responding to the Laos involvement testimony). VVAW and the investigation itself was marked by a lack of political perspective and as a body expressed only their strong straight-forward demand for an end to the War. The chief criticism of the testimony was that a strong political perspective was rarely introduced and at times actually supressed by moderators and others, for fear of bad press. This orientation was also shown by WSI's requests for GI's with honorable discharges, and the apparent preponderance of ex-officers, and the location of the WSI (Howard Johnson's Motor Inn). It should also be noted that most of -the vets had had very little contact with either the GI or the civilian movement. Many of those testifying certainly felt much better after revealing the atrocities in which they had been involved. But there was very little attempt to illustrate that atrocities were directly authorized by higher authorities (with either American or South Vietnamese agency). Nor was it pointed out that when GI's fight a People's War that the logical result will be that they will be killing the people (young men, old men, young women, old women, and yes, children too). Nor was the war's capitalist origins emphasized, from either its international or US-domestic perspective. No one even raised the question whether the US can withdraw, given these factors.
However, also in attendance were people from various GI projects and support groups. Included were CAMP, Pacific Counseling, San Francisco SOS, Military Intelligence USSF, Camp Pendleton MDM, Ft. McClellan Left Face and Wright Patterson 4-yr Bummer (AFB) These people, it seems, were later responsible for somewhat broadening the perspective and political content of
what veterans are to do after WSI.
On the first day, a meeting (parallel to the testimony itself) of vets led by WSI (VVAW) leadership was characterized by indifference to the GI Movement represented. The following day GI Movement people, after gaining permission, held their own meeting, asking that everyone interested in the GI Movement come to the veterans room. This meeting was not terribly successful, chiefly due to the fact that time was wasted in abstract discussion, rather than concentrating on the resources of the CI Movement represented. Later that same day, a meeting, that might be characterized as an amalgamation of the intentions of the first two meetings, was held. This discussion concerned the beginnings of what veterans might do after the testimony. The final decision was to support dayto-day actions, rather than either focus support on one particular Spring demonstration or to march independently. An important element in these discussions was an announcement that the US was about to, or already had, invaded Laos. The next day was spent thrashing out a response to these developments. It was finally decided to send a VVAW representative group to Washington, to try to force hearings on the WSI testimony. The other vets were to return to their home communities to organize various forms of protest with the possibilities of building toward massive actions either locally or in Washington.
The results of WSI are not easy to gauge, particularly in the crisis period of the invasion of Laos. Certainly the testimony presented, even without the political understanding that such incidents are at the core of an imperialist and racist war, was powerful enough that it might have a severe impact on the public. This perspective would explain attempts to discredit and suppress the news out of Detroit. The other element of importance was cohesiveness and political clarity of the CI movement, This phenomenon served to get WSI beyond war stories and also to raise consciousness of the need to have active relations and support between groups inside and out of the military.
Camp News, vol. 2, no. 1