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Back to ‘nam: Cinema looks at the USA’s other hated war

The conflicting facets that make the Vietnam War one of the most controversial military conflicts of the 20th century will be revisited and reviewed on the movie screen through a special borough film series highlighting the tarnished glories and failed victories that nearly caused a country – ours – to implode upon itself.

The five-part Vietnam War Film Series, which is sponsored by the Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn For Peace, will kick off on September 9 with a viewing of the 1968 John Wayne film “The Green Berets” in all of its “Go USA!” glory.

Other films in the series include “Sir! No Sir!” (September 25) about an underground movement inside the ranks of the U.S. military to end the war in Southeast Asia, “Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia” (October 7), “Thanh’s War” (October 21) and “The Fog of War” (November 7) a 2004 documentary that re-interviews those who spearheaded the Vietnam War, like Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and asks them if they regret any of their decisions and policies.

Each film will be followed by an enlightening open discussion by historians who have examined the Vietnam War at length, or people who had intimate knowledge of the trail of blood and tears that this particular piece of history left in its wake.

Following the documentary “Year Zero,” for example, former Brooklyn Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman will be asked to speak about how she introduced an article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon for his bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Holtzman was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit Holtzman v. Schlesinger, which sought to have American courts stop the U.S. bombing of Cambodia.

“Sir! No Sir!” will be followed by a discussion with Dr. Howard Levy, a borough veteran who refused to train Green Berets headed for Vietnam and was ultimately court marshaled and sentenced to three years in prison for drawing his line in the sand. Levy is also featured in the David Zeiger documentary.

The film series was created as a companion piece for the Brooklyn Historical Society’s popular Vietnam War exhibit in which borough veterans express their experiences both “in country” as well as in their own country.

“In Our Own Words: Portraits of Brooklyn’s Vietnam Veterans,” a collaborative effort by Philip Napoli, Professor of History at Brooklyn College and Kate Fermoile, Vice President of Exhibits and Education for the Brooklyn Historical Society, gives veterans a chance to relay their experiences directly to the audience through the use of state-of-the-art hypersonic sound speakers.

As audience members walk through the exhibit, they stand in front of life size portraits of the veterans and then hear the actual voices of the men and women they’re looking at.

“Because of the way the speakers work and how they are directed, it feels like the veteran is talking directly to you,” Fermoile explained. “Hearing the personal stories in the teller’s own voice, while standing in front of their life-sized image is tremendously compelling. It’s not your typical exhibition.”

Napoli, who interviewed the veterans, said that many of them had never told these stories before – slices of history he believes have more resonance now than ever before.

“We will soon be facing a brand new generation of soldiers, both men and women, returning home from war with many of the same kind of problems the Vietnam generation has struggled with,” Napoli explained. “There are differences between the two wars, but the psychological toll for each individual soldier has most likely not changed a great deal.”

Each viewing of the film series will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont Street at Clinton Street. Admission is free.

“In Our Own Words: Portraits of Brooklyn’s Vietnam Veterans” will run at the Brooklyn Historical Society until next March.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the film series or the exhibition can either call (718) 222-4111 or log onto: www.brooklynhistory.org.

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