Roger L. Simon

"Stolen Honor" - A Review

The Wall Street Journal is outraged this morning, as well it should be, in its lead editorial – “Sinclair and Watergate” – at the suppression of the film “Stolen Honor.” The documentary was held back from television airing by the Sinclair Network because of a full-court press on the network by Democratic Party partisans, including the threat of lawsuit. The Freedom of the Press implications of this are obvious and disconcerting, to say the least. But read the WSJ for that. I would like to give my review of the suppressed film, which begins with a caveat: Because I was unable to view it on television, I had to see the documentary online in near postage stamp size. This is unfair to any movie. But because I am a film professional, I am used to seeing films in all sorts of formats and perhaps that compensates somewhat for this deficit.

The filmmaking in “Stolen Honor” is mediocre and employs shopworn techniques of documentary melodrama. Replete with portentous music and pretentious editing, it does not trust its audience to discover the truth for themselves, pounding it in over and over. This technique can work sometimes in a forty-five second commercial but in a film of forty-five minutes, it becomes tedious and actually undercuts the film’s message – and this is particularly unfortunate because this documentary’s message and content are devastating

The movie consists of interviews with now gray or graying men who were incarcerated and tortured in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. Their stories are juxtaposed with the testimony of John Kerry at the Winter Soldier hearings. Despite the quality of the filmmaking, and my poor viewing conditions, I was deeply disturbed while watching this. It is not a “filmic” experience in the traditional sense. While viewing this movie, I imagine most of my generation find themselves reviewing themselves and their actions at the time rather than the film. I am far from resolving my view of Vietnam, although I still tend to think it was the wrong war. But the behavior of some factions of the antiwar side, factions which I fully supported then, were clearly out of line and as reprehensible as the war they wished to protest – central among those was Winter Soldier.

Some reviewers, like the NYT’s Alessandra Stanley, made light of the testimony of John Kerry before those hearings as something we heave “heard before” and therefore of little importance, preferring to focus on the unresolved pain of the former prisoners. But the fact that we have heard at least some of Kerry’s testimony before is beside the point. The testimony has never been explained. Kerry lied about his fellow soldiers in a serious and, it seems evident, conscious manner, going so far as to say they cut off peoples’ ears, raped and pillaged like Genghis Khan. Even given the passions of the time, this defamation is hard to explain. No wonder the Democratic Party wants us to look away. I wanted to look away. It is hard to conceive someone of so little moral compass is going to lead us in a time of war. Still, I suppose I could forgive Kerry if he had apologized for this in full as the recklessness of youth. But until now he hasn’t. The Democratic Party knows this too. That’s why they also want us to look away. It is over thirty years ago and therefore, they wish us to believe, beyond the statute of electoral limitations. No it’s not.