CAPSULE: Brian Willson was a young man with strong conservative Republican attitudes and a strong conviction to use them to make the world a better place. When he enlisted in the army he was sent to Vietnam to do his part defending his country. Then came the day he looked down at his feet and saw the ground under him was covered with dead bodies including those of women and children, and his job was to kill more. He had done everything he should have. How could he have done all the right things and ended up a mass murderer many times over? It was then that he became an anti-war activist, anti-military, and anti-government. It had been a road that has cost him a lot, including both his legs, but he would devote his life to opposing the forces that had used him. This is the story of Brian Willson and the anti-war movement over his lifetime. Director: Bo Boudart; Writers: Allan Baddock, Susan Utell, Sharon Wood. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
On June 5th of 1989 there were student protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government ordered a column of tanks to the site of the protest to use force to put down the rebellion. One student stood up to the tanks, risking being run down. The soldiers in their tanks had to decide if they owed their loyalty to the state or to humanity. Luckily they chose humanity. The incident echoed an incident two years earlier at the Concord (California) Naval Weapons Station. On September 1, 1987, a United States citizen was peacefully protesting the United States government producing and selling weapons for the Contras of Nicaragua. The citizen, Brian Willson, informed the command at the station that he would be on the tracks to stop the train from hauling weapons. Instead of negotiating out of the situation the train plowed right into Willson. Willson survived but lost both legs and received a fractured skull. He now walks on prosthetic metal legs.
PAYING THE PRICE FOR PEACE: THE STORY OF S. BRIAN WILLSON recounts the experience of Brian Willson. He was to become an effective force for exposing and fighting government atrocities. On the most important day of his life Willson turned against the military and his mission. Willson to this point felt at every step he had made had been a moral action. This day he was doing reconnaissance on a village that the army had bombed under the belief that it gave sanctuary to the enemy. Willson concluded was no evidence that the people were anything but innocent. But the Americans had bombed the village nonetheless. He had taken only what he considered moral actions to reach this point of his life. However, the moral steps had led him into being a mass murderer, albeit one under orders. That day turned Willson into an anti-war activist. The film gives the story of his life leading up to the realization moment at the fishing village and the actions that later led up to him losing his legs. And it tells details of his resistance up to the point the train hit him. With immense courage he continued his efforts to support the Peace movement wherever the government was ordering people killed.
The film also tells the story of the anti-government protests in Willson's later life. When Willson laid his body on the train tracks he laid his life on the line to do the right thing that he thought he was doing in Viet Nam. In candor it should be noted, however, that the incident was accidental. While the film does not accuse the government or the military of intentionally causing the incident, they do imply the government intentionally allowed the accident that destroyed Willson's legs. Few people love this country so much that they could make the sacrifice Willson did.
In its coverage of the anti-war movement the film says that in the years from 1950 to 2000 the United States has
Those are strong accusations. The filmmakers also discuss our military's connections to the economy:
Several well-known figures participated in the making of the film including Martin Sheen, Daniel Ellsberg, Alice Walker, and Ron Kovic. Peter Coyote narrates the film.
PAYING THE PRICE FOR PEACE is an eye-opening documentary I give a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
One odd note: Ron Kovic and Brian Willson led very parallel lives, going from starting as super-patriots to becoming anti-war activists. They were born on the same birthday date but five years apart, each born on the Fourth of July.
PAYING THE PRICE FOR PEACE: THE STORY OF S. BRIAN WILLSON is available on DVD and digital stream.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5068830/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/paying_the_price_for_peace
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper