by Joe Courter
The new book Winter Warrior uses the words of Scott Camil as he tells of his youth, and the path that took him to Viet Nam, and then upon his return, into the anti-war movement as a leader so effective that government agents shot him in an attempted drug sting, as an effort to neutralize him in J. Edgar Hoover’s words. His words are illustrated by graphic artist Eve Gilbert whose simple drawings are augmented by speech bubbles enhancing her illustrations of Camil’s words.
The book is a powerful true story of a man whose life has more dramatic turns than most. This is what happens when a person of high principle and a strong independent spirit has the nerve to embrace whole heartedly a mission, but then, finding that mission was based on lies, turns against it with the same passion and commitment. Camil’s first mission was as a Marine in Viet Nam, and the horrors and deadly realities of that are brutally recounted in Camil’s words and Gilbert’s drawings.
Following two tours in Viet Nam, and wounded twice, Camil came back to Florida and started taking classes in Miami and then at the University of Florida in Gainesville. At UF Camil heard about an event called the Winter Soldier Investigation, where Viet Nam vets were asked to come to Detroit and tell about their experiences. In Detroit, he met other vets who were questioning the war and he confronted questions from interviewers that changed his perspective.
This change in consciousness launched him into organizing with Viet Nam Veterans Against the War. What followed were highly-publicized protests such as vets throwing their medals away, multi-state organizing, government surveillance, and bogus arrests and trials (he and compatriots were found not guilty every time). VVAW’s protests at the national political conventions in Miami resulted in the celebrated Gainesville 8 conspiracy trial. The jury acquitted them after only four hours of deliberation.
After failing to imprison Camil that way, federal agents set him up in an attempted drug sting and shot him. But he survived that, too, and was released after the bogus court case that followed.
After a few years break, Camil took on the U.S.’s later interventions. The book recounts his trips to Central America in the 80’s, which led him to found the Gainesville chapter of Veterans for Peace. He also went to Palestine (Camil is Jewish) and back to Viet Nam.
It is a bit odd to have such powerful experiences portrayed in cartoon illustrations, but somehow it works and makes for a gripping read. Check out Camil’s video interview with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program here: https://tinyurl.com/Iguana1033.
One oddity is that Camil is not listed as the book’s author, Eve Gilbert is. Fantagraphics Books is the publisher, and while Camil’s contract with Gilbert stated he would be listed as author, she did not share that with the publisher, so his name was left off the cover, at least in this first edition.
This powerful book is available locally at Third House Books, where Camil will discuss it on Saturday, December 7th at 6pm. And Winter Warrior can be purchased at the Veterans for Peace Winter Solstice Concert Saturday December 21 at the Unitarian Fellowship.