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51 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most truth in one place. . ., November 8, 2005
This review is from: American Experience: Two Days in October (DVD)
I was a high school junior in Wisconsin, 90 miles from Madison, at the time of the "two days" covered by this film. Today I'm a high school history teacher in Ohio, and the next time I teach my semester elective on the Vietnam War era, I'm going to use this film as the opening exercise. It contains more truth about the war than I've seen in any other single presentation. It's not just about the Black Lions, not just about the UW protesters, not just about the war's politics, not just about the Vietnamese. Everybody's there-even the Madison police-everybody gets to speak, they're all presented fairly.

The film is based on David Maraniss' THEY MARCHED INTO SUNLIGHT, which tells the same stories, and a great many others, in far more depth. But given the constraints of a 90-minute video presentation, TWO DAYS IN OCTOBER is outstanding. With its use of vintage TV clips juxtaposed with modern-day interviews of the participants, it creates immediacy at the same time it gives the witnesses a chance to reflect on events decades past. I looked hard for bias, and didn't find any-although it's clear the film is a Rohrschach ink blot test. What you see in it depends on what you bring to it. So I'll mention what I bring to it: the perception that the higher-ups in Vietnam and Madison were in a fortress of denial, that they refused to accept the evidence of their own eyes. The Black Lions were victims of an ambush because an overzealous commander ordered them to advance when he shouldn't have, but Gen. Westmoreland couldn't admit it, even to himself. The violence at the U. of Wisconsin was perpetrated mainly by the police, who thus made a touchy situation worse, but the state legislators staged public hearings to blame the students and Chancellor Sewell because they couldn't own up to reality.

Other sources which deal with some of the same subject matter as TWO DAYS IN OCTOBER are the protester-friendly video THE WAR AT HOME (1979) and Tom Bates' moderate/conservative nonfiction account RADS (1992), about Madison's underground bombers. Both of them describe the Dow Day violence as part of larger stories.

I connect the authorities' penchant for denial to an anecdote that appears in THEY MARCHED INTO SUNLIGHT, but not in the film. In 1967, current Vice President Dick Cheney was a graduate student in Madison. Maraniss quotes him as dismissing the student protests as a distraction and a waste of time. Apparently Cheney was too busy with "other priorities" to learn anything at the UW that would have prevented him from leading our country into the current quagmire in Iraq. (And he's still in denial about the existence of WMD.) What a difference it might have made if only he had actually gotten himself educated about the difficulty of fighting insurgents or the dangers of plunging our soldiers into an unnecessary war.

For a quick encapsulation of America in Vietnam, there's nothing better than TWO DAYS IN OCTOBER.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 20, 2011 7:27:23 PM PDT
Appreciate this review's perspective, but must demur on attributing "denial" to many of official major players in both story streams. Obviously the media coverage in the aftermath was 'spun' dramatically against the activists and dissenters -- but why fall back on catchphrase, "denial"?
Similarly, was former Veep Cheney ever accused of that no-brainer, but rather out for himself (and his own interests, such as Petroleum profits)? This analysis has one glaring flaw: fails to entertain a moral perspective re what's right, what's wrong.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 21, 2011 12:19:16 PM PDT
Carl Hoffman says:

Thanks for writing, especially since I wrote the review 5+ years ago. It's always fun to get a response.
W/ regard to your comments, 1) painful personal experience convinces me denial isn't a "catchphrase," it's a fact. For me, obstinate denial of basic facts is the apex of stupidity.
2) I probably have as low an opinion of Cheney as you do. But I don't think it's particularly useful to accuse him of being evil as well as stupid. The stupidity is clear and provable. Evil (i.e. "what's right, what's wrong") is much more elusive. I'll leave that to God.
BTW, have you seen 2 Days in October? I'd be pleased to hear your reaction.
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