The Winter Soldier Investigation was a three day series of hearings held in January and February of 1971. The event's primary sponsor was an organization called Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), although other organizations participated as well. The hearings were designed to draw public attention to the events of the Vietnam War, in the hopes of exposing wartime atrocities and encouraging a reform of military policies which members of the organization claim contributed to the high rate of war crimes in the Vietnam War.
The crux of the Winter Soldier Investigation was that events like the Mai Lai massacre were more common than many people realized, and that military doctrine in fact supported the commission of such crimes. VVAW hoped to gain a great deal of media attention to educate the public about the Vietnam War, and there may also have been a desire for formal hearings into the events of the war. Critics of the Winter Soldier Organization felt that the testimony failed to prove the point, and that the qualifications of the people who testified were questionable.
In addition to soldiers, the Winter Soldier Investigation also included civilian contractors, academics, and medical support personnel. All of the people who testified were required to present their credentials, as VVAW wanted to legitimize the event as much as possible. The testimony was recorded on film and video, and numerous transcripts from the Winter Soldier Investigation are available, for those who wish to read the testimony for themselves.
Much to the chagrin of VVAW, most mainstream media outlets ignored the Winter Soldier Investigation, or wrote up brief and often critical blurbs after the fact. Although the event was reasonably well covered in the alternative media, the media exposure fell far short of the organization's goals. In 1972, however, testimony from the Winter Soldier Investigation was read into the Congressional Record, sparking calls for hearings which were used to support several legislative proposals relating to the war.
In 2008, veterans of the Iraq War sponsored a similar event, Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan, which featured testimony from a variety of people associated with the Iraq War. This event received far more mainstream media coverage than the original Winter Soldier Investigation, perhaps because of increased public awareness and interest in war crimes committed in Iraq. As was the case in 1971, opponents criticized the credentials and testimony of those who testified in an attempt to discredit them.