Movie Review: “Paying the Price for Peace,” the Story of S. Brian Willson

S Brian Willson

“Paying the Price for Peace” is a new documentary about Vietnam Veteran and peace activist S. Brian Willson, who was run over by a train during a protest blockading weapons shipments.

This full-length documentary about Vietnam Veteran S. Brian Willson does not pull any punches. What happened to Willson in 1987 was a gruesome display of U.S. military arrogance and disregard for basic American values, such as the rights to free speech and peaceful dissent.

Brian Willson
Photo taken just before the train struck Brian Willson in 1987.

While staging a protest against the shipping of U.S. weapons to Central America during the Contra wars, Willson and other members of a Veterans Peace Action Team blocked railroad tracks at the Concord, California Naval Weapons Station. This was a continuation of many such actions at Concord. However, this time, the train was ordered not to stop, and it ran right over Mr Willson.

Willson ultimately lost both legs below the knee while suffering a severe skull fracture with loss of his right frontal lobe and 19 broken bones. “To be a radical, you have to be willing to risk life, limb and prison. You have to be willing to risk the consequences, because then you are free,” he says in a voice-over in the film.

Three days after Willson lost his legs, over 10,000 people gathered for a non-violent gathering in support of Willson, and against arms shipments to Central America. Jessie Jackson, Rosario Murillo, wife of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega along with Willson’s wife of 10 days, and stepson all spoke. Joan Baez sang and played music during this gathering. At the same time a group of protestors took it upon themselves to tear up the wooden train tracks where Willson was run over.

Brian Willson, Vietnam MemorialUpon his release from the hospital, Willson returned to the protest on the tracks in a wheelchair.  Since the incident, Brian Willson has continued his activism, calling attention to the US government’s defiance of international law through waging endless illegal wars.

While the government’s apparent disregard for its citizens’ rights is discouraging, to say the least, the film is actually very inspiring. Brian Willson has to be one of the most relentless, selfless, hard working and humble activists in U.S. history. He has a lot to teach us about ourselves, our country and dedicated participation in our democracy.

Paying the Price for Peace exposes the truth about the United States’ addiction to war, and the lies it perpetuates in order to wage ongoing violence.

S Brian WillsonOther peace activists in the film include Alice Walker,  Daniel EllsbergMedea Benjamin, David Swanson, Ron Kovic, Bruce Gagnon, Cindy Sheehan, Martin SheenBlase Bonpane,  Phil Donahue, David Harsough, and others.

More information about Brian and his work can be found here. Brian has also published a book, “Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson.”

Information on screenings of the film can be found here, and the DVD can be purchased here.


“Every person in the U.S. needs to see this film. Every person who is in favor of U.S. wars needs to see this… Brian Willson declared his independence from every bomb dropped, every threat leveled, every civil liberties rollback, every child killed, every veteran maimed. Brian Willson sat down in order to stand up. For all that I have done, Brian Willson shames me to do more; to be better. Thank you, Brian; I love you.”
– Cynthia McKinney, Former US Congresswoman

WORKING_PPfP_poster_FINALAPRIL-194x300Paying the Price for Peace is as powerful as it is important, as inspiring as it is shocking and throws a strong light on an incredible man who suffered so much yet continued to stand when almost anyone else would have crumbled. It is quite literally awe inspiring.”
– Paul Haggis, Academy Award Winning Writer & Director (Crash & Million Dollar Baby)

“What makes Paying the Price so powerful is hearing the voices of so many veterans, women and men who know what war is and have had the courage to walk away. They invite us to remember – however much the national ‘security’ state would like us to forget — that every one of us can be brave. Courage (like cowardice) is a habit we can learn by practice. And there’s no better teacher than Brian Willson.”
– Rebecca Gordon, author of “Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post 9/11 United States”

“A Hero’s story of courageous sacrifice, dedication, excitement, adventure, and solidarity.”
– David Swanson, author and founder of World Beyond War

“Gets real about how we can overcome the fears that fuel perpetual war.”
— Norman Solomon

James Israel
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