Sir! No Sir!
David Zeigler's Sir! No Sir! is yet another documentary that George W. probably won't see, or want you to see, because, as the Prez often cautions, "It sends the wrong message to our troops." Does it ever! By chronicling the little-known story of war resistance within the American military during the Vietnam War, our guys and gals being shipped to Iraq could get some seditious ideas. Resist! Tell the Republican gang in Washington, "We don't want your fucking war!" just as many Vietnam GIs did.
What will surprise everyone seeing this film, including those with a vivid memory of the 1960s and 1970s US anti-War movement, is how much protest there was by people in uniform. As early as 1966, when most at-home Americans hadn't thought much about Kennedy and then Johnson leading us into Southeast Asia, some in the military were already saying "No" to combat. Dr. Howard Levy, a physician serving in Vietnam, was being sent to three years in prison because, appalled by the murder of civilians, he stepped away from his duties. Already in 1966, the leftist American magazine, Ramparts, had a cover story on a disillusioned Green Beret, Donald Duncan, above the banner headline, "I quit!"
Sir! No Sir! uncovers a national chain of GI coffee houses near military bases, where soldiers and marines could read alternative weeklies, listen to protest music, and chat about the lousy war under posters of Che Guevara and Huey Newton. Soldiers started their own underground papers and distributed them clandestinely on the bases. This documentary makes the startling claim that there were 300 of them! And who today remembers the battles within military jails between incarcerated soldiers, who had refused to be shipped to Vietnam, and prison authorities, who viewed these inmates as traitors? Sir! No Sir! makes clear that protesting the War from within the military wasn't taken lightly. It could be viewed as mutiny, a most serious charge leading those convicted to years in prison.
Ziegler doesn't hide the film's radical politics. America's invasion of Vietnam was horrendous and immoral, a barely hidden genocidal plan to erase the Communist-led North Vietnamese from the earth. The 1968 My Lai Massacre, in which American troops murdered about 500 innocent Vietnamese, was not an aberration but a typical action ordered by the neo-Fascist US military. No wonder our unhappy soldiers, sickened to be in Vietnam, resorted to "fragging," offing their own officers with grenades. Is the film a little too one-sided? Yes, sir! Couldn't one soldier speak on camera who believed, and still believes, that we were stopping Communism in Vietnam and Cambodia?
Probably two-dozen ex-soldiers are interviewed, now middle-aged and paunchy, and all speak of what turned them against the Vietnam War, and how they protested after. These are ordinary men, courageous men. The only celebrity on camera is a svelte Jane Fonda who, after apologizing in recent years for her notorious anti-War activities, seems to have taken back her "I'm sorry. " She tells with relish of her traveling troupe (Donald Sutherland also) who entertained soldiers during the War with their Fuck the Army message. John Kerry? The ninny who hid during his presidential campaign that he was a gutsy throw-away-my-medals protestor, is left out of this documentary. Who needs him?
A final contribution of Sir! No Sir!: laying to rest the oft-told pitiful story of decadent anti-war students spitting on valiant vets returning from Vietnam battles. This never happened, no matter what Sylvester Stallone claimed in First Blood.
(Boston Phoenix, June, 2006)