In "Sir! No Sir!", director David Zeiger revives a perspective on the Vietnam War that was seemingly forgotten, or perhaps even deliberately squelched, since the 1970s: that of the anti-war movement within the U.S. military. Zeiger was among the civilian staff at "The Oleo Strut", an anti-war G.I. coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas, during the Vietnam War, so he is personally familiar with the movement. Through archival news footage and interviews with about 2 dozen former servicemen and officers who actively opposed the war in Vietnam, as well as some of their civilian supporters, "Sir! No Sir!" tells the story of the anti-war movement within the U.S. armed forces from 1966 to 1975, when American military involvement in Vietnam ceased.
David Zeiger's purpose in "Sir! No Sir!" is not only to remind people that the Vietnam War was very unpopular even with many of those who fought it, but to make the point that being anti-war is not anti-soldier and never has been. According to the Pentagon, there were a half a million "incidents of desertion" during the Vietnam War. There were nearly 300 anti-war G.I. underground newspapers. In Vietnam, there were a disturbing number of mutinies and violent attacks on officers -so many that they may have played a part in the shift to an air war. In the U.S., there were anti-war G.I. coffeehouses, sit-ins, boycotts, and stockades full of servicemen who refused their orders to Vietnam or had attended protests.
The public knew that there was significant dissent within the military. It was all over newspapers and television news programs at the time. And people knew that anti-war protesters sympathized with the soldiers, wanting nothing more than to bring the troops home safely. Yet at some point, rumors began to abound that anti-war activists had scorned returning soldiers and treated them badly. "Sir! No Sir!" points out that this view of the anti-war movement originated in the 1980s and claims that the stories of mistreatment of returning soldiers by anti-war protesters have no basis. It further asserts that this erroneous image of anti-war activists may have been deliberately promulgated in popular entertainment for the purpose of discrediting past and future anti-war protesters.
That may sound far-fetched on the face of it, but I remember when the idea that the anti-war movement had turned against Vietnam vets emerged in the 1980s, so this comment on the issue got my attention. The fact is that the rhetoric and actions of anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era were well-documented and widely disseminated at the time. So how did the popular conception of the anti-war movement become so separated from the facts? "Sir! No Sir!" leaves us with that provocative question.
The DVD (Docurama 2006): There is a huge amount of supplementary material on this DVD, mostly additional interview footage with people who were featured in the film. I found these particularly interesting because they presented info not in the film: "Joe Urgo: Behind the Winter Soldier Investigation" (7 min), "Michael Wong: In Vietnam, We Were Doing what the Japanese did to the Chinese in WWII" (3 min), "Pioneer Private Radio DJ Dave Rabbit Speaks" (8 min). For interviews about the stockades: "The American Serviceman's Union and Fort Dix Stockade Rebellion" (12 min), "Randy Rowland: Life in the Presidio Stockade" (7 min), "Keith Mather's Escape" (3 min), "The 9 for Peace" (1 min), "Keith's Scrapbook from 9 for Peace to Presidio Stockade" (7 min). About the black G.I. experience: "Carl Dix: From Protest to Federal Prison to Revolution" (12 min), "Elder Halim Gullahbemi: Learning from the Vietnamese" (5 min). "Jeff Sharlet and Vietnam G.I." (4 min) is about the first underground G.I. newspaper. "Only the Beginning -Vietnam Vets Return Their Medals" (4 min) is footage from the 1971 Dewey Canyon III demonstration in Washington, D.C.. "Newsreel: Summer of '68 -The Oleo Strut" (7 min) is old footage not in the movie. "Director David Zeiger and Sgt. Giacomozzi at The Oleo Strut" (6 min) reunites 2 people in 2005 who were on opposite sides of the law in 1970. "Rita Mortinson's 'Soldier, We Love You'" (4 min) is footage of her performing a song she wrote for a soldier. In the present day: "The Court Martial of Camilo Mejia: Iraq War Resister" (2 min), "Cindy Sheehan and Jane Fonda on 'Sir! No Sir!'" (12 min) shows the 2 women speaking at a fundraiser for this film. And there is a mini biography for director David Zeiger (text).