With barely a week having passed since a coalition of retired generals publicly called for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation because of his handling of the Iraq War, it may be understating matters to say that the release of "Sir! No Sir!" is a timely one. David Zeiger's nonfiction chronicle of U.S. soldiers opposed to the Vietnam War practically dares its audience, wherever their place on the political spectrum, to find parallels between then and now. That's a big part of Zeiger's objective, but not, by any means, all of it.
An award winner at last fall's Hamptons International Film Festival, "Sir! No Sir" is submitted as an urgent corrective to what Zeiger and his subjects believe to be widespread amnesia about the role played in the anti-war movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s by men and women who served in the military.
Zeiger's film compresses as many of those oppositional voices as it can into 84 minutes, beginning with Howard Levy, who was court-martialed for refusing to train GIs for Vietnam, and Donald Duncan, an ex-Green Beret, who resigned from the military in 1966 because, when it came to fighting in Vietnam, "I was doing it right, but I wasn't doing right."
Many others followed their example, including Navy nurse Susan Schall, who flew a private plane over Bay Area military installations to drop leaflets promoting an anti-war demonstration; Louis Font, the first West Point graduate to refuse to fight in a war; and dozens of others who risked indictment, imprisonment or worse, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Though the history it covers is four decades in the past, "Sir! No Sir!" so vividly evokes the rage, passion and provocation of the era it chronicles that it feels up-to-the-minute. Most trenchantly, "Sir! No Sir!" questions the authority of conventional wisdom that, to this day, places soldiers and protestors in the Vietnam era on opposing sides of a wide divide. There may well be other voices - and other movies - that offer their own counterview to "Sir! No Sir!" But they've got their work cut out for them.