...[W]ithout a President George W. Bush, there most likely would have been no Iraq War. And without an Iraq War, there most likely would have been no topical relevance to Sir! No Sir!
Yet because there's a contemporary vibe to David Zeiger's informative Vietnam War documentary, the film is able to exist on two separate (if unavoidably linked) plateaus. On its own, Sir! No Sir! recalls a notable revolution that over the past couple of decades has managed to fade from the public record in Orwellian fashion. While the common perception (massaged by Hollywood claptrap like the Rambo series and political revisionists like the absurdly named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) suggests that the era's soldiers and the antiwar protesters were sworn enemies, this picture employs ample archival footage and modern-day interviews to show that one of the biggest antiwar movements came from within the military establishment itself. Soldiers who grasped the venality of the conflict joined hands with peaceniks from coast to coast; African Americans (many galvanized by the growing prominence of the Black Panthers) questioned why they were being ordered to kill foreigners on the other side of the world by a government that wasn't seriously addressing their own domestic concerns; and the Pentagon itself reported that a half-million "incidents of desertion" occurred over the course of the war.
Sir! No Sir! is unswervingly one-sided, which leads to a couple of problems. There's a discussion on "fragging" -- the term given when dissenting soldiers would lob grenades at their own superior officers, often killing them -- but none of the interview subjects seem particularly disturbed by this practice. Since presumably the mortally wounded officers weren't satanic emissaries but regular guys with wives, children and their own sets of questions and concerns, this interlude leaves a bad taste in the mouth and in essence undermines the grassroots appeal of the struggle (killing for the sake of peace is supposed to be the catchphrase of the warhawks, not the pacifists). And the presence of Jane Fonda won't just disturb the hard-liners on the right. Fonda smugly details her involvement in the FTA (Fuck the Army) shows (presented as a necessary counterpart to Bob Hope's USO tours), but our own memories of "Hanoi Jane" -- and the movie's refusal to even mention her controversial activities -- repeatedly prove distracting.
Still, Sir! No Sir! is a necessary corrective, one which has additional value given the current state of affairs. Will the public's opposition to the current war continue to grow, as it did with Vietnam? Will the Haditha incident turn out to be the equivalent of the My Lai Massacre? And will more and more soldiers, echoing the ones on view here, refuse to participate in a senseless war that only serves to diminish our great nation? Stay tuned.