My mother used to say, "If you want something done right, do it yourself."
Given the actions of some of the draft-age kids during the Vietnam years, their moms apparently said it too.
Although my parents were squarely against the war in Vietnam, I was a tad clueless; too young to throw myself into the anti-war movement, but too old not to care. My school had one sit-in against the war, and I sat. That's about it.
Meanwhile, soldier- and nurse-age sons and daughters created a do-it-yourself anti-war movement to protest the war.
Last month, I attended a packed Saturday morning screening of the amazing documentary, "Sir! No Sir! The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War in Vietnam," at a KPFK Pacifica Radio fundraiser at the Laemmle theater in Old Pasadena.
The audience sat in rapt attention as we watched a GI anti-war movement that has been buried for all these years. I spoke with director/writer/producer David Zeiger by phone and asked which reactions that he's gotten most surprised him.
"Two things. Even though I knew this part of our history has been forgotten, I've been surprised by how thoroughly our history has been erased. Even the people who were involved with the anti-Vietnam War movement had forgotten. I was of an age that I carry a deep memory with me. I was involved with the Oleo Strut Coffee House."
The Oleo Strut Coffee House is featured in "Sir! No Sir!" and was a venue where GI anti-war dissent was encouraged.
"The second thing is how much the young audiences relate to the film. They don't see it as some boring old history. That was one of our big goals we had in the making of this film," Zeiger said.
Indeed, his own spouse, Maryann Nielsen, is an American history teacher at South Pasadena High School, her alma mater, and she's shown the film to her class. She's been heartened at the response among these students, most of them 16 and 17 years old, an age group not famous for loving history.
"Even before I showed the film ... 10 to 12 students went to see the film on their own. I didn't offer any incentive, like extra credit. That was pretty amazing. When I showed it in my class, all I can say is that they were riveted. They picked up on the parallels to the current war themselves without me having to make the connections for them," Nielsen said.
I asked if there was anti-war sentiment in her class.
"An anti-war sentiment is certainly bubbling up," she said. "Not with everyone, of course, but with most. They are upset about the war. They don't trust the government and they are cynical. They understand the power behind oil. ... They were also fascinated by the courage and bravery of soldiers standing up and fighting for getting out of Vietnam."
It's heartbreaking to see these young men - there were also young women who resisted the war - risking charges of mutiny and insubordination that would follow them for the rest of their days. What is so profound about "Sir! No Sir!" is that it was far more important to these GIs to be able to live with themselves and their consciences than it was to obey orders blindly. Wasn't that the lesson of Nuremberg?
If victors really do write history, as the old saw goes, weren't these young soldiers and nurses the victors? Yes and no.
They were victorious insofar as we eventually got out of Vietnam. They were victims, however, of a collective amnesia in which Americans seem to have forgotten who these kids were and how bold they were in standing up against the war.
Now, with war raging in Iraq and Israel fighting with Hezbollah along the Lebanese border, making this film available becomes even more vital. We need to learn how to wage peace.
Zeiger said that while there's not a specific screening set up for Pasadena or the San Gabriel Valley right now, he and Nielsen have been working to set up new mechanisms for people to create a grassroots anti-war movement.
Visit www.sirnosir.com. Then click "Storefront," go to the button for "Educational, nonprofit and government institutions," or "Set up an Activist Screening" where you can set up an event.
My mama used to say, "If we're going to end war, we're going to have to end it ourselves."
"Sir! No Sir!" is an important tool in our anti-war do-it-yourself kit.