Even if you're against the Iraq War, or perhaps less than gung-ho about it, you have to support our American troops. Right?
That theory works for David Zeiger's stunning documentary, "Sir! No Sir!" a fresh look at the soldiers who resisted fighting the Vietnam War.
Zeiger has made a very smart movie that's practically pro-war critic-proof: how can you not support men (and one woman Navy officer) who went to war, without protest, then, after fighting and seeing their comrades and civilians die or be maimed, changed their minds?
The beauty part of "Sir! No Sir!" is that the servicemen (and woman) that Zeiger interviews contemporaneously and also shows in vintage photos and home movies, are smart, sensitive, knowledgeable, compassionate, funny and patriotic. They also are from a cross-section of American life, which really throws our assumptions off about just what kind of person would be anti-war.
Back then, when they enlisted or were drafted without complaint, the interviewees weren't hippies, drug addicts or slackers with nothing better to do — most were middle-class, many college educated — one, a Hispanic man with a successful law practice — tells us tearfully that he was the first graduate of the United States Military Academy to refuse to serve in a war.
Startling also are the two attractive, gray-haired men who look as if they just played a round of golf at a country club, where they might have lunched with pals from elite corporations. They could be, but they also remember, with regret, how they fought in a war they came to understand was not in their country's best interests.
Or the foursome, now middle-aged, balding and lined, who worked in intelligence during the Vietnam War, eavesdropping on the enemy's radio transmissions. How incongruous to watch prosperous, intelligent men in their boating shoes and Izod shirts reveal that once they realized raw intelligence was being doctored by the Defense Department to sell the war, they became resisters, too.
One participant after another explains why they changed their minds, and none of their rationales is frivolous. Some are rueful about the war, others full of remorse. Two elderly women — one angry, the other sad — remember their black relative, a resister, who was arrested by the Army, placed in solitary confinement on a false charge and, after coming home, never regained his balance.
Jane Fonda is a beneficiary of "Sir! No Sir!" Beautifully groomed and upbeat in her short hairdo and green sweater set, Fonda explains in a recent interview what she did and why she did it, to protest the war. There is no mention of the "Hanoi Jane" incident; only old films showing her and a traveling troupe singing and doing skits for young servicemen. The documentary, which is always about the troops not the politicians or profiteers, becomes inexpressibly sad when we ponder the loss of youthful life then and now.