A film that threatens the war movement with every showing, the Bush administration should outlaw it from all theatres within fifty miles of an armed forces recruiting station.
One of the most powerful anti-war films released this year, “Sir! No Sir!” is a review of the soldier-led anti-war movement in the USA during the Viet Nam war. The film chronicles the experiences of general enlisted men and women who saw the war from the inside, realized it was a crime and put their freedom on the line to protest. And they did all this while in uniform. Many were imprisoned and all were threatened with years of the hardest prison time there is, prison time in a military stockade. But they saw the war end before their message could be suppressed.
Between the years of 1954 and 1975 the USA fought an increasingly desperate battle to keep South Viet Nam from falling to the communist National Liberation Front. The war started when the French withdrew from the country in 1954 and the US began covert operations to prop up a series of failing pro-US governments.
In November 1963 the Kennedy administration apparently approved a general’s coup that overthrew unsuccessful president Diem. Three weeks later Diem was dead, and so was President Kennedy.
As prophesied by former president Dwight D. Eisenhower (“Why We Fight”-released last month) new president Lyndon Johnson bowed to the military-industrial complex. He gave them their war.
From this beginning came the most resounding civil discord ever to accompany a US war, and possibly the most potent fomenting of anti-war sentiment in modern history.
Americans, flush with memories of the great victory of WW II and the acceptable victory of Korea, enlisted to fight between 1964 and 1967. When these first veterans returned we began to learn the truth about Viet Nam.
The truth was that even our Vietnamese allies were so cynical about the morass of corruption that formed their government that they were more interested in immigrating to the US than in saving their own country.
The returning soldiers told stories of US military incompetence and the complete lack of understanding exhibited by American leaders.
War is a contest to take and hold land and critical resources, but the war in Viet Nam was not that.
There was neither the opportunity nor the attempt to take and hold land. There were only the body counts. And men, women and children all counted the same.
Everybody knows that Americans protested against the war, but not many know how many actual US uniformed military personnel worked from within to end the mistake that was Viet Nam.
From 1964 to 1967 military personnel were the only persons who knew the truth: the war was unwinnable and had already been reduced to a contest of mutual murder. Likewise the government and the media conspired to keep the truth of internal military dissention about the war from the general public.
In making this film, Zeiger put a call out for stories and ended up hearing from people nobody had ever heard from before. All of these people were, and are, under threat of federal prosecution for going public about Viet Nam.
Even now, after 35 years, they don’t know what the government will do to them.
The stories include the Oleo Strut coffee house in Texas, where from 1968 to 1972 Army enlisted men met those considering service in Viet Nam and counseled them against it.
The Oleo’s original purpose was to help returning GIs to readjust, but shell-shock turned into anger, and that anger into action. The GIs turned the coffeehouse into an anti-war headquarters and director/writer David Zeiger was one of the civilians who ran the effort.
Zeiger started making films in the early ‘90s and was certainly an expert on anti-war politics. But he was prompted to make this film only after the September 11 attacks and the “War on Terror’s” segue into the war in Iraq.
People like Zeiger knew the difference between the Great War and the Viet Nam war. They told the real life stories of killing civilians because they might be aiding the Viet Cong. When meeting places like the Strut were declared off limits, the soldiers continued to operate secretly, dissuading thousands that the war in Viet Nam was a fraud that should not be supported.
The more things change, the more they stay the same...
Many of these latter-day heroes were eventually brought up on charges and court marshaled--some for treason, a crime punishable by death. The severe nature of the penalty is testimony to why this film is so potentially harmful to the current occupation of Iraq; it threatens to enable soldiers to fight the war from within.
This story of the rebellion of thousands of American soldiers against the war in Viet Nam remained lost for years in the annals of the FBI. The secrecy was not for lack of evidence, but because of the mass of it.
By the Pentagon's own figures, 503,926 "incidents of desertion" occurred between 1966 and 1971 and by 1971 entire units were refusing to go into battle. This is dangerous stuff and the US government and puppet media made sure the public never heard about it.
The public demonstrations were hard to ignore, but the soldier’s desertions and outright refusals to serve were news too sensitive to let out. It was largely covered up.
Eventually some 100 underground newspapers published by soldiers and antiwar GI organizations spread the truth as Federal stockades filled with soldiers opposing the war.
A film of enablement, “Sir! No Sir!” shows that persons in the military still have a responsibility to the truth. The creation of a system in which some citizens can only escape poverty through military service has allowed the “volunteer” armed forces to survive.
Maybe a film like this is required to show the down-side of serving the Commander in Chief.