The war in Vietnam is perhaps the least popular involvement overseas the United States has ever had. It’s also the most widely publicized in terms of societal grief, some three-decades later. The pictures of innocents dying so brutally never quite escapes you, even if you’ve only glanced them in a history class, much less as an actual soldier on the frontlines.
While there are plenty of films, and literature, that profile domestic civilian resistance to the war in Vietnam, there is little material that exhibits the actual military fighting to leave that campaign. Several fiction films depict how deeply disturbed returning veterans were, and place the blame on the nature of combat itself alone. Some go so far as to suggest that the homes they came back to slandered them for their work, suggesting that all Americans unpatriotically offended those that fought for democracy, pointing responsibility for veteran discontent at loved ones instead of the actions that led to them becoming veterans.
What David Zeiger’s film, Sir! No Sir! seeks to rectify is an abyss of information as to how involved and widespread military insurrection was, and its impact on the conclusion of fighting in that country. Through eloquent interviews from a variety of angles comes the true story of a G.I. movement that built itself up from a few to literally thousands, as more became convinced that they were killing for the wrong reasons. From marches to underground papers, to outright refusal that resulted in lengthy prison terms, Sir! combines impressive archival footage with individual narratives to capture a struggle practically forgotten today, eerily relevant though it still may be.
The material and subjects are important and engaging, though Sir! unfortunately falls into the repetitive pasting together of narration, and the historical footage that backs it up, as any film made about a previous era is forced to do. This type of editing will probably help with a television broadcast containing commercials for easy breaks, but it also engenders possibly losing attention because you feel you got the point well before he’s moved on to the next idea. It can be quite difficult to maintain a creative, dynamic structure when everything you are outlining has passed some time ago. Zeiger makes up for some of this lag in a well-written narration that strings along his various discoveries with intelligence.
Though there has certainly been plenty of civilian commentary to mentally link our current war tactics in Iraq to that we promoted in Vietnam a generation ago, watching Sir! does make one wonder if we’re possibly not hearing an entirely honest story from the troops and government officials placed in front of the cameras with prepared statements to discuss our progress. It’s a film well worth seeing for the new view it provides on militaristic organization and its concentration on single, personal efforts making enormous contributions.