If, in 30 years, a documentary is made in which American veterans reflect on their organized activism against the Iraq war, it will no doubt be valuable—but nowhere near as valuable as the one that could be made now. Such is the essential problem with Sir! No Sir!, an earnest chronicling of Vietnam-era dissent from within, flush with the pain of soldiers’ loss of faith but unavoidably nostalgic and detached from its moment. Do we really need any more convincing on this war? (Adding to the sense of redundancy is the fact that such an indictment already exists: 1972’s gripping Winter Soldier, some clips of which appear here.)
Still, it’s hard to come down too harshly on a film that so clearly has its heart in the right place. If anything, Sir! No Sir! may offer tips to future dissenters with its careful detailingof underground pamphleteering on army bases, and archival footage of Dr. Howard Levy, whose refusal to train soldiers at Fort Jackson and subsequent court-martialing caused a national stir. Paradoxically, the documentary is on firmer ground when it strays slightly: Jane Fonda gives a proud, fiercely alive interview on her involvement in Fun Travel Adventure, a touring troupe of antiwar entertainers whose initials came to stand for “Fuck the Army.” Most valuably, the accepted lore of GIs being spat on by hippies—evidenced by a funny tirade from Rambo in First Blood—is thoroughly discredited as myth. Better late than never, I guess.