Remember Tricky Dick? Then David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! will look like your high-school scrapbook. For others, the documentary is a fragmented history lesson in which the evil duo of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger rise again. In a riff on Macbeth, Harold Bloom, the noted intellectual, dubbed the contemporary pair "Dubya the Great" and "Sir Rummy Baron Bechtoll." While parallels between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq are apparent, Zeiger's purpose is mostly to draw comparisons between the state of military morale then and now. The writer-director, who's made over a dozen PBS documentaries, slips in a few eye-opening facts, but mostly Sir! No Sir! is an aimless pastiche of archival footage and current interviews of former Vietnam vets court-martialed and jailed for their anti-war activities.
Documenting the hundreds of underground newsletters that circulated among troops during the war, and reiterating the stories of such Vietnam-era anomalies as "Nine for Peace"-nine soldiers who refused to go to Vietnam-Zeiger vindicates the actions of Vietnam veterans brave enough to resist. There is Donald Duncan, the decorated Green Beret featured on a cover of Ramparts magazine, then the voice of the radical Left, whose confessions exposed the preponderance of military opposition to the war. Other well-known personalities such as Louis Font, dubbed the first West Pointer to refuse to fight in a war, and virtually unknown players like dermatologist Howard Levy, who ceased his training of doctors when he learned of the Army's deceptive "hearts and minds" campaign, eloquently express their burgeoning consciousness and eventual, outright opposition to the Vietnam War.
Unfortunately, with no organizing principle beyond the vindication of war-resisting veterans, Sir! No Sir! ends up being little more than a compilation of clips, and not the stirring homage Zeiger obviously intended. Interviews revealing brief, blinding battlefield insights are mixed with comments critical of the command structure, and even one self-aggrandizing segment about the filmmaker's Vietnam-era activities in Killeen, Texas. Zeiger's dramatic opening aerial tracking shot of a Vietnam bombing raid is overlaid with a recording of a broadcast from "free radio," a station not sanctioned by the military-which is never mentioned again, even though the existence of such broadcasts is not common knowledge and would have been in keeping with the theme of the documentary. Also not elaborated upon is the significance of the bombing itself: It's along a riverbank, more likely the site of civilian habitation than military installations.
Jane Fonda adds star power (her son Troy Garity narrates) and, in the documentary's spirit of vindication, gets to explain her Vietnam-era "Hanoi Jane" moniker. In her charming, lame-brained style, Fonda explains that her participation in the "FTA shows," the antithesis of Bob Hope's entertainment for the troops, was rather good for her career. (The campy striptease she performed in Barbarella made Fonda Vietnam's pin-up girl.) To her credit, though, Fonda articulates the connections between Tricky Dick and Dubya, for those Gen X and Net Generation babies busy dodging bullets in Iraq.