In "First Blood," Sylvester Stallone's Rambo seethed about "all those maggots" who lined up at the airport to spit on him upon returning from the war he wasn't allowed to win. The public bought it.
Without disrespecting the real-world Vietnam vets who couldn't get the time of day from their country after coming home, the absorbing new documentary "Sir! No Sir!" honors those who fought, then questioned the morality of that fight, then joined the national protest. David Zeiger's film is straightforward in terms of technique. News footage from the 1960s and early 1970s connects the talking-heads interviews with the primary subjects, and the whole project has an unassuming, coffeehouse air to it. It's appropriate: The director spent part of the Vietnam War era in and around an off-base coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas, near Ft. Hood.
There and at many other such places, vets gathered, organized underground newsletter projects, dreamed up revolts small and large. Not all ex-military figures interviewed in "Sir! No Sir!" fought in the first place. Louis Font, considered the first-ever West Point graduate to refuse to fight, says on camera that he could not support "a war of aggression." Neither Font nor Zeiger draw obvious parallels to the morality of the nation's current war of aggression. No need.
Pentagon estimates cite more than 500,000 cases of desertion during the Vietnam War. "Sir! No Sir!" reminds us that while that number was high, hundreds, even thousands of combat vets going public with their disgust and outrage was no less staggering. Late in the film, a surprising assertion comes from sociologist Jerry Lembcke, a vet who wrote a book ("The Spitting Image") in which he claims to have found no recorded instances of hippies (or whomever) spitting on returning vets--the Rambo business. While "none" sounds as dubious as "countless," this much is clear: Those who control the image flow and shape the myths control the war itself. At least for a while.