If you're under 35 and not a history major, the Vietnam War may be a marginally relevant blur, as the Korean War was for my generation. But even if you watched TV reports of body bags and air strikes, even if you registered with the Selective Service and waited to see what number would turn up in the draft lottery (as I did), the documentary "Sir! No Sir!" may be news to you.
Good news, if you value free thought in all circumstances -- even among the armed services and about the armed services. Bad news, if you still cherish the belief that most dissidents at the time were civilians who didn't understand the military mind and purpose. But fresh news all the same, unless perhaps you saw active duty during that time.
Writer-director David Zeiger chronicles the resistance, organized and otherwise, among every branch of the service during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Some protesters were drafted civilians: Dermatologist Howard Levy refused to train Green Beret medics, was court-martialed and served three years. Some were decorated veterans: Green Beret Donald Duncan left the military in 1966 after 15 months in Vietnam and wrote a Ramparts magazine article that helped kick off the GI antiwar movement.
Some were nonviolent noncombatants: Navy nurse Susan Schnall learned the government was dropping leaflets on the North Vietnamese urging them to defect, then dropped antiwar leaflets from a plane over military bases around San Francisco.
Zeiger fans flames of controversy by focusing on Jane Fonda, who performed in the traveling show "FTA" -- officially, "Free The Army" -- with Donald Sutherland and was famously photographed aboard an enemy tank in North Vietnam. (Actor Troy Garity, the son Fonda had with activist Tom Hayden, narrates the documentary.) Whatever you think of her politics, she comes across as articulate and convinced after almost 40 years that Vietnam was a terrible mistake.
Zeiger isn't interested in the moral basis of the war. He concentrates on the amazingly widespread opposition to it in the service: underground newspapers, petitions to the government, off-base coffeehouses for dissenters, marches and public declarations.
The director doesn't show the responses from people in power at the time, so we don't know what effect this organized anger and disgust had on public policy. He does try to debunk myths: Veteran Jerry Lembcke, now a sociology professor, investigated the famous story that returning GIs were spat upon by antiwar protesters, but he couldn't find a single documented instance.
P.S. A Marine named George Daniels is seen briefly but not quoted; he was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for discussing the merits of the war with fellow Marines, then released from prison with back pay and an honorable discharge. He's now Charlotte activist Ahmad Daniels.