U.S. deserters from the Iraq War in Canada - Where may this lead? Sir, No Sir!, David Zeiger's new award-winning documentary about military dissent during the Vietnam War, illuminates the historical impact of
soldiers who refuse to fight.
Disillusionment over the war in Iraq has led to low morale and increasing frustration within the U.S. armed forces. Recruitment and retention levels have dropped dramatically, units in Iraq have refused to carry out their missions, and countless newly discharged soldiers are adding their voices to the movement calling for an end to what they call an illegal and immoral war. Closer to home, the growing number of American soldiers seeking sanctuary here in Canada under our "Peace, Order and Good Government" manifest yet another expression of such military dissent.
With the Canadian premiere of Sir, No Sir!, a new award-winning documentary about military resistance thirty years ago, the Vancouver War Resister Support Campaign highlights how we have seen before where such military resistance may lead: Supporting soldiers who refuse to fight unjust wars is one of the best ways to work for peace.
During the Vietnam War, antiwar sentiments within the American armed forces led to outright rebellion within the ranks and the creation of a vast network of underground GI newspapers and antiwar off-base coffeehouses, as well as the flight of thousands of young Americans across their northern border. While these later asylum seekers contributed greatly to Canadian society, the ramifications of such dissent were devastating to the American military and its ability to wage war. As one officer of the U.S. Marines then noted, "The morale, discipline and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States. our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers . and dispirited where not near mutinous." (Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., Armed Forces Journal, 7 June 1971)
Sir, No Sir! is the first documentary film to recapture this suppressed and forgotten history. Narrated by Troy Garity (Jane Fonda's son), it recounts how the Vietnam era GI Movement started small (with "apolitical" individual acts, such as those of the soldiers now seeking sanctuary in Canada from the Iraq War) and then exploded into a force that altered history. Featuring a rich collection of television news broadcasts and other archival images, as well as newly shot interviews with former GI activists, Sir, No Sir! reveals how the United States had to end the war in Vietnam as its military forces increasing refused to fight.
At its recent world premiere at the LA Film Festival, Sir, No Sir! received the first standing ovation since the premiere of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and went on to win the Audience Award for Best Documentary. It has since won the Jury Award for Best Documentary at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Jury Award for Best Film on War and Peace at the Vermont International Film Festival. Additionally, it has been
nominated for a Gotham Award by the Independent Film Project and an award for innovative use of archival footage by the International Documentary Association.
Zeiger, who worked with the GI Movement during the Vietnam War as a civilian supporter of the antiwar coffeehouse outside Fort Hood, explained to Mother Jones Magazine, "A big strength of the film, and what I think is going to bring it into the mainstream, is that this is historical metaphor. We don't have to say a word about Iraq in the film for it to be clearly identified with Iraq. The film can't be shoved into the category of a
propaganda film." The LA Times concurred, "Anyone waging war with American troops might want to listen carefully to the largely untold story of David Zeiger's new documentary, Sir, No Sir!, of how some of the most dedicated troops became some of the most damaging supporters of the movement to end the war in Vietnam."
This important and timely film will have its Canadian premiere here in Vancouver, thanks to the War Resister Support Campaign, which coordinates practical and political support for today's U.S. military war-resisters seeking refuge in Canada. The Sir, No Sir! screenings on 2 & 4 December should be of interest to all Vancouverites, in particular those in the local filmmaking community, those interested in the legacy of the Vietnam War, and those concerned about how the international actions of the United States may affect Canada, especially in terms of the current wave of military resisters applying for asylum. After each screening, members of the War Resister Support Campaign, as well as former military war resisters who have settled in Canada, will explain how the events depicted in the documentary relate to the situation today.