Last night we saw a documentary called "Sir! No Sir!" about the anti-war protest movement among active duty soldiers and military personnel during the Vietnam era. It was a good documentary, very intense, the kind of movie that makes you feel like the world is a cold and dangerous place. The director actually introduced the film at the theater, which was pretty cool. He, like most of the people in it, were overgrown hippies who still wore their leftiness in ironic fedoras, buttons, vests, t-shirts, or facial hair manifestations.
This movie got me thinking a lot. I really admired the soldiers featured in the movie -- they really grappled with the morality of what they were doing and why they were there, and when they reached the unpleasant conclusion that they wrong, they tried to correct their mistakes. I think now we look back on that movement and it's seen as something to apologize for or make fun of -- these dirty, lazy hippies high on pot and carelessly fighting against some kind of vague, suit-wearing Man. But there was a lot of thought and compassion there, and I had never really thought about that before. They even interviewed Jane Fonda and I found myself appreciating what she tried to do.
At the end of the film they talked about the old myth of the Vietnam soldier coming home from the front in San Francisco, and being spit on in the airport by some bedraggled hippie chick. But this never happened, according to one sociologist featured in the film. The soldiers themselves made their opposition well known, through demonstrations, petitions, the underground press, and sometimes acts of civil disobedience or criminality. They even had some touching footage of a USO-type tour through Asia, of which Jane Fonda was a part, bless her heart, where anti-war entertainers would rally the troops, protest the actions of the government, and reassure the soldiers that they were loved and would be welcomed home with compassion. There were ideas and information there that I had never really considered before.
To understand the moral uneasiness these soldiers felt as they did their job and killed their enemies was powerful. It was extremely disheartening to think of the civilian and military leaders who sent them to fight for cynical reasons and with little plan and hope for success. The parallels to our current situation were all too vivid.