Written and directed by David Zeiger; 85 minutes; No MPAA rating [mature content]
In the last 40 years, the senseless and brutal Vietnam War has become enveloped in so much myth. One remembers the large demonstrations in Washington, DC, but not the military resistance, and the stories of veterans coming back from Vietnam only to be spat upon by antiwar protesters still circulate widely. First-time documentary filmmaker David Zeiger sets out to correct these mistaken memories, reminding us with force and great effectiveness that the resistance to the Vietnam War was very powerful within the military itself and that the soldiers’ refusal to fight was ultimately responsible for the end of the war.
Zeiger spends considerable time debunking the myth of the spat-upon veteran. Prof. Jerry Lembcke (now teaching in Worcester and himself a Vietnam veteran) has studied the stories of attacks on returning vets and shows overwhelming evidence that they are fabrications. The civilian antiwar movement opposed the war, not the soldiers who fought it. It is this sort of bold assertion that helps set the film apart from the hundreds of documentaries that have attempted to present a new perspective on the war.
Pairing archival footage from the 1960s and 1970s with recently conducted interviews, David Zeiger chronicles the growth and, finally, the decisive influence of the GI antiwar movement in the opposition to the Vietnam War. He skillfully tells the story of the protest movement within the military, from the early demonstrations to the growth of the G.I. Coffeehouse movement and the explosion of antiwar newspapers (printed secretly outside every military installation and distributed on base.) One point-of-view not often shared in such films is the outrage of African-American soldiers realizing that the racism that affects them daily also fuels the war against the Vietnamese people. We also see how the movement of protest, when it is ignored or suppressed by the government and the leadership of the military, finally resorts to “fragging” — the killing of noncommissioned and commissioned officers. Zeiger may not blend all of these various points together flawlessly, but is certainly quite incisive for including so much. Ultimately, Zeiger’s film serves as a powerful testament to our American inability to adequately learn from the lessons of history. He draws those undeniable parallels that allow us to see that our country is repeating errors committed during the Vietnam War, reminding us how a government, once embarked on a disastrous policy, cannot be moved to change without a great deal of popular resistance. Score: 3.5/5 –Richard Schmitt