It probably doesn’t have to be said that there’s a definite contemporary relevance to a film like ‘Sir! No Sir!’ that may not have existed five years ago. The story of G.I. veterans and enlisted soldiers speaking out against the war in Vietnam holds many parallels to the current situation in Iraq. The only difference between then and now is the fact that soldiers in Vietnam were drafted. I can only imagine the outcry the current United States Government would be facing if this war was being fought by people who didn’t volunteer.
Through the use of stills and some pretty good generic 60’s pop music, director David Zeiger brings an energetic style to ‘Sir! No Sir!’ that’s reminiscent of the turbulent era in question. A combination of stock footage and new interviews gives us an inside look at the G.I. movement to end the war in Vietnam. What started with a few soldiers taking a stand progressively grew into a large segment of the Armed Forces questioning their role, and their countries role, in Vietnam. Keith Mather was one of the founding members of the ‘Nine for Peace’; a group made up of soldiers whose refusal to follow orders forced them to seek refuge in a San Francisco church. Mather was later arrested and held at the Presidio stockade where he helped organize a sit down protest after a mentally Ill prison was shot and killed by some trigger happy guards. The group was later known as the Presidio 27, and Mather ended up seeking refuge in Canada after the group was sentenced to death for inciting a mutiny.
A small chunk of the film specifically deals with the African American involvement in Vietnam. One soldier talks about the realization that he had no good reason to be fighting a war half way around the world when his own people were being oppressed in his own country. This epiphany came after the realization that the slang term Gook ‘is the same thing as a Nigger.’ The film also touches upon the 1968 My Lai massacre, in which soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed women and children. An attempted cover-up of the event eventually fell apart as soldiers and independent journalists broke the story to the public, creating an even stronger opposition to the war. This, followed by the Chicago police force and their violent response to anti-war protestors at the Democratic Convention in 1968, are considered to be two of the major events that weakened the public approval of the United State’s involvement in ‘Nam.
An anti-war film can’t be complete without an appearance by Jane Fonda. It’s funny to look back at a young, attractive Fonda as she attended rallies and performed in anti-war variety shows for the troops. You can’t help but wonder how a seemingly shallow (in comparison) series of workout videos eventually came to play a major role in her life. Needless to say, whatever you think of Jane Fonda’s film work now, you have to admit she was a pretty radical woman in her early years. “Here was a way that I could combine my profession, my acting, with my desire to end the war. It just seemed like the perfect fit.” Zeiger also debunks a story that has been circulating since the late sixties. Jerry Lembcke, Vietnam vet and author of the book ‘The Spitting Image’, talks about the tale of a female protestor who supposedly spit on a returning Vietnam solder at the San Francisco airport, calling him a ‘baby killer’. According to Lembcke, he has failed to find any evidence that supports this urban legend.
‘Sir! No Sir!’ is a fresh and relevant look at the uproar surrounding the Vietnam War, focusing on a side of the story that many probably aren’t that familiar with. An anti-war movement that was formed by the G.I.’s themselves, serving as the backbone of a wave of protests that supported the troops without supporting the war.