Many left-leaning documentaries targeting the Bush administration and the Iraq War have been released and forgotten since the 2004 election. Sir! No Sir! , a documentary about Vietnam soldiers who opposed that war, is spreading in ways that other anti-war documentaries haven’t. Though it was released in a small run of theaters from April to July and concerns events from 30 years ago, peace groups nationwide have made the film their own, granting Sir! No Sir! a life beyond its cinematic release.
Sir! No Sir! was shown at Central Connecticut State University in September, and groups like the North East Connecticut Coalition for Peace and Justice, the Green Party and United for Social Justice plan screenings around the state in the coming months. Prompted by the recent screening, campus group the Progressive Student Alliance is holding a referendum on whether students want a full withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the sponsors of the recent screening said the referendum illustrates how the movie is an effective tool for the anti-war movement.
“It’s one of the few films that shows how it’s possible for a mass movement to end the war,” Daniel Piper of Youth for Socialist action, who co-sponsored the CCSU screening, said.
Piper said that where other anti-war documentaries are about the mistakes people in positions of power made conducting war, Sir! No Sir! shows how citizens helped end one.
“It shows soldiers ending the war, which is one of two ways we think it’s possible to end a war. Either through the soldiers refusing to fight it or through the workers refusing to build or transport the technology necessary to wage the war,” Piper said.
The underground distribution system is partially by design, according to the filmmakers. “Part of the idea was that once it was out of theaters, it would continue to be screened, particularly on campuses,” Sir! No Sir! director David Zeiger said. “All the group who saw it in the theaters and participated in the theatrical run have been taking the film as their own and showing it.”
While left-wing and anti-war groups have embraced Sir! No Sir! , the film has received some negative feedback, but it was from people who they wanted to hate the movie. “We’ve been attacked by all the right people. The New York Post , for instance,” Zeiger said.
The criticism was expected, as the movie explodes a cherished right wing myth: that soldiers were mistreated by anti-war demonstrators when they returned from Vietnam.
Zeiger said false stories about soldiers being spat upon were created and spread during the Reagan/Rambo ’80s; when returning soldiers were surveyed in the ’70s, they said their homecoming was fine. The belief in mistreated vets, Zeiger said, is persistent and is a hurdle for the modern anti-war movement.
“It’s a classic urban myth, and it has a specific and strong political message. And that message is how dare you accuse the U.S. military of committing crimes; you are spitting on the soldiers, just like they did in Vietnam,” Zeiger said.