Documentary reveals resistance to Vietnam War among vets, military
Tom Keogh, The Seattle Times (found via Lexis Nexis)
I remember, back in college, hearing about a traveling group of anti-Vietnam War entertainers who called themselves "Free the Army." Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland were the headliners, and while F.T.A. presented songs and jokes and rhetoric about stopping "Nixon's war," the most dramatic moment, apparently, was Sutherland's reading of the final few pages of Dalton Trumbo's powerful anti-war novel "Johnny Got His Gun."
What was unique about the show, however, was its targeted audience: not civilian activists against the war but anti-war military personnel and Vietnam veterans. Today, for a variety of reasons explored in the documentary "Sir! No Sir!," their story is far less known than that of student demonstrators and others outside military service who protested America's Vietnam policy.
While disabled veteran Ron Kovic's experiences as an activist (recounted in his memoir "Born on the Fourth of July," dramatized on film by Oliver Stone) and John Kerry's post-Navy, anti-war efforts shed some light on discontent among servicemen over Vietnam, the full picture of their rebellion is rather staggering.
Filmmaker David Zeiger, who helped organize anti-war demonstrations by soldiers in the 1970s, fleshes out the Pentagon's own extraordinary data with numerous interviews and archival footage. Between 1966 and 1971, the film shows us, there were more than a half-million incidents of desertion by soldiers. Large numbers of entire units refused to go into battle, and officers were "fragged" (killed with grenades by their own troops) at an alarming rate. Hundreds of underground newspapers were published by soldiers.
Thousands of drafted and enlisted men demonstrated in the streets and on bases. Many of these men were routinely beaten and ended up in stockades and federal prisons.
There were varied reasons soldiers soured on the war, we learn from Zeiger's talking heads. Some African Americans, for example, could find no motivation to kill the Vietnamese on behalf of what they considered a racist America. Other men who said they witnessed unreported atrocities, or who believed there was too much emphasis on injuring unarmed civilians, spoke out publicly.
Among the interviewees is veteran Randy Rowland, now a Seattle nurse.
"Sir! No Sir!" suffers a bit from a barrage of information that is difficult to fully assimilate or to put into context. (A psychedelic guitar constantly playing in the background is a major annoyance.) But the big picture is congruent and often stunning in its portrayal of real men taking great personal risks to act on conscience.