Whether politicians have learned anything from the so-called lessons of Vietnam is debatable. The men and women now serving in Iraq may be best suited to answer the question.
A generation ago, many soldiers challenged what their government ordered them to do halfway across the world, and their words and actions resonate to this day. "Sir! No Sir!" -- a powerful and eye-opening film that documents their experiences -- makes no mention of today's unpopular foreign invasion, but it doesn't have to to get its message across.
Decades have passed, yet the recollections of soldiers who refused to fight in Vietnam are vividly captured in the documentary. Louis Font, who graduated from West Point with honors, recalls how his parents cried when he decided not to fight in the war -- he became the academy's first graduate to do so in any war. "But I told them, 'You always taught me to do what is just, to do what is right,' " he says. "And I really felt that I was doing the right thing."
Countless soldiers weren't even aware of a GI resistance movement when they decided to disobey orders, showing just how universal their sentiments were. The Pentagon estimated 500,000 "incidents of desertion."
The film's director, David Zeiger, helped organize anti-war demonstrations during the war, and he makes impressive use of archival footage to document the scope of the GI movement. In addition to the resistance of African Americans, viewers learn about the key roles played by underground presses and coffeehouses. Also prominently featured is the Presidio 27, a group of San Francisco prisoners who made headlines when they were brought up on mutiny charges. A dozen or so veterans are interviewed in the film, and Jane Fonda defends her still-controversial involvement in the anti-war movement.
"Sir! No Sir!" is far from a dry rehashing of what may seem for some like ancient history. Driving guitar rock and lively editing add to the film's urgency. The voices of the veterans alone, however, make this an important and poignant film that can speak to any generation.
*Advisory: This film contains adult language and images of war.