Battle raged in the 1960s and '70s, not only in Vietnam and on college campuses, but within the ranks of the U.S. military.
The documentary "Sir! No Sir!" salutes the soldier-led antiwar rebellion dubbed the G.I. Movement. Director David Zeiger recaptures the Vietnam era's revolutionary zeitgeist with archive clips, photos and interviews both old and recent. He catches up with deserters and anti-war agitators who speak about the actions of their youth and the spirit of the times as if recalling a former love. All are sure they did the right thing.
Zeiger's film is all the more poignant for the way it dissects an unpopular war waged by a government that lied about its actions. Sounds pretty familiar.
The movie deconstructs the anti-war movement with loving revelry. The movement emerges as a pastiche of organized and impromptu protests, mass desertion and outbursts of anger. The Black Power movement easily fell in with the cause. Soldiers identified the racism of American imperialism with injustices they faced at home.
Zeiger marches us into anti-establishment coffeehouses that sprung up around military bases during the war. The cafés were hotbeds for underground publications, debate and unification. Vets would return from tours and advise other soldiers not to follow orders. Many listened. The Defense Department identified more than half a million acts of desertion from the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s.
Activists co-opted the military recruitment slogan, "FTA," which stood for "Fun, Travel, Adventure," twisting it into a bitter anti-war creed: "(Bleep) the Army."
There was also a dark side to the movement. Some troops saw the U.S. military, not the Vietcong, as their real enemy. Thus spawned the term "fragging" — the act of lobbing fragmentation grenades at superiors, rather than fulfilling combat missions.
Jane Fonda makes perhaps the most appearances of any talking head, gushing joyously over her wartime efforts. She's an engaging and intelligent interview but is overused here because she's not a vet and because her message was as much anti-American as it was anti-war.
Fonda's protest efforts included meeting with North Vietnamese officials and posing with an anti-aircraft gun. The film would have you believe she went to Vietnam only to entertain disenchanted troops by sing-ing and acting in satirical skits.
Zeiger would have had a more thorough film had he spoken to Vietnam vets who weren't part of the G.I. Movement or even resented their efforts. It would have been interesting to learn whether time has healed the divide or if the bitterness soldiers on.