“America was mired in a war it couldn’t win.”
The documentary Sir! No Sir!–The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War in Vietnam examines the Vietnam anti-war movement from the perspective of the GIs, and the main point the film makes is that GI resistance was much more widespread than people realize. According to filmmaker David Zeiger, history has been subtly rewritten to imply that the anti-war movement was primarily composed of civilian protestors with only a handful of GIs resisting military authority–whereas in fact, the film argues that GI resistance led to a shift in decisions on how the war should be fought, and to the collapse of the military structure.
The film begins by interviewing various GI resistors who present their histories and their reasons for why they chose to resist. Some of those interviewed were the very first official resistors–although the film makes the point that there were 503,926 “incidents of desertion” during the course of the war. Those interviewed recall memories that still evoke tremendous emotional responses. There’s Dr. Levy–who couldn’t morally align his role as a dermatologist with the larger role of the US military: “so while they were curing a few cases of impetigo, they were bombing the hell out of their villages.”
The film traces the growing unrest in the military–from the very first GI protestors, the Presidio 27, the Lo Binh Rebellion, and the vast proliferation of underground subversive GI newspapers that spread like wildfire. The resistance of a handful became the resistance of many. Resistance became infectious and soon it was too widespread to be simply stamped out and squashed. One intelligence unit refused to pass on information, and one Army unit refused to go out on patrol. While a GI asks: “what are we fighting for?” another sarcastically answers: “we’re fighting for democracy here.” And of course, by then no one believed that well-worn mantra. Of particular interest is the film’s analysis of the Black Power Movement and its influence on the Black GIs. Many Black GIs express their feelings both through Vietnam era footage and through present-day recollection, and they identified with the repression and destruction of the Vietnamese people in a war they saw as largely racist.
There’s footage of riots, anti-war demonstrations, and in 1971, in the wake of the My Lai massacre of 1969, the Winter Soldier Investigation was held in Detroit–hosted by Vietnam Veterans Against the War to publicize atrocities being committed in Vietnam. Fascinating, inspiring, moving, this timely film, Sir! No Sir! proves that the only way wars will not be fought is if people refuse to fight them. Veterans interviewed express no regrets for the stance they took, and one man acknowledges that “your silence means you’re being part of the lie.”