08/23/2007 06:47 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Soldier We Love You: Early Friday Film Review, Sir! No Sir!

In light of Bush's recent Viet Nam history revisionism (actually the hoary old "betrayal thesis"), and of the recent NYT op-ed written by active duty members of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, this film review by my good friend DeAnander could not be more timely. -SG

Posted by Stan; written by DeAnander


What do you think of when you hear the words "Vietnam AntiWar Movement" or "AntiWar Movement of the Sixties"?

The odds are that you think of a peaceful, colourful, noisy demonstration of hippies and college kids confronting the uniformed forces of State power -- peace signs and tie-dye, protesters placing flowers into the barrels of police guns; of students being tear gassed and shot at Kent State; of folk music, Woodstock, the ubiquitous peace-sign symbol on jewelry and posters; of pretty long-haired girls and boys playing guitars and calling US soldiers "baby killers"; of Jane Fonda, still vilified on bumperstickers throughout the Red States, making her famous trip to North Viet Nam; and perhaps the durable image of a "hippie chick" spitting on a returning veteran at an airport, and bitter Viet Nam vets loathing "those goddamn hippies" and "commie-huggers".

In other words, you'll most likely think of a movement of young people in civilian society -- students and draft resisters -- mostly on college campuses, mostly white middle/upper class kids, in direct and hostile opposition to the armed forces as well as the government.

What you most likely won't think of -- unless you remember it personally -- is the veterans' and soldiers' anti-war movement. You won't think of the song "Soldier We Love You," and you won't remember that the FTA Show in which Jane Fonda starred draw cheering crowds of US soldiers throughout its tour of Pacific Asia. You won't remember soldiers in Viet Nam wearing peace signs in place of their dog tags, or going to jail for refusing combat duty. You probably won't remember radical Black soldiers making a direct connection between US policy in Viet Nam and US policy in the inner cities. Memory of the pivotal social moment of the Sixties has been selectively edited (especially through the sugar-coated amnesia pills cranked out by the Hollywood vending machine). The soldiers' and veterans' antiwar movement has been erased from the public's memory.

This is why David Zeiger decided he had to make a documentary about the antiwar movement that we've been taught to forget: the antiwar movement that organized itself in barracks, on aircraft carriers, in country, at listening posts, in the line for mess hall. His film is called Sir! No Sir! and in this viewer's opinion it's one of the best documentaries of recent years.

One of the strengths of Zeiger's film is that it doesn't start by systematically deconstructing a catalogue of lies about the Viet Nam War resistance movement (though there are so many, and such ripe targets for debunking). This is not a defensive or reactive documentary. Instead, it starts by telling the story from the beginning, in eyewitness testimony drawn from hours of interviews with a core group of war resisters from inside the US military. Debunking urban legends like the "spitting hippie chick" is saved for the second half, and is an easier task after we've had a guided tour of the situation and heard the stories for ourselves. The object of the first half is to take us back in time, to make the Viet Nam War era real to us, to help us place ourselves in the shoes of the young people who were caught up in the draft and the resistance -- to meet them as they were then, and as they are now, looking back. The montage of interview voice-overs, still photos, and video clips works exceptionally well to take us back in time.

The film opens with an audio excerpt from Radio First-Termer, one of the underground GI radio stations that operated in Viet Nam; against its selfconsciously rebellious voiceover we see footage from a US aerial attack force, napalm explosions and clouds of smoke in the wake of the planes, devastation sown across the beautiful countryside. Cue up "Soldier Boy," a girl-group classic from the full review