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Page 21
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Mandatory Viewing for Potential Enlistees

By Dave Kettenhofen (Reviewer)

[Printer-Friendly Version]

Sir! No Sir!
Directed by David Zeiger
(Displaced Films, 2006)

Wow, this film must be subversive! How dare anyone challenge the popular, ongoing efforts to rewrite the history of the Vietnam War? Writer, producer, and director David Zeiger does just that. He has put together a comprehensive, tightly woven look at the GI resistance to the war, and one that doesn't cast the dissenting soldiers as traitors.

Most of those who came to resist the war effort were disillusioned young people who initially felt they were doing the right thing. Donald Duncan, ex-Green Beret, sets the tone early on by stating, "I was really proud of what I thought I was doing. The problem I had was realizing what I was doing was not good. I was doing it right, but I wasn't doing right." What many troops experienced or witnessed forced them to follow their consciences and take stances against the war. There were others who came to this realization even before going to Vietnam. All are portrayed here.

Dave Cline, after relating a very traumatic combat experience, says, "When you just went through an experience of that nature, and you find out that it's all lies, and that it's lying to the American people, and your silence means that you're part of keeping that lie going, I couldn't stop. I mean, I couldn't be silent. You know, I felt that I had a responsibility to my friends and the country in general and to the Vietnamese." Many returning soldiers, like Cline, went on to educate new recruits to the reality of the war. They took part in rap sessions at the coffeehouses located outside military installations and published underground newspapers. Through these and other efforts, the GI resistance rapidly expanded to installations throughout the world.

The film touches all the bases. It covers the prosecution of those who refused to go to Vietnam, the deserters, the jail inmate rebellions, fraggings, mutinies, GI coffeehouses, underground newspapers, Jane Fonda's FTA tours, VVAW's Winter Soldier Investigation and Dewey Canyon III, the black soldiers' solidarity movement, general insubordination, and more. Various landmark events are highlighted as the war resistance grows larger and more powerful through the years. Also shown is the government's reaction and often violent response to the movement. This history has been largely ignored. Commenting on the foggy memory of many historians for events of this period, Jerry Lembcke says, "This is an important piece we're talking about. How memory about the war has been rewritten, has been reconstructed. This is gone. This has been erased. This has been displaced."

Zeiger's award-winning documentary is a collection of film and photos from Vietnam and other locales interspersed with present-day interviews of veterans who were part of the antiwar movement. The editing job is wonderful; the film flows effortlessly and is never boring. Though not stated, this film draws very obvious parallels to the war in Iraq and the growing GI and veteran resistance to it. A powerful counter-recruiting tool, this movie should be mandatory for anyone considering a venture into the military ranks.

Also included on this DVD is a largely animated short, the Ruckus Society's Punk Ass Crusade. It is a counter-recruiting video that compares statistical data from the Vietnam and Iraq wars, urging us to "starve the beast," with great hip-hop accompaniment by the Coup.

Dave Kettenhofen is a Vietnam veteran (1970–71), a VVAW national coordinator, and a member of the Milwaukee chapter of VVAW.

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