May 12, 2006 -- “Sir! No Sir!” is a remarkable documentary which argues the war in Vietnam ground to a halt because many U.S. soldiers simply stopped fighting. Like Winter Soldier, this film puts a spotlight on the vast difference in the way the war was viewed by those for and against it. These two viewpoints played out famously during the 2004 presidential campaign when a group called the Swift Boat Veterans of Vietnam, a very pro-war group, attacked the service record of Democratic candidate John Kerry, who famously opposed the war after serving in Vietnam. Pro-war veterans believe that the anti-war movement, of which Kerry was a member, sabotaged the war effort and led to the loss of the war. This made the deaths of American veterans a sacrifice in vain. Anti-war veterans believe the rationale for going to war was wrong and that the American deaths were in vain regardless of the war's outcome. By ending the war early, anti-war activists believe, they saved lives.
It is apparent from the viciousness of the debate in 2004 that the two sides of this debate will never agree. History has made its judgement on the wisdom of the Vietnam War. History has yet to decide on the wisdom of the Iraq war, but already it is obvious it has a lot of similarities to Vietnam. This film jumps right into this debate, fully on the side of the anti-war movement. While other documentaries have explored various aspects of the anti-war movement. This is the first one that concentrates mainly on the anti-war movement within the military itself. The film makes the argument that a significant portion of both ground troops and servicemen in the U.S. Navy opposed the war to such an extent that they brought the war effort to a standstill. The anti-warriors even affected the gathering of military intelligence, according to the film. Men refused to fight, they went AWOL, they went to prison, they assassinated their leaders. It was a war within a war.
Attacks upon officers, known as “fragging” were well known by the public, but the film indicates these types of incidents were far more widespread than was acknowledged by the military at the time. The movie also details an extensive anti-war underground press within the military. Although such publications were outlawed by the military, they thrived anyway. Certain establishments near military bases where soldiers and anti-war activists mingled are also detailed in the movie. Despite the fact that the establishments were made off-limits to soldiers, they were said to be popular nonetheless.
One of the more controversial figures of the war, Jane Fonda, is interviewed at some length in the film. Fonda, an anti-war activist and movie star, is a person whose image has been defined almost entirely by the pro-Vietnam War faction. Called “Hanoi Jane” and branded a traitor by pro-war veterans, the image of Fonda in this film is quite different. Period footage shows Fonda putting on USO-type stage shows for U.S. troops. She was not allowed to perform on military bases, of course, because of her anti-war skits, but she did perform for large numbers of U.S. troops away from military bases. She performed in these shows all over the world. This was a side of Fonda's anti-war activities I had not heard of before. These shows were similar in style to the kinds of shows that the non-controversial Bob Hope did during the war.
In addition to attacking the myth of Hanoi Jane, the movie also attacks another myth, that of the anti-war protester spitting on a Vietnam veteran returning home from the war. According to this film, the whole story was an urban myth. It never happened. Just how widespread was the anti-war movement within the military during Vietnam? How decisive was it in ending the war? We may never know the answers to these questions, but this movie sheds new light on this unusual phenomenon. It is sure to reheat the 40-year-old controversy between the two intractable sides of the Vietnam War. This film rates a B.
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