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Sir! No Sir!

A Tale of Dissent Lost

An image often associated with Vietnam anti-war protests is the recently returned Vietnam veteran being doused with the spit of an agitated peacemonger. This image has been presented in countless films, television shows, and magazines. But, where did this image come from? Is this an accurate representation of what a typical Vietnam anti-war protest looked like?

Documentarian David Zeiger presents a different point of view in his revealing documentary Sir! No Sir! Zeiger sheds light on a sizable and passionate anti-war movement present within the military for much of the war. Zeiger argues that many of the peacemongers had been in the military themselves and the image of the agitated peacemonger spitting on Vietnam veterans is largely revisionist history.

Zeiger's own personal involvement with the GI anti-war movement put him in the unique position to gain access to archival photographs, underground newspapers, local news coverage, and 8MM film footage. As a result, what Zeiger presents is a fairly comprehensive and compelling argument.

Zeiger further strengthens his argument by pointing his lens at a myriad of Vietnam veterans, many of whom entered the war with overwhelming feelings of patriotism and pride at serving their country. In short order, many of these men became disenchanted with the inhumane and irrational acts they were ordered to perform. Exactly what they were fighting for was a question many of these soldiers simply couldn't answer.

The seeds of dissent were nurtured via the creation of underground newspapers and were taken to the next level with active protests and even active refusals to fight in the field. But, how big was this movement? Well, according to the Pentagon's own records, there were 503,926 incidents of desertion that occurred between 1966 and 1971. Certainly sounds non-trivial.

Equally non-trivial were the consequences to those who expressed dissent or protested the war within the military. Many were jailed. Zeiger recounts numerous episodes in which anti-war protestors within the military were jailed, beaten, or otherwise punished for taking an anti-war stance.

One such episode occurred in San Francisco in the Presidio stockade. Originally built to accommodate 56 prisoners, the facility was bursting at the seams with 115 prisoners. Conditions were grim and guards tormented many of the "unpatriotic" prisoners. Chaos erupted when a mentally ill prisoner was shot in the back by one of the guards. 27 prisoners were charged with mutiny when they refused to work in the wake of this tragedy.

David Zeiger has crafted an intriguing and powerful examination of the largely forgotten anti-war movement within the military during the Vietnam War. Sir! No Sir! is of particular interest given that the U.S. is currently in the midst of a war that is becoming increasingly unpopular. Comparisons between the war in Iraq and Vietnam have been drawn by none other than Walter Kronkite whose coverage of the Vietnam War was enlightening for many. Regardless of where you stand politically, it's hard not to admire the efforts of the few, good men (and women) in Sir! No Sir who put their careers and lives on the line for their beliefs. Few acts are more patriotic than this.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars