Sir No Sir The GI Revolt

Pundits often make parallels between America’s involvement in Iraq and the nightmare that was Vietnam; director-writer-producer David Zeiger’s Sir! No Sir! does it too. But while the comparisons are generally apt (both conflicts are known as “quagmires,” became hugely unpopular with the public, and inflicted serious political damage on the presidents who presided over them), this documentary makes a vital distinction: namely, that some of the most vocal and active opponents of the Vietnam War were the very soldiers who fought in it.

These are haunted men who went to Southeast Asia because it was their duty, perhaps even because they saw it as the right thing to do, only to become sorely disillusioned when they witnessed the horrible injuries, the villages bombed for little or no reason, the civilians tortured and killed, and various other horrors that took place “in country.” Some, like the so-called Nine for Peace, formed GI protest groups while still on active duty in Vietnam; some went AWOL (there were reportedly 500,000 incidents of desertion); a great many, including soldiers who refused to be deployed to ‘Nam at all, were court-martialed and imprisoned in military stockades like San Francisco’s Presidio, while still others returned home, joined movements like Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and published virulent underground newspapers. All of this is delivered via personal anecdotes, photos, and occasional file footage.

The material is undoubtedly compelling, but Sir! No Sir! pretty much makes its point in the first half hour, rendering the final hour somewhat tedious. And that’s not even including the nearly two hours of accompanying bonus material. Most of the latter consists of extended interviews based on what we’ve already seen in the main program; there’s also a look at the Winter Soldier inquiry (the subject of a separate documentary), as well as a joint appearance by “Hanoi Jane” Fonda, Vietnam’s most infamous celebrity protester, and Cindy Sheehan, who became an anti-war activist after her son was killed in Iraq in 2004. –Sam Graham

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