SIR! NO SIR! (David Zeiger)
SIR! NO SIR! unearths the GI movement of the Vietnam War, perhaps the most creative and global activist movement of 1960’s America. This documentary tells the story of the thousands of veterans and active duty military personnel that protested the very war in which they fought and haunts us with the question of how their voices dissipated from our country’s collective memory.
The format and narration of the film are reminiscent of the famous civil right’s series Eyes on the Prize, jumping between black and white pictures of young soldiers to color images of more experienced faces and from magnified news headlines of the day to interviews to war footage. The affect of returning to the moment creates a feeling of urgency in the chest as we continually become immersed in the struggle ourselves and long for the energetic social charge of that era.
The story, told with utter poignancy by the veteran “anti-war GIs,” has been grossly silenced. “We truly believed what would stop that war was when the soldiers stopped fighting” (Ron McMahan, U.S. Navy). GIs demonstrated on the streets of the United States, rallied on military bases, and refused orders on battlefields. They developed hundreds of underground newspapers protesting the war and a pirate radio station broadcast from Saigon. In San Francisco military activists employed the very tactics of the U.S. government in Vietnam, leafleting, and hired a private plane to drop information over bases about demonstrations. At the end of the war veterans congregated in Washington to throw their medals on the steps of the Capitol Building.
How does such a vibrant element within the bitter history of the Vietnam War become a non-existent part of the past?
Government forces sought to squelch the movement from its inception. Activist GIs were imprisoned for organizing meetings, thousands had to retreat to exile, and many were killed. The legacy of the anti-war GIs became replaced with the image of the “spat upon vet” and suddenly activists were replaced with victims. The film carefully dissects this transformation of our past.
SIR! NO SIR! liberates 30 years of gagged voices in a disturbing example of how history is written, or rewritten.