By Eamonn Kelly
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Anti-War Treasure

This article is over 15 years, 2 months old
Review of 'Sir, No Sir', Director: David Zeiger
Issue 311

“By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse. With individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug ridden, dispirited, where they are not mutinous” – Colonel Robert D. Heinl.

The popular image of the anti-Vietnam war movement is one which tends to focus on the counter-culture movements of the time. While these were vital to sustaining the public opposition to the war, they often obscure the opposition that developed among the working class men and women drafted to operate in the US killing fields of Vietnam.

This award winning production highlights the depth of resistance in the military in a way that allows veterans to tell of their gradual disillusionment with the war, and how their eventual rebellion aimed at ending it.

Using a range of interviews, newsreel films, contemporary music and photos, Zeiger charts the developing GI resistance – beginning with individuals like army doctor Howard Levy, imprisoned in 1966 for three years for disobeying orders.

Pentagon figures estimate that by war’s end something in the region of 500,000 troops were Absent Without Leave (AWOL). The Presidio 27 were a group of imprisoned soldier resisters who mounted a sit-down protest at the killing of a fellow prisoner, 19 year old, Michael Bunch, shot “escaping” from a work party. The army responded with the utmost brutality and charged them with mutiny – the penalty for which was death.

A movement steadily developed that began to work in direct opposition to the US military. It was distinguished by both its heroism and audacity. Navy nurse Susan Schnapp helped to build the first demonstration of serving troops: “I heard about the B52 bombers dropping leaflets on Vietnamese telling them to defect, so I thought if they can do it overseas then we can hire a small plane, load it up with leaflets and drop the leaflets on the military bases in the San Francisco area… evidently they landed accurately – that’s what they testified at the court martial.”

Where the film is especially revealing is in its account of the experience of the black soldiers who found themselves putting down the “enemy”, while uniformed soldiers in the US were putting down those protesting at the murder of Martin Luther King. One black soldier recounts how an officer was talking about “gooks”: “… a light went on in my head and I thought, a gook is the same thing as a nigger”.

Equally inspiring are the ways in which the movement organised itself. Underground magazines like Last Harass and Fed Up spread like wildfire. One soldier recalls, “What I liked about them was that the officers hated them.” In an astonishing series of US TV news reports, journalists openly discuss the practice of “fragging” – the soldiers’ killing of their own officers by use of fragmentation grenades.

An important and welcome feature of this documentary is the way in which the marketing and publicity for the film have been designed to meet the needs of anti-war activists today. On the film’s website there are a multitude of resources including personal testimonies and flyers to advertise screenings.

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