Mary Beth and I went to Waterville, Maine today to see the new film Sir! No Sir! which was being shown at the annual film festival there. It is a documentary telling the largely unknown story about the GI resistance movement against the Vietnam war from the mid-to-late 60's through the early 70's. Using interviews, archival footage, and news clips the film does a great job of showing just how big and powerful the movement of GI opposition to the war was.
One story was about the 1,000 person detention camp in Vietnam where largely black GI resisters were imprisoned due to their opposition to the war. The troops, severely mistreated in the jail, went on a rampage and burned the place down.
Sailors assigned to the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in San Diego, soon to be shipped out to Vietnam, started a campaign to have their fellow sailors and citizens in the community at large publicly vote (outside shopping malls, movie theaters, bars, etc) on whether the Kitty Hawk should go back to the war or not. The vote was overwhelming NO and forced the Naval commander and politicians to hold news conferences saying the Kitty Hawk would sail back to the war. The debate the GI’s created was inspiring.
Untold stories like this run throughout the film and reveal just how powerful the GI resistance movement was. At my own base in California, Travis AFB, which was the key airlift base for the Vietnam war it was there that I was exposed to the GI resistance movement which helped turn me from a Young Republican for Nixon in 1968 to an anti-war activist by mid-1971. Regular protests outside the gates of Travis created a powerful dynamic inside the base that forced the 15,000 permanently stationed troops on our base to constantly debate the merits of the war. This is why today I am such a believer in protests at military bases and weapons production installations.
Another event the film features are the “Fuck the Army” tours that went to bases around the country and overseas featuring popular entertainers like Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Country Joe and the Fish. Fonda is interviewed in Sir! NO Sir! and has pledged to help promote it as a tool to build opposition to the war in Iraq.
In a recent interview about the film, filmmaker David Zeiger said, “As you see in the film, there were CBS Nightly News stories about the GI Movement. There is a segment in the film of Walter Cronkite talking about the GI underground press. In the state of Texas, where there was a very large anti-war movement in Austin and Houston, and the center of the Texas movement for a time was at Fort Hood. The armed forces demonstrations were major events for the whole state. I think people knew generally that there was opposition in the military, but they didn’t know the details or how widespread it was. But it was certainly more prominent than people remember it. It has been thoroughly wiped out of any histories of the war.”
Do yourself a favor. Make arrangements to show this new documentary film in your community. Try to help spread the word around any military installations so that GI’s, now on their way to Iraq, get to see it as well.