Sunday, August 13, 2006

DVD Must See: Sir! No! Sir!

Hey, what would it have been like if the ones resisting during Vietnam had included soldiers? That would be pretty wild, right?

Hey, know what? They did. That happened and a lot more. What may be most shocking is that this history and reality that has vanished (replaced with revisionist fiction). As Jerry Lembcke points out, "This was stuff that was in living rooms all over America so people knew this. And this is an important piece we're talking about: how memory about the war has been rewritten, has been reconstructed. This is gone. This has been erased. This has been displaced."

G.I.'s resisted, G.I.'s protested. In many ways that you may not have heard about. That's just one reason to see Sir! No! Sir! now out on DVD. The documentary, directed by David Zieger, does with film what Howard Zinn does with text -- unearths the history they don't rush to teach, the knowledge they let fall through the cracks.

Memory Lane Tripping is a good reason to see the film but it's equally true that the stories shared in the film matter today. Friday, the news broke that Ricky Clousing, AWOL for over year, held a news conference and turned himself in. This Thursday, August 17th, Ehren Watada (the first known commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq) faces his Article 32 hearing (Courage to Resist and are organizing and trying to get the word out for "a National Day of Education" on August 16th). Suzanne Swift was arrested at her mother's home this summer, Kevin Benderman appeals the verdict in his case, Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey will shortly learn the verdict on whether they'll be allowed to remain in Canada.

In Sir! No! Sir!, you'll hear echoes of some of today's stories. You'll hear Susan Schnall explain how the idea to leaflet a military base from a plane came about and you'll hear how she came to the decision to wear her uniform to a protest and her court martial that followed. The film examines the coffeehouse movement and it's importance in raising awareness and ending the war. Specifically, the film zooms in on The Oleo Strut, a coffee house in Killeen, TX with historical footage and pulls back to examine others -- their purpose and the attacks on them (from vigilantes and from law enforcement).

Walter Cronkite is seen in black & white footage explaining the G.I. press to America,
"A new phenomon has cropped up at several army bases these days. The so-called underground G.I. press which consists largely of anti-war newspapers. Military authorities are clamping down hard on the papers." Do-it-yourself media? The only thing new about today is the use of the web. (Online examples today include Citizen Soldier, the Central Committe for Conscientious Objectors' The Objector and the War Reisters League's WIN.)

The issues of racism are tackled and the connections made by African-Americans to the racism that was aimed at the Vietnamese. ("Gook" then is "Hadji" today and Matthew Rothschild discussed the modern derogatory term on last week's The Progressive Radio Show.) African-American resistance isn't pushed aside or just touched upon -- it's seriously addressed. (Something worth noting at a time when so many documentaries reduce the voices to White when their supposed focus is "all.")

The film offers a strong record of the past, it also offers strong applications for today. Speaking of Mai Lai, Joe Bangert notes that William Calley "was doing what we were all told which is kill them all and sort it out later."

Kill them all? Sound familiar? Raymond L. Girouard, William B. Hunsaker, Corey R. Clagett and Juston R. Braber are accused of killing three Iraqi males on May 9th, after detaining them and handcuffing them. The men were detained and handcuffed, how did they die? Shot in the back. After reportedly being told they could go and after their plastic handcuffs were removed. Why?
Defense lawyers and witness Pfc. Bradley Mason have argued that when the soldiers passed on that they detained three Iraqi males, their commander, Col. Michael Steele, gave orders to kill them all.

There's nothing wrong with Memory Lane Tripping, but the film is much more than that -- even for those who lived through the period. Regardless of whether the events and information are new to you or not, the film is relevant to today.

What will you take away from the film? Specific moments are many. Such as the reactions of soldiers to the FTA Tour (this counter-tour to the rah-rah-rah war and tits-and-ass sexism of the Bob Hope tours is often portrayed by some as not reaching an audience, not being humorous, not being entertaining -- all not true) or it might be the coverage of fragging and the attempts to railroad Billy Dean Smith? Maybe it will be Jerry Lembcke refuting the lie that returning vets were spit on, or, like Jane Fonda, it will be seeing the way G.I.s respond to Rita Martinson's performance of "Soldier, We Love You"? ("Soldier, We Love You," written by Martinson, is available on the soundtrack CD.) Possibly, it will be the statements of people today trying to explain where they got the courage to make the stands they did?

One example? Louis Font became the first West Point graduate to refuse to serve in a war. He recalls how he explained his decision to his parents, "You always taught me to do what is just, what is right." Reflecting all these years later, he states, "I know I did the right thing."

You can (and we have) debate and discuss which moment stood out the most to you.
The coffeehouse movement, the underground press, the refusals to serve in the war, the refusals to be silent, the Winter Soldier Investigation in Detroit (1971), the film covers a great deal and moves at a fast pace.

If you're looking for boredom, a film that will leave you feeling like you've suffered through a learning experience, this isn't the film for you. Mixing archival news footage, recent interviews, songs you know and some you may not, and photos, the film's never static. Sir! No! Sir! was directed, produced and written by David Zeiger. Troy Garity (Barbershop, Barbershop II, Soldier's Girl) provides the narration.

Need more convincing? We're fond of Jane Fonda and so are our regular readers, so we'll end with her closing thoughts from the film:

You know, people say, "Well you keep going back, why are you going back to Vietnam?" We keep going back to Vietnam because I'll tell you what, the other side does. They're always going back. And they have to go back -- the Hawks, you know, the patriarchs. They have to go back because, and they have to revise the going back, because they can't allow us to know what the back there really was."

Reason enough to see Sir! No! Sir! which documents an important segment of history still valid today.
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