…”In “Sir! No Sir!” military men from the Vietnam War generation reveal the difficult path to their decision to oppose the war — and why many of them still consider themselves to be patriots. ”
by Anne-Marie O’Connor, Los Angeles Times March 30, 2006
From GI’s to Protesters
Film explores Vietnam Troops’ Change of Heart
“In “Sir! No Sir!” military men from the Vietnam War generation reveal the difficult path to their decision to oppose the war — and why many of them still consider themselves to be patriots. ”
by Anne-Marie O’Connor , Los Angeles Times March 30, 2006
Donald Duncan tells a familiar story among ex-GIs of a certain age — how he dreamed of being a war hero, until the brutality he witnessed in Vietnam destroyed the convictions that made him willing to fight and die.
“Everything I grew up with . . .” the former Green Beret begins haltingly, as if he still can’t believe it, “this is just not the way you treat human beings.”
Duncan’s comments are part of “Sir! No Sir!,” a documentary from director David Zeiger on the U.S. troops (some of them from the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco) who turned against the Vietnam War. The film, which opens April 7 in the Bay Area, traces how some of the most dedicated soldiers became equally vehement supporters of the movement to end the war.
The film shows that the doubts of men such as Duncan would eventually evolve into outright rebellion, with active-duty U.S. troops refusing Vietnam duty, inciting stockade riots, joining off-base protests and going AWOL. The film also links opposition to the war to hundreds of battlefield shootings by American troops of their own commanders in a notorious practice that became known as “fragging.”
“There is nothing you can do that requires you to answer the question `Is this right, or is this wrong?’ more than war,” says Zeiger, 56, who left the University of California-Santa Cruz in 1970 to work with anti-war GIs stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. “Vietnam was the first war in the history of this country in which the soldiers themselves not only debated that question, but large numbers of soldiers concluded that the war was wrong, and played a big role in ultimately ending it.”
Opposition to the war within the ranks of the military began to surface publicly in 1965. The documentary traces how this opposition grew as the war deepened the social and racial tensions in the barracks and American society at large. Many troops were also deeply disturbed at the use of U.S. troops to quell domestic riots and protests.
Some soldiers gravitated to cafes near military bases where Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland staged anti-war alternatives to the standard Bing Crosby-serenading-the-troops revue. The numbers of troops at anti-war protests near their bases grew with the revelation of the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese villagers by U.S. troops and news of the shootings of students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University.
In “Sir! No Sir!” military men from the Vietnam War generation reveal the difficult path to their decision to oppose the war — and why many of them still consider themselves to be patriots.
“They went into the military believing they were doing the right thing,” Zeiger says. “They were gung-ho. There’s a high price to pay for doing what these people did. It changed everyone’s life. It kind of forced you to come to terms with your conscience.”