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Antiwar Movies

April 22, 2006

“Sir! No Sir!” and “Winter Soldier” ought to be required viewing at the Pentagon, White House and in Congress, but are more likely to be banned from military bases and banished from the Bush Administration’s self-centered deliberations.

“Sir! No Sir!” is a brash new documentary by David Zeiger. It shows via interviews, period film clips and photos, blazingly eloquent GIs and veterans challenging the conduct of the Vietnam war in wider and wider ripples of dissent: speaking out, marching in peace parades, refusing military orders to Vietnam, refusing to go on combat patrols in Vietnam, conducting their own war crimes inquiries, cheering Jane Fonda’s “Free The Army” counter-war tours, and publishing dozens of underground GI newspapers that blew superiors’ stacks and raised the issue of free speech in the military.

While I was involved in Vietnam Veterans Against the War in some of the actions featured in this documentary, I learned a lot from Zeiger’s detailed reporting on a movement that spread across the country and throughout the military, in what The New York Times called “one of the most memorable chapters of the Vietnam War” and “one of the least revisited.”

Ebert & Roeper, the widely syndicated film critics for the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the antiwar flick, which recently opened at theaters across the country, “two thumbs up!” The New York Times review is headlined “A Salute to Dissenters in Uniform.” Among the array of dissenters featured in the film is Louis Font, a West Point classmate of mine, who refused to serve in Vietnam. He stood up to the threat of a court-martial and is now an attorney representing GIs challenging the war in Iraq.

“Winter Soldier” is a gutsy 1972 documentary about Vietnam veterans testifying to war crimes, which was virtually banned from America movie theaters and television during the last gasp of the Vietnam War. This black and white footage, of haunted young men describing a descent into hellacious actions military recruiters don’t advertise, was created by a film collective dedicated to recording the ghastly parts of war that mainstream media avoided then and still do.

It was revived last year by Milliarium Zero, independent film distributors in New Jersey, and will soon be available on DVD. Its revival has stirred up an astonishingly respectful response by the news media. “Everyone should see Winter Soldier,” wrote Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post, which fired off a review and a feature story on the film.

A third antiwar movie that warrants attention is “To Fight Again: The Vietnam Veterans Against the War.” This is a short documentary on the organization that inspired “Winter Soldier” and much of “Sir! No Sir!” It was created by two Massachusetts high school students, Hadley Piper and Danny Selgrade, as an entree in the National History Day “Take a Stand in History” contest.

I was delighted to be interviewed for this project by these students, who had thoughtfully prepared questions, and am impressed by their tapestry of historical film footage, music, and their own commentary interwoven with interview threads.

In contrast to the media bashing of John Kerry for his association with VVAW, during his run for the presidency in 2004, the students found an experienced observer with no raging resentment of veterans who protested the war. “I would say they certainly were effective,” said Thomas Henneberry, a West Point grad who served in Vietnam and is now an administrator at MIT. “The Vietnam Veterans Against the War had in fact taken a stand based on their own experience that was viewed as valid.”

For more on these films: www.sirnosir.com, www.wintersoldierfilm.com, and youtube.com/watch?v=2XNZSQ_ULGg.

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