of the Film “Sir! No Sir!”—A Documentary on the GI
Antiwar Movement During
by Louis Proyect
This film review was posted on the Marxmail discussion group on March 17, 2006. It has been edited slightly for Labor Standard. Following the review we are posting further information about the film from the March 17 issue of GI Special, an online publication that is a dramatic expression of today’s antiwar movement among GIs, veterans, and military families. The complete March 17 issue of GI Special may be viewed here.
Sir!” is the definitive documentary on the GI antiwar movement of the
who is now 55 and who began making the film in the early 1990s, had exactly the
qualifications to make such a film, since he was one of the organizers of The
Oleo Strut, a coffeehouse in
Well-known figures of the movement
now in their sixties describe what motivated them to stick their necks out. Dr.
Howard Levy, a dermatologist who spent three years in prison for refusing to
train people in
Navy Lieutenant Sue Schnall, a nurse, decided to march in uniform at a peace
Zeiger also interviews some relatively little known figures that most of us, including someone like myself who was very much involved with the antiwar movement, would ostensibly be finding out about for the first time. He is to be commended for having them tell their stories as well.
One of them is Terry Whitmore, a
Black Marine who received a medal from Lyndon Johnson when he was recuperating
in a hospital from severe wounds suffered in
But the most fascinating revelation
in Zeiger’s film comes out of interviews with the men
who were involved with
The film had special resonance for
me as a former member of the Socialist Workers Party. PFC Howard Petrick, one of the early antiwar GIs, came from our ranks.
He was threatened with a stiff prison sentence for speaking against the war in
1967. After the party mounted a powerful defense campaign, he received a
dishonorable discharge about a year later. After party members Joe Cole and Joe
Miles (an African American) were drafted, they found themselves at
GIs United Against the War. They
had “rap sessions” in the barracks, where antiwar literature and the speeches
of Malcolm X were discussed. Eventually they were thrown in the stockade, but
released after the SWP mounted an effective defense campaign. One of the GIs
drawn to their meetings was Andrew Pulley, an African American youth who, when
he was 17, had been given the choice of going into the army or prison. Pulley
eventually joined the SWP and became a key leader, running as the party’s candidate
for vice president of the
Except for Marxist groups like the SWP, the Communist Party, and the Workers World Party (all of which had members or supporters in the military at one point or another victimized for their antiwar stance), the radical movement did not, at the outset, have the idea of winning GIs to an antiwar perspective. From 1965 to 1967, there was a widespread attitude—especially in SDS—that soldiers were vicious killers who could not be reached. This led to moralistic posturing that would alienate GIs from the movement.
Based on the experience of the Russian Revolution, the SWP always had the perspective that the army was subject to the same class differentiations that existed in society as a whole. The men and women at the lower levels, especially the draftees, tended to reflect the working class, while the officers, especially from the rank of captain and above, tended to reflect the interests of the ruling class.
Nobody understood these issues
better than Fred Halstead, who led the SWP’s antiwar
work. As a young sailor stationed in
156-man Soldiers’ Committee was elected in
Just as occurred during
Also very much worth mentioning is
the March 14-19 “Walkin’ To New Orleans” action, which
combines concerns about racism at home and the war in Iraq, just as Terry
Whitmore made connections between Memphis and Vietnam in the 1960s. You can
read about it on Stan Goff’s “Feral Scholar” website.
(Also see www.bringthemhome.org) Goff, like Green Beret veteran Donald Duncan,
who was featured in Zeiger’s film, was a highly
trained Special Forces soldier who turned against his profession during a tour
of duty in
What exists today that did not
exist in during
Finally, there is a kind of
demonstration that will have an impact on the outcome of the current war even
if it does not come wrapped in conventional antiwar garb. I speak of the recent
Zogby poll in
Sir!” opens in
[The following is from the March 17 issue of GI Special:]
Sir! No Sir! In Theaters:
“Today The Suppressed Story Of The GI Resistance To The Vietnam War Is More Urgent And Relevant Than Ever”
Sent: March 14, 2006
Subject: Sir! No Sir! In Theaters
Dear friends of “Sir! No Sir!”
I am very happy to announce that this spring, “Sir! No Sir!” will be opening in theaters nationwide!
As of today, March 14, the initial theatrical openings will be:
7 San Francisco, The Red Vic Movie House
April 19 New York, IFC Center
April 28 Denver, Starz Film Center
April 28 Madison, WI, Orpheum Theater
May 5 Los Angeles, Laemmle Monica, Laemmle Pasadena
May 12 Atlanta, Landmark Midtown 8
May 12 or 19 Washington DC, Landmark E Street
There will be more to announce in the weeks ahead.
April 6 at , there will
be a special preview screening at the Grand Lake Theater in
The screening will benefit the Iraq Veterans Against the War and will feature filmmaker David Zeiger, veterans from the film, and speakers from the current resistance inside the military.
This event is being presented in partnership with Global Exchange, Courage to Resist, Not Your Soldier, Leave My Child Alone, Not in Our Name, Ruckus Society, Art in Action, Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, and Veterans for Peace.
April 17 there will be two Sneak Preview screenings, and .
Jane Fonda, David Zeiger, and veterans from the film will be in attendance for a Q&A between the screenings.
For information about these two events, contact Celia Alario, firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE THEATRICAL TRAILER IS NOW AVAILABLE ON THE “SIR! NO SIR!” WEB SITE:
The direct link for the trailer on Cable or DSL is www.sirnosir.com/site_sections/theatrical_trailer_hires.html
The direct link for the trailer on Modem is www.sirnosir.com/site_sections/theatrical_trailer_lores.html
PLEASE HELP US SPREAD THIS EXCITING TRAILER EVERYWHERE ON THE INTERNET THROUGH YOUR EMAIL LISTS, BLOGS, AND WEB SITES.
You can also download the beautiful new film poster at www.sirnosir.com/the_film/lg_poster.html
I’d like to take this opportunity to again thank all of you who have helped in the struggle to get “Sir! No Sir!” into the world.
It has been a long road, and today the suppressed story of the GI resistance to the Vietnam War is more urgent and relevant than ever.
With your continuing support, we can make 2006 the Year of “Sir! No Sir!”
“Sir! No Sir!” combines exceptional artistry and insightful analysis with great story telling. This is no facile agitprop piece, but a careful dissection of a growing military rebellion that permanently altered American society, but has largely been forgotten.
—International Documentary Magazine
Nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary
Award Best Documentary—
Award Best Documentary—
Award Best Film on War and Peace—