Sir! No Sir!

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Sir! No Sir!
Promotional movie poster for the film
Directed byDavid Zeiger
Written byDavid Zeiger
Produced by
Narrated byTroy Garity
  • May Rigler
  • David Zeiger
Edited by
  • Lindsay Mofford
  • May Rigler
Music byBuddy Judge
Distributed byBalcony Releasing
Release date
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited States

Sir! No Sir! is a 2005 documentary by Displaced Films about the anti-war movement within the ranks of the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.[1] The film was produced, directed, and written by David Zeiger. The film had a theatrical run in 80 cities throughout the U.S. and Canada in 2006, and was broadcast worldwide on Sundance Channel, Discovery Channel, BBC, ARTE France, ABC Australia, SBC Spain, ZDF Germany, YLE Finland, RT, and several others.[2]


Sir No Sir! tells for the first time on film the story of the 1960s GI movement against the war in Vietnam. The film explores the profound impact that the movement had on the war, and investigates the way in which the GI Movement has been erased from public memory.

In the 1960s an anti-war movement emerged that altered the course of history. This movement didn't take place on college campuses, but in barracks and on aircraft carriers. It flourished in army stockades, navy brigs and in the dingy towns that surround military bases. It penetrated elite military colleges like West Point. And it spread throughout the battlefields of Vietnam. It was a movement no one expected, least of all those in it. Hundreds went to prison and thousands into exile.[3] And by 1971 it had, in the words of one colonel, infested the entire armed services. Yet today few people know about the GI Movement against the war in Vietnam.[4]

The review in the Boston Globe notes,

A Navy nurse was arrested after she flew a plane over military bases in San Francisco that dropped antiwar leaflets, two black soldiers were given eight to 10 years for attempting to organize a discussion group that asked whether black soldiers should be participating in the war, and hundreds of other soldiers were jailed for any number of reasons. Decades later, the veterans Zeiger talks to still seem completely astonished, shell-shocked as it were, by both the confusing scope of the war itself and by their ability to resist it.[5]


The film brings to life the history of the GI Movement and the stories of those who were part of it through interviews with veterans plus hitherto unseen archival material. Archival materials include news reports from local and national television broadcasts, images from newspapers and magazines, and Super-8 and 16mm film footage of events in the GI Movement shot by GIs and civilian activists. Recently shot interviews with individuals involved in the struggle include soldiers imprisoned for refusing to fight, to train other soldiers, or to ship out to the frontlines; Vietnam veterans who became antiwar activists or joined the 500,000+ soldiers whom the Pentagon listed as deserters during the war; the leader of the Presidio 27 Mutiny, also known as the Presidio mutiny; and soldiers who went on strike while in Vietnam, plus other interviews, including with Hollywood activist Jane Fonda. Exclusive footage from documentary coverage of the movement includes highlights from the FTA Show, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland's antiwar stage revue that traveled to military bases around the world, F.T.A. the feature-length film about that tour; Vietnam veterans hurling their medals onto the Capitol steps; the refusal by troops to engage in combat at Firebase Pace; and an audio recording made by the journalist Richard Boyle, who was also the author of The Flower of the Dragon and the Oliver Stone film Salvador.[6]

Historical overview[edit]

1965-1967: "A Few Malcontents"

As the Johnson administration turns what was initially a small "police action" into an all-out war [7] and the peace movement begins, isolated individuals and small groups in the military refuse to participate and are severely punished: Lt. Henry Howe is sentenced to two years hard labor for attending an antiwar demonstration;[8] the Fort Hood Three are sentenced to three years hard labor for refusing duty in Vietnam;[9] Dr. Howard Levy, a military doctor, refuses to train Special Forces troops and is court-martialed [9] as Donald W. Duncan, a celebrated member of the Green Berets, resigns after a year in Vietnam; and Corporal William Harvey and Private George Daniels are sentenced to up to 10 years in 1967 for meeting with other marines on Camp Pendleton to discuss whether Blacks should fight in Vietnam.[10]

1968-1969: "We Thought The Revolution Was Starting."

The war escalates as the peace movement becomes an international mass movement, and soldiers begin forming organizations and taking collective action: The Ft. Hood 43, Black soldiers who refused riot-control duty at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, are sentenced for up to 18 months each; the largest military prison in Vietnam,[11] Long Binh Jail (affectionately called LBJ by the troops), is taken over by Black soldiers who hold it for two months.[citation needed] The Presidio 27 – prisoners in the stockade on the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco – are charged with mutiny, a capital offense, when they refuse to work after a mentally ill prisoner is killed;[12] underground newspapers published by antiwar GIs appear at almost every military base in the country;[13] the American Serviceman's Union is formed;[14] antiwar coffeehouses are established outside of military bases.[5] In Vietnam, small combat - refusals occur and are quickly suppressed, but on Christmas Eve, 1969, 50 GIs participate in an illegal antiwar demonstration in Saigon. Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) is formed.[citation needed]

1970-1973: "Sir, My Men Refuse To Fight!"

Opposition to the war turns militant and the counter-culture rises to its peak:[15] 92,000 soldiers were declared deserters, with tens of thousand fleeing to Canada, France and Sweden;[16] thousands of soldiers organize and participate in Armed Forces Day demonstrations at 19 military bases on May 15, 1971;[17] drug use is rampant and underground radio networks flourish in Vietnam [18] as Black and white soldiers increasingly identify with the antiwar and Black liberation movements;[19] combat refusals and fragging of officers in Vietnam are epidemic.[20] Thousands are jailed for refusing to fight or simply defying military authority, and nearly every U.S. military prison in the world is hit by riots.[19] Jane Fonda's antiwar revue, The FTA Show, tours military bases and is cheered by tens of thousands of soldiers;[21] the Pentagon concludes that over half the ground troops openly oppose the war and shifts its combat strategy from a ground war to an air war; the Navy and Air Force are both riddled with mutinies and acts of sabotage.[22] VVAW holds the Winter Soldier Investigation, exposing American war crimes through the testimony of veterans, and stages the most dramatic demonstration of the Vietnam era as hundreds of veterans hurl their medals onto the Capitol steps.[23]

Coffee Houses.

Zeiger highlights the history of the coffee houses that sprang up near army bases where many of the activist meetings took place, including the Oleo Strut, where Zeiger worked as a teenager.[5] "The GIs turned the Oleo Strut into one of Texas's anti-war headquarters, publishing an underground anti-war newspaper, organizing boycotts, setting up a legal office, and leading peace marches."[24]

Epilogue: The Myth Of The Spitting Hippie.

As the U.S. military and its allies flee Vietnam in disarray in the spring of 1975, the government, the media, and Hollywood begin a 20-year process of erasing the GI Movement from the collective memory of the nation and the world.[25] Ronald Reagan's "Resurgent America" campaign re-writes the history of Vietnam and erases the GI Movement;[26] by 1990, over 100 theatrical films have been produced about the Vietnam War, none of which portray the GI Antiwar Movement or any opposition to the war by soldiers. The myth that antiwar activists routinely spat on returning soldiers[27] is spread as part of the buildup to the 1990 Gulf War.[4]

Featured individuals and groups[edit]

  • Greg Payton, an African-American, imprisoned at Long Binh Jail for refusing to fight, who was part of the uprising there
  • Dave Cline, wounded three times in Vietnam and antiwar activist at Ft. Hood, the site of some of the staunchest resistance to the war and racism
  • Keith Mather, jailed in the Presidio of San Francisco for publicly refusing orders to go to Vietnam and a leader of the Presidio mutiny
  • Dr. Howard Levy, jailed three years for refusing to train Special Forces troops
  • Navy nurse Susan Schnall, jailed for dropping leaflets from an airplane onto the Presidio army base
  • Terry Whitmore, a highly decorated combat veteran who deserted to Sweden
  • Members of "WORMS" (We Openly Resist Military Stupidity)
  • Air Force linguists stationed in Asia who went on strike during the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong.[4]



The film garnered critical acclaim and has an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[29] Ebert & Roeper gave the film "Two Thumbs Up", and Richard Roeper proclaimed: "This is an important chapter in the Vietnam library of films."[30] Manohla Dargis in the New York Times called it a "smart, timely documentary about the G.I. Movement" and praised it for serving "as a corrective to the rah-rah rhetoric about Vietnam in such schlock entertainments as the 1980's 'Rambo' franchise".[31] The Los Angeles Times declared it "a powerful documentary that uncovers half-forgotten history, history that is still relevant but not in ways you might be expecting."[32] For L.A. Weekly, Chuck Wilson wrote: "David Zeiger's superb documentary about the Vietnam War era's GI protest movement is jammed with incident and anecdote and moves with nearly as much breathless momentum as the movement itself."[33] Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader wrote: "I expected to emerge depressed by how long these stories have gone untold, but the speakers' courage and humanity are a shot in the arm."[34]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Dargis, Manohla (19 April 2006). "'Sir! No Sir!' Salutes Vietnam's Dissenters in Uniform". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  2. ^ "About Displaced Films". Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  3. ^ Cortright, David (2005). Soldiers In Revolt. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books. p. vii. ISBN 1931859272.
  4. ^ a b c "Synopsis". Displaced Films. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  5. ^ a b c "Capturing war within the military over Vietnam - The Boston Globe". 2006-06-16. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  6. ^ "Reviews". Displaced Films. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  7. ^ "Bill Moyers Journal . Johnson's Escalation of Vietnam: A Timeline". PBS. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  8. ^ "Court upholds court-martial conviction of officer who participated in demonstration — This Day in History — 8/4/1967". Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  9. ^ a b Lewes, James (2003). Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 155.
  10. ^ Lewes, James (2003). Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 93).
  11. ^ Westheider, James E. (2008). The African American Experience in Vietnam: Brothers in Arms. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 144.
  12. ^ Miller, Corey. "The Lost Mutiny". As You Were. 4. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
  13. ^ Lewes, James (2003). Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 53).
  14. ^ "GI Movement: History". Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  15. ^ "The Anti-War Movement in the United States". 1971-06-13. Retrieved 2013-07-24.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ Dunnigan, James; Nofi, Albert A. (2000). Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War: Military Information You're Not Supposed to Know. Macmillan. p. 339.
  17. ^ Rosebraugh, Craig (2004). The Logic of Political Violence: Lessons in Reform And Revolution. PM Press. p. 129.
  18. ^ Lewes, James (2003). Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 51).
  19. ^ a b Cortwright, David (1975). Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During The Vietnam War. Haymarket Books.
  20. ^ Westheider, James (2011). Fighting in Vietnam: The Experience of the Us Soldier. Stackpole Books. p. 187.
  21. ^ "Jane Fonda's antiwar years with the FTA - Los Angeles Times". 2009-02-22. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  22. ^ "Abc-Clio Schools". 2011-09-20. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  23. ^ Moser, Richard R. (1996). The New Winter Soldiers: Gi and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era. Rutgers University Press. p. 113.
  24. ^ "Sir, No Sir! An Interview with David Zeiger". Mother Jones. 2005-09-01. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  25. ^ Penny, Coleman (2007). Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War. Beacon Press. p. 100.
  26. ^ "President 'Rewrites' Vietnam's History". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Feb 19, 1982. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  27. ^ Plait, Phil (2013-07-19). "Drooling on the Vietnam Vets - Slate Magazine". Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  28. ^ "Sir! No Sir! | Bullfrog Films: 1-800-543-3764: Environmental DVDs and Educational DVDs". Bullfrog Films. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  29. ^ "Sir! No Sir!". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-07-24.
  30. ^ [1] [dead link]
  31. ^ Dargis, Manohla (19 April 2006). "'Sir! No Sir!' Salutes Vietnam's Dissenters in Uniform". New York Times. Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  32. ^ Turan, Kenneth (5 May 2006). "When soldiers have a change of heart". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  33. ^ Wilson, Chuck (3 May 2006). "Soldiers Pay". LA Weekly. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  34. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (15 December 2006). "Sir! No Sir!". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 7 January 2013.