Based on an article published in
Beyond Chron, April 12, 2006
Copyright © 2006 by Marc Norton
SIR! NO SIR! tells the courageous story of mass resistance to the Vietnam war by active-duty GIs. This is a story that the corporate media, the politicians, establishment historians and the entertainment industry have worked overtime to bury. As the preview says, you need to know this story.
There have been many movies about the war in Vietnam, but the war wasn't a movie. It was a time when hundreds of thousands of armed american men and women participated in grassroots, rank-and-file politics in a way that hasn't been seen since.
SIR! NO SIR! is an independent production, not yet set for general release. If it plays in your neighborhood, run, don't walk, to the theater. (Check out http://www.sirnosir.com for current screenings.)
SIR! NO SIR! tells the story of soldiers Dennis Mora, David Samas and James Johnson, who, early in the war, refused to board a troop ship to Vietnam, and allows us to hear from Howard Levy, a military doctor who refused to train Special Forces troops.
We hear from members of the Presidio 27, prisoners on the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco, who, in 1968 -- after a prisoner was brutally murdered by the guards -- tore apart their stockade and staged a sit-in on the post lawn. They were then charged with mutiny, a capital offense. Unlike today's media-staged sit-ins, they weren't expecting to be cited and released.
We hear from members of the Fort Hood 43, black soldiers in Texas who were prosecuted for refusing riot-duty at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The rest of their unit, sent to Chicago to protect the masters of war, were kept in their barracks because the brass wasn't sure which side they would take if put on the streets.
SIR! NO SIR! goes on to tell the stories of an ever-growing rebellion, of hundreds of underground GI newspapers, of thousands of GIs who refused to fight, of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who went AWOL. We hear the story of the weeks-long revolt by GI prisoners in Long Binh Jail (LBJ) in Vietnam. And we hear the story of Billy Dean Smith, who was framed for fragging his commander. Fragging was the not-uncommon practice of tossing a fragmentation grenade in the direction of gung-ho officers, often with deadly results. Billy Dean Smith was made a scapegoat for many successful fraggings. He was acquitted at trial, but, as with many Vietnam-era anti-war veterans, suffered ongoing indignities and repression from the powers-that-still-be, and is even now locked away in one of america's dungeons.
The Pentagon was eventually forced to recognize that the US army in Vietnam was no longer capable of fighting the war. Erased from history, even from the memory of most of the anti-war movement, is the fact that it was the resistance of the GIs, more than anything else, that brought the war to an end -- except, of course, for the resistance of the Vietnamese people themselves.
The brave soldiers who refused to play the role assigned to them by the masters of war were part of a real movement, one that grew directly from the ranks of poor and working class people, from every part of the US, and most particularly from people of color. The movement grew from the most basic needs of the GIs -- the need, first and foremost, to survive; but also the need to live with some kind of human dignity, to feel that they were not the flunkies or cannon-fodder for a sick set of war-mongers, racists and imperialist scumbags.
The millions who marched and fought in the streets of amerika played their part, but the GIs were quite literally on the front lines. While there were many committed, self-conscious political organizers involved in the GI movement, both inside and outside the military, it was the soldiers themselves who provided the leadership and, no pun intended, the troops. The GI movement didn't draw its momentum from some set of armchair theorists, or some cabal of political posers and non-profit funders.
Near the end of SIR! NO SIR! there are scenes of masses of GIs throwing their medals in disgust onto the White House lawn. Thankfully, we are spared any sight of John Kerry faking it. We do see and hear one soldier make the famous statement, "I don't want to fight anymore. But if we have to fight, it will be to take these steps."
In the years since the victory of the Vietnamese people in 1975, the political leaders of this country have sent our young men and women off to war many times. And every time, the corporate media and the politicians are eager to claim that the "Vietnam syndrome" -- the unwillingness of large sectors of the US working class to fight, kill or die in unjust wars -- has been put to rest. But the fact remains that, even to this day, three years into a war in Iraq the US is clearly losing, our ruling class betters are afraid to re-institute the draft and up the ante in a way that would risk the military collapse they suffered in Vietnam.
In that way, the legacy of the GI resistance movement lives on. SIR! NO SIR!
Posted April 15, 2006.
Marc Norton was drafted in 1970, but did not serve.