Documentary by David Zeiger
Studio: Displaced Films [at present only available at www.sirnosir.com]
Video: Enhanced for 16:9, color & B&W
Audio: PCM stereo
Length: 84 minutes
Another powerful documentary, and how fortunate it is that at this difficult time in our nation’s history documentary films are suddenly being made available and shown successfully in general theatrical distribution! The subject is a historical one but has strong repercussions for the present day. It concerns the antiwar movement during the Vietnam Period, but within the military itself and on the front lines, rather than the civilian demonstrations carried out in the U.S. The media briefly covered a small portion of what was going on, such as the 1972 Winter Soldier event, but in general most viewers of this film will be amazed at how strong the movement was within the armed forces, and how it contributed to the final winding-down of the conflict.
The 1968 Tet Offensive is shown as the watershed event that gave the movement impetus. It demonstrated that the resistance the U.S. had been meeting on the battlefield had the general support of the Vietnamese people. Thousands of soldiers began going AWOL and many of them congregated in San Francisco. Many who were being sent to Vietnam for the first time simply refused to go, and became acquainted painfully with the SF Presidio’s stockade. Some 300 antiwar magazines and newsletters were published on bases in the U.S. and around the world. A courageous DJ operated a pirate radio station in Saigon providing dissenters with an alternative information source.
The Free Theater Alternative (FTA) put on antiwar shows for servicemen; Jane Fonda was among those who participated, and she speaks about the experience. Other subjects touched on are discrimination and the black power struggle, the public outcry attempting to prevent a Navy carrier from leaving San Diego for Vietnam, the antiwar coffee shops that sprang up everywhere and a murder trial where a black soldier was found not guilty of “fragging” an officer – though the fragging incidents showed how low troop morale had sunk. The deliberate bombing of populated areas of Vietnam challenged the dignity of Airforce pilots. When Kissinger made the decision to heavily bomb North Vietnam the opposition expanded. Some pilots simply refused to fly to the North and those on the ground securing the communications information and other data necessary to the sorties just stopped providing the information, halting many of the flights.
Many revealing comments from vets are part of the film. The photography and editing is serviceable and the transfer looks good, but it is frustrating to access the film since there are no chapters whatever. A few extras would seem to be have been appropriate as well. But this is undoubtedly a powerful documentary that deserves to bring the story of the GI resisters to a wide audience.
– John Sunier