[Marxism] Jerry Lembcke on antiwar soldiers
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 8 11:50:25 MST 2006
Reflections on the Anti-War Documentary, Sir! No Sir!
By Jerry Lembcke
Mr. Lembcke is Associate Professor of Sociology at Holy Cross College. He
is in Sir! No Sir! as author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the
Legacy of Vietnam.
The new documentary about the Vietnam-era GI anti-war movement, Sir! No
Sir!, opened in theaters during the spring and summer of 2006. The film
compiles the historical record of the rank-and-file rebellion that grew
during the war years and reached the level of mutiny in Vietnam by the
war's end. It recounts that history through the stories of people like
Green Beret Master Sergeant Donald Duncan, Dr. Howard Levy, Navy Lt. Susan
Schnall, and infantryman David Cline, all of whom turned against the war
while still in the service and appear in the movie.
I have a part in the film as author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory,
and the Legacy of Vietnam, a book that debunks the widely believed notion
that anti-war activists were hostile to Vietnam veterans, even spitting on
them at West Coast airports. In research for the book, I found similar
stories in other societies following lost wars, stories that function as
face-saving devices that attribute the war's loss to home-front betrayal
rather than the prowess of the enemy-victor. The myth of spat-upon Vietnam
veterans also displaced from public memory the reality that thousands of
GIs and veterans were integral to the anti-war movement, a fact that
startles many Sir! No Sir! viewers when they see it so graphically revived
on the screen.
My place in the film has created some opportunities for me to participate
in post-showing discussion groups. Invariably, those discussions have drawn
comparisons between then and now, the resistance of soldiers and veterans
of the Vietnam years as portrayed in the film compared with the more
compliant posture of troops today toward political and military authority.
Not surprisingly, the audience drawn to the anti-war flavor of the film
uses the past as a basis for criticism of the present, leading participants
to ask why are so few uniformed Americans moved to resistance today when so
many were in a state of insurgency just a generation ago?
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