The River

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Documenting America's Armed Farces

In the little-seen but excellent movie Tigerland, a recruit in training prior to deployment to Vietnam causes all kinds of problems due to his rebellious spirit. In one of my favorite scenes, he comes before a commanding officer who asks, “when did ‘my country right or wrong’ become ‘fuck this shit’?”

According the new documentary “Sir! No Sir!” the answer is “1971,” which also happens to be the year of the fictional events in Tigerland. By 1971, a GI movement against the war – the subject of the documentary – had reached its height. The film’s website sums it up:

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. And by 1971 it had, in the words of one colonel, infested the entire armed services.

Peace, love, and misunderstandings at the cineplex

About a week ago, surfing the usual suspects on the net, I had about had my fill of politics and despair when Leigh called me to ask if I wanted to go to the opening of the film. After looking at the website, I decided I could take it.

I’m glad I went, not only because the film is well crafted, but also because director David Zeiger, Jane Fonda, a Vietnam vet and two Iraq war vets were there for a Q&A after the screening. This added a sense of community and shared spirit among the audience, which was good for my soul. Many thanked Jane for her opposition to the Vietnam war.

Fonda has never been here nor there for me, a decent actress, some good films back in the day – “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”; “Bonnie and Clyde”; “Klute”. Although a famous actress, she’s probably just as well known for her opposition to the Vietnam War, particularly for some of her ill-considered words and actions during a visit to North Vietnam, which right-wingers and war lovers have latched onto as a great little tool for spreading hatred and propaganda. But after reading her Wikipedia entry, I have to say I admire her progressive activism. In regard to her Vietnam era political activities, Wikipedia notes:

She is credited with publicly exposing Richard Nixon's potential strategy of bombing the dikes in Vietnam. At the time, she was called a liar by United Nations ambassador George H. W. Bush. Bush was intending to provide evidence of US innocence, but cancelled the press conference after Fonda released filmed evidence, with Bush saying, "I think that the best thing I can do on the subject is to shut up."

Would that all the Bushes would shut the fuck up.

Fonda is featured in “Sir! No Sir!” doing FTA shows for soldiers. FTA was an army PR campaign denoting “Fun, Travel, and Adventure.” GIs saw it differently. For them, FTA stood for “Fuck the Army.” Fonda and some others formed the tour as an answer to Bob Hope’s USO tours and as a way to support the troops in their quest to end the unjust war, rather than fight it.

A good friend and sometimes active progressive, Curry St. John, got us the tickets and met us the theater. Afterwards we had a bite at the trendy restaurant next door. We had learned that the GI movement spread by way of numerous underground newspapers and café hangouts near army bases. Today, we decided, the underground movement is limited to the Internet, and we wondered if venting through blogging, posting comments, etc., was very productive. Instead of meeting at coffee houses, passing on literature, talking about issues face to face, we’re isolated.

Not that I feel that way, necessarily. As a blogger, I’ve made connections and grown confident in my voice. As Jane Fonda said at the screening regarding the soldiers who spoke up and spoke out, there’s redemption in speaking your truth.

So while it may be that in cyberspace almost no one can hear you scream, at least the act loosens up the vocal chords. Which helps when you’re at that place where, as one GI put it in the film, you have “nothing to lose…It’s a really free place. You don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know where you’re going, but you know what you’re doing.”

"sometimes active progressive" - that about sums me up. :)

I'm glad you have made your connections and grown confident in your voice, that's an excellent start. I'm counting on the members of Iraq Veterans Against the War to carry the resistance through to the end of the US occupation of Iraq. Maybe at least this war can end before it ends up another Vietnam.

I'm so glad I saw "Sir! No Sir!", and Jane Fonda is clearly one of my heroes.
I liked her in Barbarella. A lot. Today she represents the great divide between reality and the bullshit she's charged with by the right-wing nut jobs. There's a gulf between what the veterans of Vietnam think about Fonda today and what she actually did. I hope I can see the movie, and I'd like the Fonda story to be told someday too. Too many vets think she was some kind of traitor. Guess who benefits from that.
"I'm glad you have made your connections and grown confident in your voice, that's an excellent start."

Yes mam. Next up on the agenda is saving the world. It's important to set goals.

Frank, who benefits from the Fonda misperception is the same as who created it, as you well know. I got an email from a credulous relative the other day about Jane's "traitorous" activities that was about six years old and the product, as one vet the email supposedly quoted called it, of an active imagination. But until we have leaders (hellooo John Kerry?) who will admit to the folly of Vietnam and the good intentions of Fonda and others who tried to stop the war, the "Hanoi Jane" propaganda will continue to have legs.

I'm not holding my breath. But I agree, a truthtelling account of Fonda's rather remarkable story would be welcome. I wonder if there is one already? I'll have to go check Amazon.
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