By 1972, the anti-war movement was in full swing in America. The college kids and hippies got most of the news coverage and the mention in high school textbooks, but there was also the GI Movement which consisted of soldiers and Marines who opposed the war. This movement is the subject of the documentary “Sir! No Sir!”. That movie acts as a companion to “F.T.A.”. This doc was directed by Francine Parker who was one of the first females in the Director’s Guild of America. “F.T.A.” was her most significant film. Part of that was due to the controversy it stirred up. It was yanked from theaters soon after its release. Some accused the Nixon Administration of pulling strings. Coincidentally, the premiere was the same week Jane Fonda made her infamous visit to Hanoi. Ms. Fonda was a co-producer with Parker and Donald Sutherland. Most people don’t associate Sutherland with the anti-war movement, but before Fonda’s trip made her the most despised dove in America, he was something of a partner, as the movie makes clear.
F.T.A. Shows were a direct reaction to Bob Hope’s USO shows. We now remember Hope as a great American who selflessly traveled to combat zones, starting in WWII, to entertain the troops. An entire generation associates him specifically with the Vietnam War because those specials were televised. What many don’t know is by the 1970’s the soldiers were beginning to sour on his pro-war vibe. The jokes were ringing hollow. There was an opening for an anti-Hope show. The F.T.A. got its name as a play on the Army’s recruiting slogan: “Fun, Travel, Adventure”. The slogan by this time was unintentionally cringe-inducing and ripe for satire. Technically, F.T.A. stood for “Free the Army”. But there was a song in the show called “The Lifer’s Song” (or the “F.T.A. Song”) that G.I.s were encouraged to substitute an obscenity for the word “free”.
The film begins with an introduction from Jane Fonda. I’m guessing this will be as far as most vets will get. There is some background information on the G.I. Movement. The bridge between that and the F.T.A. Shows were the coffeehouses off bases where soldiers would get together to commiserate, gripe, and entertain themselves. And protest. Howard Leavy, one of the more famous figures in the movement (he refused to continue to train Green Berets), had the idea of getting Jane Fonda to tour the coffeehouses and then the tour was expanded to include the bases of the Pacific Rim. The film follows the tour and includes several of the skits and songs. One of the songs is “My Ass is Mine”. There is a definite anti-officer theme to the shows. Other songs are “Soldier, We Love You”, “We Will Not Back Down”, “Move on Over”, and “Save Our Soldiers”. You get the drift from the titles. The skits are what Fonda described as “political vaudeville”. They pointedly avoided the sexism and pro-Americanism of the Hope shows and tapped into women’s lib and the anti-racism of the 70’s. There is a long segment on black grunts protesting against discrimination and having to fight against other non-whites. Along with the shows, there are interviews with soldiers in the G.I. Movement and footage of Vietnamese civilians disputing that the American army was there for their benefit. It’s very one-sided, as you would expect from a propaganda film. The only pro-war views are yelled out by some soldiers at one of the shows and they are quickly escorted out. The movie concludes with Sutherland reading from “Johnny Got His Gun”. If you are not familiar with one of the most anti-war novels ever written, the wounded doughboy has been left with no arms or legs, or ability to speak. He wants to be put on display as a cautionary tale about war. If you are still watching, you’ll have to agree it is a fitting end to the doc.
If you are interested in learning about the F.T.A., this is the film for you. And if you are interested, I assume you were against the war. In which case, the film will cause you to put those old love beads on for nostalgia. However, most of the people in this group will not be in that group. I still recommend the movie because it is informative about the opposing side. Plus, you’ll be able to prove your open-minded. Or that you can still foam at the mouth. All kidding aside, can’t we all agree that the truth was somewhere between LBJ and Jane Fonda?
The movie had been thought lost, but it has been recovered by David Zeiger (the director of “Sir, No Sir”) in 2009. It is now playing on Netflix (as is “Sir! No Sir!”). Oops, did I just cost Netflix some subscribers?
GRADE = C