In the mid-1960s, even Martin Luther King, Jr. was reluctant to speak out against the Vietnam War, afraid the inevitable rift with Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House would jeopardise hard-won progress on civil rights. In this environment, opposition was muted, and to much of US society resistance bordered on treason. The country was swept into a protracted and deadly war that now stands as an infamous if largely unheeded warning against the pitfalls of military adventurism.

But some did resist, and what started out as a few small and marginal groups of draft opponents eventually grew to become one of the most inspirational and effective exemplars of nonviolent resistance to emerge from the turbulent social conditions of 1960s and 1970s America. Yet, despite history’s almost complete exoneration of opponents to the Vietnam War, the term ‘draft dodger’ still evokes a strong association with cowardice in many sections of American society. Judith Ehrlich’s film The Boys Who Said NO! seeks to recast these young men instead as brave, morally prescient draft resisters, and position draft resistance as an important and ultimately successful example within the broader tradition of nonviolent resistance.

Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments against violence is its ability to generate trauma that ripples out beyond the place and time of its original event. But The Boys Who Said NO! demonstrates that principled nonviolent resistance and courage in the cause for justice can ripple just as profoundly as violence or oppression.

Beyond inspiring others, the film demonstrates not only how the movement helped to shift public sentiment against the war, but also that in doing so it had a material impact on the war’s outcome. As audio of Richard Nixon expressing his desire to use an atomic bomb demonstrates, the administration, left unopposed, was prepared, if not eager, to kill many more millions. By 1970, draft resistance had become so widespread that the military needed to draft three people to get one soldier, a fact that seriously hampered the government’s ability to wage war.

All in all, The Boys Who Said NO! is a compelling and well-told story, featuring interviews with many of the key figures from the time, helping to bring an overlooked aspect of the anti-Vietnam movement out of the dark.

Josh Stride is a freelance writer.