The recent movie, American Sniper, based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, has sparked heated discussion. I’ve previously reviewed the movie, but in this post, I’d like to take on some of the politics, praise, and condemnation that’s been the result of the movie.
First, I’d like to take on Michael Moore’s comment about Chris Kyle and snipers being cowards. I’m a fan of Moore’s, but this was just stupid. Being a sniper is dangerous, grueling, and likely soul-sapping. Just like everyone in the military, they are trained for, and doing the job they were assigned, in effect, by our civilian leadership. Chris Kyle was, apparently, extremely good at his job, and that does not make him a coward. Did he take some pleasure in the killing or Iraqi’s? I don’t know, as I didn’t live in his head, but his book did seem to offer the perspective that he felt he was doing “God’s work.” Of that I’m not so sure.
In this country, we’ve come to glorify war. We can’t have a sporting event without a military honor guard and maybe a flyover. We watch precision bombing footage on the evening news, and hear about drone strikes taking out terrorist operatives. So we come to think we’re always right, the other side is wrong, and everything we do is blessed. Taint so. War truly is hell. The towns and cities in which is fought are destroyed, economies are wrecked, and innocent people, including children, suffer and die. We need to know and understand that, and we need to know that we wreck much of the havoc when we start wars.
I’m not so much a pacifist. I believe there have been times (and may yet be times) when a military response is the only response. However, I think that if America truly believes it is exceptional, we should never start wars for not good reason. In fact, we should never be the ones to start a war, and certainly, in Iraq, that is exactly what we did. And we now seem to be having the discussion that was never finished from when we went into Iraq.
As for the Chris Kyle aspect of the story. As I noted above, he certainly did the job he was ordered to do, and did it well. It likely damaged the guy, but I do think some of the hero-worship did go to his head. It may be that his book was trying to gloss over what he saw as his weaknesses when he had trouble putting his own life back together. We are now hearing, after the scrutiny resulting from the movie, that some aspects of his life story might have been exaggerated. This is sad, as Kyle’s story is an American story of a job well done in difficult circumstances, and a commitment to a mission. It really didn’t need any embellishment, and would have been a better story unvarnished.
So, I think if anything good comes of the movie, it might be some renewed introspection about America’s place in the world, our use of our armed forces, and where we place our idealization.