Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

American Sniper


What I’d like to do first is review this as just a movie, a war movie, without all the baggage it has gathered. The right embraced it, the left condemned it, which made the right embrace it even more. (As always, the best way to get people to buy something is to tell them it’s not good for them, and they shouldn’t like it. I’m sure Clint Eastwood was delighted with every attack on this movie.) So … as a war movie, it’s pretty good. Not as good as another movie from the same war, The Hurt Locker, but good.

I don’t want to get too involved with the real sniper, Chris Kyle, and to what degree he may or may not have been a liar. (Jesse Ventura got a judgement against him. It’s on appeal.) I don’t intend to read the book nor any articles that would give me more information about that. I think of him as a fictional character well-portrayed by Bradley Cooper.

But I found myself thinking a lot about heroes, and heroism. For the right-wingers it’s open and shut: He was a real American hero. He saved a lot of American lives, there’s no question about that. And he killed a lot of people, there’s no question about that, which seems to preclude him from being a hero in the eyes of many if not most on the left. I mean, the dude zeroed in on unsuspecting people from a great distance, and blew them away. At least 160 of them, though counts vary. How could such a man be a hero?

Then there’s the war itself. The last war America fought where there was very little moral ambiguity, not much in the way of geopolitics involved, ended in 1945. We’ve been in several wars since then, and most of them were at best morally ambiguous, at worst flat-out immoral. In the case of W’s Iraq War, in case you were wondering, my own feeling is that it was not ambiguous at all. It was wrong in every way you want to look at it. It was sold to us by treasonous liars: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld. These men should be serving prison sentences. Okay?

But just as in my war (Vietnam, where I did not serve, but not from lack of the government trying to send me there), what do you do about the grunts on the ground? How do you view them? They didn’t make policy. They didn’t manufacture non-existent weapons of mass destruction. They went where they were told to go, and got shot at a lot. I will never condemn them for shooting back. I will never condemn soldiers for killing Vietnamese or Iraqis before those folks had a chance to kill them. Which is what Chris Kyle did. If Kyle had done exactly the things we see him doing in this film, but done them in 1944 in France and Germany, no one would question his heroism. Should he and his comrades never have been over there in the first place? No question in my mind that they should not have. And what the fuck does that have to do with surviving, and keeping your friends alive?

Have to say a word about Michael Moore, since he was all over the place with his accusations that snipers are, by definition, cowards, because they hide and kill people from a distance. Holy fucking shit, Michael. Cowards? Where did you pick up your ideas about what warfare is all about, the fourteenth century? Pretty much all killing in war is done from a distance, and has been since the days of knights bashing each other with swords. Gunpowder? Cowardly, no doubt about it, and don’t even get me started on airplanes. I can guarantee you one thing though, dude, and that is if it was your big white ass in Baghdad going house to house, knowing that the next ten-year-old boy or girl who comes out into the street may be rigged to blow you and all your company to Allah, you would be very, very glad to have that coward up there on a roof somewhere drawing a bead on the little motherfucker from a thousand yards away.

Which is a scene we get to see in this movie, a scene that happened all the time in Iraq. And when the sniper hastened the kid on his way to paradise by about ten seconds, his fucking mother picked up the grenade she had handed to him and tried to blow herself up instead.

Did we have any business over there fighting fanatics like that? No question at all. We did not. (And now it looks like we’re all set to do it again, against ISIS this time.) But given that the little family was about to kill half a dozen Americans, am I glad he took the shots? No question about that, either.