by Steven Jonas
American Sniper has stirred up the Right (see Fox ”News” and etc.) and it has stirred up the Left. The Right sees the movie as one about a “patriotic American,” “doing his duty to protect our country and the freedoms it stands for.” The Right sees any critic of the film, as a commie, as a traitor, as “un-American,” if not “un-Christian” (for after all, sniper Chris Kyle was fighting the Muslims, wasn’t he?) The Left, and of course I include myself in that group, see the movie in much more complex, much starker terms, which I shall address.
In terms of the standard Right-wing propaganda lines, oddly enough, Kyle didn’t see himself as “fighting to protect the American way of life” at all. Rather, when asked a direct question on a Fox ”News” show, he said that he did what he did in order to protect his buddies. Then, there is the well-discussed historical fallacy that the Iraq War had anything to do with 9/11. The old canard that a representative of Saddam Hussein’s government went to Prague, Czech Republic, to meet with a representative from al Qaeda and that meant that they were hooking up has long since been disposed of as a unproven and unlikely rumor. Do you really think that a secular Hussein, already facing strong threats from the United States, would have formed an alliance with a religiously-based terror organization that had originally been formed in Afghanistan by the same United States? The historical distortions are a minor tragedy, but a tragedy nevertheless.
Then there are the questions that have been raised about the movie’s definition of heroism. There was a great 2001 film about the Battle of Stalingrad (one of very few US films about the Soviet role in winning World War II) called Enemy at the Gates. The hero is a Red Army sniper. The villain is a Wehrmacht sniper. But hero/villain depends very much whose side you are on, doesn’t it? It’s whose side he is on. To many U.S., he’s a hero, but a sniper on the other side he would a wicked villain, killing people with abandon.
Much more importantly, this film can be used to revive the whole argument about the invasion of Iraq, why it was done, what it has cost the U.S. in casualties, money spent, and major disruptions of our society (most of which go unnoticed), and the much, much higher toll of Iraqi dead, injured, and made refugees. What we are seeing now in terms of the turmoil of the Middle East, which was unleashed by the U.S./U.K. invasion. This is one of the major tragedies of our era. We need to re-visit the ultimate villains of the piece, the Bush/Cheney alliance and the people who worked for them. We need to revisit how the Bush/Cheneydrive to create permanent war, which was much more important to them than the drive for oil and bases, has put our nation into the perilous state in which it finds itself, and use the film to help us do that.
Then, another tragedy was of course that while Kyle was an operative, he was also a victim. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (who wouldn’t, having gone through what he went through, under orders) as did the vet who eventually murdered him. A majority of the vets of Iraq/Afghanistan suffer from some degree of diagnosed or undiagnosed PTSD. The suicide rateamong them is remarkable, about 22 per day.
Finally, we should be saying to the Right, “what are you so excited about?” Despite the killing of service members like Kyle, the Middle East is a mess and the U.S. is in the middle of it. Should we really listen to the McCains and the Grahams who, though they won’t say it out loud, really think that the solution is “put more boots on the ground?” After all, before the 2008 elections, and after Bush was forced by the Iraqi government into negotiatingthe eventual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, McCain was saying that the U.S. should stay there “for a hundred years.” If the U.S. should be “strong,” should be “tough,” just what is it that you on the Right have in mind, other than slogans? Where is the money going to come from? How are you going to convince the majority of U.S. people that it is in the U.S. national interest to go to war on the ground in the Middle East once again? And how many more Kyles and their murderers at home, how many more tragedies do you want to create? How many more people glorified for killing people from a safe, secure perch?
Finally, this is a movie designed to make certain U.S. feel good about the War on Iraq, based on the false idea that it was in response to 9/11 and that, as Kyle was recorded as saying in the movie, the Iraqis are “savages.” Is it not a tragedy that it has become the best-selling war movie of all time? Another victory for Cheney/Bush and their War to End All Peace.
Postscript: This column drew an unusual number of comments for one of mine, almost all supportive, and many adding important additional perspectives. If you would like to see them, please go to the published column at:http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/the-american-sniper-takes-a-shot-at-history-and-turns-it-into-deadly-jingois
This is Dr. Jonas’ Commentary No. 304 for BuzzFlash@ Truthout. Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy (http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/), and a Senior Editor, Politics, for The Greanville Post, (http://www.greanvillepost.com/). Dr. Jonas’ latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013,http://www.puntopress.com/jonas-the-15-solution-hits-main-distribution/, and available on Amazon.