The Sniper Controversy

american-sniper-poster

Last night I took my son to see the American Sniper Movie.  I must admit, I was a little wary after reading all the controversy about the film, but when have I ever run away from a few indiscriminate comments?

As the film began, I was sitting in my seat wondering a couple of questions.

1.)  I’m not a fan of war in any account, so I wanted to be sure I was trying to distinguish between a film that may be advocating war.
2.)  I think the men and women in uniform are people who have a distinct honor working to protect and defend a way of life.  I wondered how the director (Clint Eastwood) presented these ideas in the film.
3.)  I have several Middle East Muslim friends.  So I wanted to watch the movie through the lens of what they might be thinking.  Of course, none of my friends could ever be labeled “Terrorist,” but they do come from the region where this historical conflict was fought.

Controversy

When we sat up and left the movie, I was confused.  I’ve read all the controversy about a film that was going to celebrate war and insight more violence against Muslims.  To be honest:  I think the people who were shouting those things, didn’t go see the movie.  OR:  they watched the movie through a TOTALLY different lens than I did.

1.  The story of Chris Kyle is a tragedy, plain and simple.  Chris was a young man looking for a way to be significant in life, and after 9-11 he wanted to channel his energy to protecting America.  I think every American living during that time could say the same emotional anger, hurt, and betrayal were at the forefront of our collective thoughts.  While I was living in the Mid-West, even I found myself wondering what kind of world we were going to wake up to on 9-12.

Eastwood did a GREAT job in the narrative telling this story.  The feelings of the country were raw, and Kyle just did what every young American man was thinking at the time.  “We’ve got to stop this violence.” we all thought.  (although a decade later, I don’t know that violence actually curbs violence, but that’s another post.)

2.  The movie set forth a very important point about people who go to war.  It’s not all about “Yipee Kai-Yay, let’s go shoot people” violence.  In the film, Kyle had significant psychological and emotional imbalance that effected his family, his friends, and his worldview on the future.  Even though sometimes manliness can be measured by how tough a guy can be, this was VERY DISTURBING.  Humans weren’t created to kill other humans, and I think that point needs to be heeded, as we now have so many veterans coming back from war.

We need to reach out and figure out how to care deeply for our fellow Americans.  At KIVU, we’ve sought to reach out and provide scholarships for military families for their teenagers to come to Colorado, and experience a “normal” summer camp experience.  I think we all could do better to care for our fellow service men.

3.  The Movie wasn’t about Americans Vs. Arabs.  Even though some might try and create and US vs. THEM scenario about Americans vs. Arabs, or Americans vs. Muslims, Eastwood carefully kept religion out of the narrative.  It wasn’t about any tenets of faith, but more about a group of people trying to figure out how to achieve the mission they were called to complete.

On both sides there were violent murderous scenes where men were killing other men.  The story Eastwood tried to tell included Kyle as a sniper protecting his fellow servicemen.  There were several places where Kyle was forced to make morally significant decisions, i.e. Save A Friend or Shoot a kid.  As I was watching there was a groan in my spirit I can’t believe this is an actual situation.  Who in their right mind could pull this off?

4.  What was left out was more important than what was in.  At the end I looked over at my friend we were sitting with and said, “I don’t get what the controversy was all about?”  This is not a celebration of war.  It’s not a movie that endorses any kind of killing, on either side.  What wasn’t in the movie was the basic 100,000 ft. question, Why were we there anyway?  And that’s the hardest part of distinguishing this movie.

For my Middle Eastern Friends, American Service Men and Women are people a part of a huge machine.  Our Constitution demands oversight from the American Government.  They were there because they were told to be there.  It’s a very different scenario than a band of people who gather together to just go out in the world and take over.

We can all agree that people who plan and plot evil against innocent civilians should be held accountable.  I think without that in a national conversation we see evil run it’s course through the world.  But at the same time, I think we need to be careful to hide behind the violence to excuse decision makers.  And this is a question that only history will be able to deal with.

Last night as I was processing this HUGE movie, I thought to myself I’m really sad that so many innocent people were killed in this historical era.  It just seems like in 2015 we could figure out a different way to resolve conflict.

I’m incredibly sad for our service men and women.  The notion that the Navy Seal is just a terminator without feelings and emotions trained to kill is wrong.  They’re people just like us who have to deal with that point in their lives where it gets REAL.  Taking the breath from another man, no matter what situation you find yourself in, is a horrible thing.

I’m moved by the resolve of our Military Service People  They know there’s always a chance they would be put in the pathway of a dangerous situation.  I’ve never had such a sense of honor wash over me, juxt opposed to my sadness.  I think many might be in the military with the idea that they get to play with cool toys, or some lofty idea that they are protecting their families at home.  But WOW, to set their mind straight, take orders regardless of implication, and move on…WOW.

I’m sad for My Friends in Iraq  Watching your country be torn apart by people who wish ill will on innocence, seeing your cities destroyed by armies and militants; it just made me think about what I would feel if that happened here in America.  Imagine a foreign army working its way through your city.  Fear.  Guilt.  National Pride.  Anger.  Death.  These are all the consequence of just being born in the wrong place at the wrong time in history.

I think this movie deserves to be examined at a deeper level.  It’s NOT about America goes and shoots the bad guy.  (although there were some cheers in the theater when the ‘bad guys’ were shot)  It is about taking time to really see the consequences of war, and evaluate all of the systems put in place here in America where war may come to be.

If we can take some time to civilly discuss on this level, I think American can truly become a place where we can take considerable responsibility for our military might here in 2015.  With mighty power comes GREAT responsibility, and we have a responsibility to honor our men and women who are willing to sacrifice.  We have a responsibility to take great care of our influence across the globe.  And, we have great responsibility to care for humanity.

War is not to be celebrated in this film.  There are so many more important layers to discover.

 

12 Comments

  1. Andy…thank you! You took a higher ground here that encourages deeper thinking that just taking sides. Needed. Needed by me. Again…thank you!!!

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. I read you post, I’m reading the book & will watch the movie soon.

    I know you are leaning toward future discussions about war, but you mentioned killing and combat. I have never been in either, but a very detailed discussion on both topics was published by, West Point psychology professor, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his books “On Combat” and “On Killing” that might interest you. I have read both and they were very helpful.

    He wrote another book “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence,” that might interest you. I haven’t read this one.

    I was a camper and a videographer for “Kanakuk Colorado.” I have great memories of camp. I am an Infantry Platoon Leader in the process of transferring to the Texas National Guard. Hope all is well.

  3. Right on Rob. I’ve read Lt. Col. Grossman’s books. It’s awesome!! And I’d love to have the conversation about war and combat. That would be really enlightening to me AND my readers. Thanks for all you do. Sure do respect you.

  4. While I agree with many of the points you have made here, I thought it important to say that a lot of people (myself included) who took issue with the film did not take issue because it was a good guys vs bad guys scenario that villainised Iraqis and put Americans on a pedestal. The point I take issue with is the glorification of this man. He was a racist that believed every person he killed was a “savage”. Taken from his autobiography: “I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting, savage, despicable, evil — that’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy savages. There was really no other way to describe what we encountered there.” What can one say of those who defend and mythologize this kind of person?

    1. j… You might want to go look at the definition of savage. There are savages of every race so to call someone a racist because he calls those he fights against savages because they do things like take a drill to someone’s child is a rather childish perspective. You are regurgitating the mass media’s racial rhetoric. I am friends with some who served with him and considered him close friend and there is no evidence of what you speak. These SOF operators know very well that they are fighting for the innocents there as much as anything. The men in theatre take great care to protect those who are victimized by these terrorists. That is not racist. Please take time to think more deeply on such difficult matters as these.

  5. there needs to be a conversation opened about soldier worship in the United States and whether it directly relates to increased violence. It has gotten to the point that if you criticize military action, you don’t ‘support the troops’ (the most egregious offense in post 911-america). Is it possible to recognize these guys as flawed humans, our policymakers in the early 2000’s as mistake prone, and our military as an imperfect instrument of an imperfect nation without being ‘anti-America’? I think so. Being realistic is getting really dangerous in 2015. But it is necessary. Loving our enemies means not killing them or cheering for when they are killed, and we have to figure out a way to do that.
    Great article, and thoughtful.

    1. Thanks Drew. I think you’re on to something here. It takes a real conversation full of grace and truth to pull this off. Our military personnel are INCREDIBLE. I think a healthy conversation about policy makers is the key. After all, the military machine is beheld to the people in Washington (or the lobbyist) and we need to make sure the people are in agreement when we do these things. After 9-11, it was almost unanimous that America had to do SOMETHING. But we didn’t really have a space for dissent. We got swept up into “You’re either with us and your a patriot or you’re a traitor who loves killing innocent Americans.” And that’s dangerous. I LOVE America. I’m Impressed beyond words with the military. But that shouldn’t discourage us from having this conversation. We also need to be careful when we have this dynamic tension we don’t swing toward blaming America as a whole. That’s not healthy either. In any event, I agree we need to have this conversation and respect both sides.

  6. If nothing else comes from this movie and all the dialogue surrounding it, maybe we as Americans can better respect, care for and thank our returning military-as well as all that went before them so that we can live in this great nation.

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