Apart from analyzing the tendency of the war-film genre to glorify violence, justify racism, and fetishize murder, there are a number of factual errors and historical inconsistencies with Clint Eastwood’s newest film American Sniper, as well as the book it’s based upon. The film’s portrayal of Christian dominionism confuses the peaceful message of Jesus. The juxtaposition of 9_11 with Iraq invites viewers to make connections that don’t exist. Implicit jingoism encourages movie-goers to express xenophobic hatred vicariously through the film’s barbaric protagonist. The book is even worse, fostering anti-Muslim hatred and a blood lust that rivals the sentiments of Heinrich Himmler. The book spins elaborate lies, from making claims about “punching-out” former Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura to accounts of sniping looters in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina and more. Savvy analysts understand the divide-and-conquer mentality that is at play here, since this film continues to reignite an age-old national debate, pitting American “patriots” against liberal “hippies.”
As a veteran myself, I have several grievances with the national debate currently underway. On one side it is hailed by “red blooded American patriots” as the incredible story of the deadliest sniper the American military ever produced, while on the other hand, condemned by anti-war activists as offensive propaganda. But as the tweets have revealed, spectators are coming away from American Sniper with a blood lust for killing Muslims, which appears to be the intended reaction for garnering support for the next level of imperial mobilization in the Middle East. Clint Eastwood denies this accusation, of course, proclaiming the film as a champion of anti-war ideals. Despite his lip service, the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and spectators are coming away with irrefutable jingoistic, xenophobic, and blatantly racist prejudice. Wasn’t the official narrative of the Iraq war to fight for Iraqi liberation? Didn’t the news sell us the moral high ground of being their liberators? Wasn’t the occupation itself named, “Operation Iraqi Freedom?” So if we were there to liberate them, why would we glorify in murdering them so indiscriminately?
Despite all this, I would like to offer a third point of view, somewhere in the middle of the two extreme polarities. I see this national argument as an opportunity for us as individuals to overcome our own personal biases, regardless of what side we believe is right. Learning is not about agreement. This is our chance to understand that as long as we’re arguing with each other, we’ll never be able to tackle the root of problems concerning us all.
Even before I joined the military, I was intuitively skeptical of the impact that films depicting war have on our individual psyches, and thus the influence they have on the collective overmind. Many of my friends growing up were seduced by the violence of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now despite the fact that the film’s intention was to illustrate the horrors of war. The problem with most war films is this: even if they attempt to take a stance that screams, “Look how horrible wars can be,” uninformed viewers have an overwhelming tendency to get caught up in how cool it looks to shoot the weapons. The only films I ever saw that made me think twice about my decision to join the military were The Deer Hunter starring Robert DeNero, and Born On The Forth Of July starring Tom Cruise. These two films depicted the true cost of sending young men into battles in far away countries for reasons they cannot understand. Before I saw either of these films, the thought that I might lose a leg or an arm or be paralyzed for the rest of my life had never occurred to me, because from John Wayne’s The Longest Day through Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, I was sold the world view that there is only glory to be had on the battlefield, either in a hero’s death or the validation as an important patriot with glorious award ceremonies and ticker tape parades.
Having said that, I’m always hesitant to lend my eyes to films depicting physical violence and bloodshed because of the messages they can send, whether they intend to or not. As with most forms of screen entertainment, many Hollywood films are meant to shape perception within the public to garner support for Geo-Political decisions made on our behalf, which is why movie theaters are Federally subsidized. For the same reason that recruiters are positioned in high schools to grab up our best and brightest before they’ve reached the age of reason, war films play as instrumental a role in military recruitment as first-person-shooter video games do. These forms of screen media masquerade as nothing more than entertainment, all the while programming a state-sponsored narrative of justified imperialism into the malleable minds of those subject to the electronic hallucinations of the glowing rectangle. Seth Rogen took a lot of flack recently for drawing an apt comparison between Eastwood’s new film to the film-within-a-film, Nation’s Pride – the Nazi propaganda movie that appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. The purpose of effective propaganda is to numb the mind away from reasonable thinking, and anesthetize the emotions away from empathy. As Chris Hedges recently pointed out in TruthDig, “American Sniper caters to a deep sickness rippling through our society. It holds up the dangerous belief that we can recover our equilibrium and our lost glory by embracing an American fascism.” He goes on to say:
“The culture of war banishes the capacity for pity. It glorifies self-sacrifice and death. It sees pain, ritual humiliation and violence as part of an initiation into manhood… The culture of war idealizes only the warrior. It belittles those who do not exhibit the warrior’s “manly” virtues. It places a premium on obedience and loyalty. It punishes those who engage in independent thought and demands total conformity. It elevates cruelty and killing to a virtue. This culture, once it infects wider society, destroys all that makes the heights of human civilization and democracy possible. The capacity for empathy, the cultivation of wisdom and understanding, the tolerance and respect for difference and even love are ruthlessly crushed. The innate barbarity that war and violence breed is justified by a saccharine sentimentality about the nation, the flag and a perverted Christianity that blesses its armed crusaders… It fosters an unchecked narcissism. Facts and historical truths, when they do not fit into the mythic vision of the nation and the tribe, are discarded. Dissent becomes treason. All opponents are godless and subhuman.”
Veterans For Peace recently responded to the film in a similar way, contending:
“Following spaghetti western acclaim, Clint Eastwood, now 84, moved on to Dirty Harry movies… Over the years, he has honed this very masculine style and become a popular film director exploring the American psyche mostly from the reactionary right — though his films are always a dialogue with issues on the left. American Sniper is no different with its limited contrapuntal theme of PTSD and homefront family adjustment.
“Harry Callahan was famous for whacking creeps who deserved to die with his long, phallic .44 magnum. It was great cinema. The formula was simple: Feature a good guy who hates bureaucrats, loves to cut corners and is a man comfortable with violence and put him at odds with bad guys who are absolute perverted creeps whose death at the hands of the good guy would be cheered by an audience shoving popcorn down its gullet. The films were realistic in the sense of being harsh, brutal and loud. But they were far from realistic in the sense of being complex, morally gray, contradictory and confusing — like life itself.”
So when it comes to Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, I’m first and foremost appalled by the message we get early on that the message of Christ has anything to do with racist bigotry or a fixation of murder. How can any true Christian bemoan the crucifixion of Christ and then revel in the slaughter of other human beings?
Beyond achieving the feigned moral high ground of killing for Jesus, the film presupposes that sniper Chris Kyle was sent to Iraq because of what happened on 9_11. You don’t have to be that well informed to understand that the only connection that exists between 9_11 and Iraq is the Bush administration’s lie about Weapons of Mass Destruction which were never found in the deserts of Iraq. A deluge of patriotism that flooded our soldiers into Afghanistan created a tidal wave of militarism, the momentum of which has since bled over into operations conducted in over 75 countries under the radar of our journalists until Jeremy Scahill spilled the beans with his newest investigative report, Dirty Wars.
When the twin towers fell, I was an ROTC cadet reporting in to my commanding officer for my morning duties. It wasn’t long after that I joined the US Army’s ranks in the combat specialty of Infantry despite having the ASVAB scores to go anywhere I wanted within the organization. I graduated infantry school, and shortly thereafter graduated Airborne training. I knew I had something special to offer and was prepared to show the military how capable I was. I declined further training due to a neck injury I sustained while in Airborne school that desperately required the attention of my chiropractor back home (and chiropractic was not, and still is not, a medical practice recognized by the US military as “legitimate”). Regardless, for people like me, it didn’t matter where the military sent us. We were absolutely convinced that our help was necessary to protect the nation, and that the military was working on behalf of the nation’s best interests. After nearly a decade of military service, it became impossible to ignore how bamboozled we all were. Despite the fact that the depth of the lie was emotionally difficult to deal with, denial of the truth was absolutely out of the question once I became witness to the crimes our government insisted were not happening. Not everyone in the civilian sphere bought into the government’s vein attempts to cover up their atrocities, but there are enough Americans unwilling to question the official narrative peddled by our corporate media. Citizen apathy is all that is needed to continue to perpetuate the global military racket that continues to this day.
I don’t enjoy talking about my service, and no fellow veteran I know who has taken lives was ever proud of it, which brings me to my next point about the book of the same name upon which the movie American Sniper is based. Chris Kyle, who is credited with 160 confirmed kills (God knows how many more) reads like a demented serial killer, reveling in the destruction and death that transpired at his fingertips during four tours of duty. This initially led me to question what role the book and subsequent film were meant to play in the society to shape public perception, and how much of it was altered to appeal to the pro-war narrative, because no veteran I know personally has ever talked the way Kyle did about murder. The only people I’ve ever met who revel in the death of others in combat situations are people who have never been in combat, or psychopaths who derive a sadistic pleasure from the pain of others.
As far as the first group are concerned – people who tell stories that never happened – we’ve all me these guys. You’ve probably bumped into one of these clowns at least once. You know, the loud guy in the bar drinking alcohol and telling you about how he was a sniper in Iraq or worked with the special forces in Afghanistan, spinning tales to whomever will listen. The first prerequisite in determining the legitimacy of an individual’s service the military is his willingness to talk about combat. Nobody I know who saw ‘trigger time’ overseas enjoys talking about combat and will flatly refuse your requests to reminisce by changing the subject of leaving the conversation altogether. Posers, on the other hand (which there are many) who have been programmed by video games and war films to glorify war, will tell war stories that didn’t happen to anybody who will listen. They do this because the culture has brainwashed them into thinking that they can obtain respect, get laid, and gain notoriety if they can convince people they too are an American war hero. If you bump into people like this, a great test of character is to ask them what their MOS was when they were in the military – that stands for Military Occupational Specialty. If they weren’t in the military, they won’t be able to answer this question, and ten times out of ten when I bump into chaps who can’t wait to talk about battles they’ve fought in, they are unable to answer this question.
Now understand – I’m not saying Chris Kyle was a poser. But if he enjoyed the act of killing during his service, then I’m led to believe that he’s either a psychopath, or the narrative of his life has been altered to either boost book/movie sales, and/or to garner further blind patriotic support for our continued persecution of Muslim people’s through military force.
Praising the act of killing into fetish territory is not the behavior of any genuine veteran I know, which leads me to believe that Chris Kyle is either not responsible for the death-glorification that appears in the book (which, by the way, is conspicuously absent from the film), or he was a psychopath. I’ve also considered the possibility that many of the stories were fabrications, either ghost-written by other writers or embellished by the editor to make it sell better, because there are many claims throughout the text that are blatant lies: in the book we’re meant to believe that Chris Kyle punched former Navy Seal Jesse Ventura; that Kyle sniped thirty people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina; that he murdered two men attempting to car-jack him. There is no evidence to support any of these claims, and Jesse Ventura even filed a law suit for defamation of character when Chris Kyle was still alive.
The media have twisted up the Ventura facet of the debate as well, vilifying the former Minnesota Governor for victimizing the poor widow of Chris Kyle for monetary gain. That’s not what happened. Ventura has since set the record straight about the chapter of American Sniper entitled, “Punching Out Jesse,” that the publication company was forced to change. Despite the fact that a jury came to the conclusion that overwhelming evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the incident in question never happened, instead of amending or omitting the entire chapter, the publication company offered money as payment to Ventura for damages. Ventura objected to the money, demanding they remove the blatant lies from the pages of the book. Though they’ve changed the name of that chapter in subsequent publications, they stonewalled Ventura on altering the content, wrote him a check, and now the media berates him for taking money away from Kyle’s widow. Money that the Kyle estate claimed was going entirely towards charity in the name of veterans organizations, which turned out to be another lie, as only about 2% of the proceeds were ever donated to said charities – according to the National Review.
This brings me to the strange circumstances surrounding Chris Kyle’s death, shot by a former Marine on a shooting range shortly after Ventura’s lawsuit began. Some analysts are drawing parallels between the Chris Kyle narrative and the Pat Tillman story; men who’s image was worth billions in recruitment advertising to the military-industrial-complex; men who, at least as documented in Pat Tillman’s case, saw the war for the racket that it is.
I revel in the opportunity to speak my mind on the subject of war porn and violence porn because a common misconception infecting the discourse of our society is that if you’re going to question the war you need to be prepared to respond to accusations of being anti-American or anti-military. As an ROTC cadet and a person who sacrificed his early life to join the military, is anyone prepared to call me anti-American? Since I was honorably discharged from my service, is anyone prepared to call me anti-military? The troops that Americans claim to support find themselves completely alone when the return home – 22 of them kill themselves every day. You think it’s because they’re proud of what they did? You think it’s because they’re happy with what their actions helped accomplish? You think its because they believed that their battles resulted in freedom for Americans?
And how does patriotic support of our troops equate to the anti-human stance we take on the ten million homeless veterans walking our streets every day, who we demonize for being poor? If anyone is qualified to say this, I as a veteran am: you cannot support our troops and be against the war, because if our troops are committing crimes, we are no different than Nazi Germany. Just following orders is a coward’s excuse, and hiding behind a rifle requires far less courage than standing up against a corrupt government that continues to commit crimes in the name of “freedom” while wearing the cross and wrapping itself up in the red, white and blue.
I’m not the only veteran taking a stance to set the record straight here. This week’s broadcast featured former Marines Adam Kokesh and Ross Caputi, men who served in Fallujah, Iraq – some of the bloodiest fighting in the entire Iraq conflict. They also calls the Iraq war what it is – an imperialistic resource exploitation that American soldiers are being sold on the basis of fighting for freedom.
No one has ever said it better than two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler:
“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. “I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
“I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
“During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
For this reason, I can’t help but cringe when people reflexively respond to the news of my military service by pumping my hand and thanking me for my service, which is part of the reason I rarely bring it up. Please don’t thank me for my service. Thanking me for my ‘service’ is tantamount to thanking a former Nazi for crimes against humanity. I didn’t fight for your freedom – I fought to help guarantee the profits of oil barons, banksters and oligarchs, and am doing everything in my power to atone for that mistake.
This post was composed by Outer Limits producer and Army veteran Brandt Miller.
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