**This is a bit of a rant, so if it seems a bit muddled, I apologize. I was trying to get it out there while the feelings were still vivid.**
Read and share, at your pleasure.
If you read my initial review of a pre-release screening of the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper (HERE), then you know that I thought it was a masterful piece of film-making.
Since the film’s wide release last Friday, I have been somewhat surprised (though I probably shouldn’t have been) at the vitriolic reaction to the film by a lot of “Hollywood insiders.” (whoever they are)
Accusations of racism, sociopathic behavior, glorification of a “killer,” and even one critic who said that Eastwood’s film tries to make a “straightforward situation complex.” That last one came from a reviewer’s look AT THE TRAILER.
What. The. Fuck?
What is wrong with these people?
Is it the violence that is putting them off? I can’t imagine, as films such as Saving Private Ryan, Patton, and countless others have been accepted and even lived off of by Hollywood for decades, and not just war movies.
Horror films showing incredible violence. Horror comedies that make light of such violence. How about a film like Capote, with its softer depiction of cold blooded killers? Pick a movie, and Hollywood has made it, while waving aside criticisms of the violence.
What, then, might drive these people to so openly deride American Sniper?
My guess? It is a really conservative movie that makes the argument for that the Hollywood establishment hates: God, War, and Patriotism.
Don’t let the recent Hollywood offerings of Noah and Exodus fool you. They weren’t made to glorify the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian faithful. They were made in a way to bring in some of those dollars (those almighty dollars), while simultaneously downplaying the religious aspects of the film. They would likely have simply been called The Boat and Escape from Thebes with a line in the credits saying, “these movies were based on the most basic story points from the source material found in the manuscript known as the Old Testament” if that would have helped their bottom line.
So, is the argument about American Sniper about God. Probably partly. Kyle is depicted as a religious person, and mentions God regularly throughout, but I wouldn’t call this a “God-movie.”
Is it War, then, that is so upsetting to these people? How can it, when a film like Zero-Dark-Thirty is widely applauded and rewarded with multiple nominations by a variety of organizations? Or Saving Private Ryan, also a multiple nominee? Or Full Metal Jacket, now widely considered one of the best movies ever made? Apocalypse Now? Platoon?
How about The Hurt Locker?
Remember that little flick from just a few years ago? The one that everyone soiled themselves over? (Actually, it’s a good movie; don’t think I’m running it down, or anything)
So, it can’t be that War is the issue here. Hollywood has proven time and again that War is good for the box office, and awards, so surely the amount of actual violence in American Sniper can’t be the problem.
Some of the problems seem to stem from Chris Kyle’s own statement about Rules of Engagement (ROE), the savagery of the Iraqi people, and his statement that he wishes he had killed more.
Let’s break those down a bit, shall we?
ROE. These three letters are the bane of every serviceman of the last 50 years. Created to outline how wars can be fought, they run immediately into trouble as they encounter the immutable fact of how wars are fought. Wars are not fought by civil rights lawyers or politicians sitting in a committee room. They are fought by men with guns. Men who are being shot at by other men with guns. Or by women with guns. Or children with guns.
What, then, are the rules to govern that combat? Is a man under high stress, no sleep, crappy food, unrelenting assault, and no relief in sight supposed to simply lay down and take a bullet? Or is he supposed to do whatever he can to get himself and his fellow soldiers home.
If you actually have to think about that question, you’re already wrong.
When given a mission, a goal, a definable objective, soldiers will accomplish them. The problem that has reared its ugly head of late is one which is ably articulated in American Sniper: what is the goal? “Win the hearts and minds” is not something soldiers are trained for. “Nation-building” is not what a military does.
“Protect the men under your watch” is a goal, an achievable one, and one which every soldier knows in their hearts is right. Again, American Sniper shows us that even that goal is not enough to satisfy those with no skin in the game, as it were. Kyle’s regret, often framed as “I wish I’d have killed more of them” isn’t some sociopathic expression of blood-lust, but of a frustrated man who was unable to protect more of the men he called “brother” from death.
As for Kyle calling the Iraqi’s savages? If a mother hands a grenade to her 10-year-old son, she is a savage. If she picks it up when the boy is killed before delivering it to its target: she’s a savage. Is it savage to shoot and kill an armed child or woman to defend 20-30 men from death? If a child picks up an RPG and aims it at American troops, is it wrong to kill that child? No. It’s a shame that the Iraqi’s felt compelled to do so, that their political and religious hierarchies groomed them to believe in the glory of martyrdom.
American soldiers feel no compunction to be called martyr. The American soldier simply wants to go home. Alive. If a woman or child with a grenade stands in the path of that goal, is it savage to kill them? To defend themselves so that they can come home again?
That is not to say that the American soldier seeks to kill? Of course not. If every house had been cleared, every Iraqi a member of the peaceful minority, and every Iraqi politician be truly dedicated to the well-being of their country, then the war would have been shorter or non-existent once Saddam Hussein’s regime fell, and our death toll would have been much lower.
I can hear the argument now: “so it was the fact that the American soldiers were there that caused the problem!”
Wrong again. Did the American armed forces decide one day to pack up and invade Iraqi (and Afghanistan)? Did they develop the goal of toppling Saddam Hussein and establishing a democracy built from three factions that had no history of cooperation, and no desire to do so in the future?
And for all you Bush-bashers out there: check the Congressional record. Use of force authorized. Bipartisan support, including your precious Hillary Clinton. Yes, she of the Benghazi debacle. (we won’t see that movie anytime soon, will we?)
The point here is that soldiers do what is demanded of them. Not asked: ordered. Those same soldiers you would call sociopathic and cruel are not given free reign to do as they please, but are instead bound by the ROEs establish far up the food chain, which dictate their behavior, and severely punishes anyone who would deviate from those ROEs, or worse: costs them their lives for want of an answer?
Who then, is the true sociopath? Who then, is truly cruel?
I believe that Michael Moore recently tweeted that snipers are “cowards.” That they would shoot you in the back. If Mr. Moore took just a moment to think (I know, I know) about how asinine that assessment was, he would realize that cover and distance have been the essential tools of warfare from time immemorial. The sling, the bow and arrow, the catapult, the cannon, the airplane, the sniper: these are the things that have allowed for wars to be won for hundreds–thousands–of years.
Perhaps Mr. Moore would like humanity to go back to fighting with clubs and swords?
Patriotism is not defending the men that govern your nation. It is defending the ideas that your nation was built on. For those who use “patriotism” as a dirty word, a punchline: you belittle the ideas you claim you support, and so are not worthy of the protection of those ideas. If you make a movie, or a song, or a television show, or a piece of art that people find offensive and then cry “free speech!” but would take offense at another movie or piece of art and say “you don’t have the right,” then YOU don’t have the right.
[And as an aside, just to clarify a minor Constitution point here: The bill of rights does not GRANT the rights of speech, press, assembly, right to bear arms, trial by jury, etc. Those rights are “endowed by their creator,” and the Constitution and its amendments requires the government to PROTECT them. They are not the government’s to give, limit, or take away: they are ours, not theirs. Forget that at your peril.]
So, to wrap this up, I find it hard to take seriously any arguments against what Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper have put together in this film. It’s depiction of the struggles of one man is incredibly moving, and, as for trying to make a “straightforward situation complex”: that critic has it backward. War, and the fighting of it, is incredibly complex. To try to simplify it is to downplay the tragedy that is the taking of a human life. Decisions are made, and while some of them might be “straightward” at the moment they are made, they–and their aftermaths–are most certainly complex.
I will say it again: Go see this film.
And then thank a veteran for sacrificing themselves, their time, their families, so that you can exercise your right to sit in a theater for a couple of hours.
It can make vets uncomfortable, so don’t be surprised if they mumble a bit or simply say “okay” or “thanks.”