Today is officially “Chris Kyle Day” in Texas, in honour of the US Navy Seal, the deadliest rifleman in American military history, whose depiction in the movie American Sniper has divided the country and exposed a widespread failure to weigh the positive and negative realities it portrays. To be sure, the film is well done in every aspect, and I’m glad I saw it. It is a raw portrait of a talented yet fallible man, tasked with the godlike role singularly to end lives in dangerous zones of combat by spectacular means, while trying to force normalcy at home in between four tours in Iraq. That is quite a heavy story to tell.
Reaction to the film has resulted in “…a media firefight between liberals who have denounced the film as glorifying killing or whitewashing the Iraq war and conservatives who have embraced its patriotic hero”. The movie has made staggering amounts of money, and while it is popular among audiences, it has been derided by disgusted liberals. The loudest of that group is director, and outrageous flame-stoker, Michael Moore. His initial comment on Twitter took place just two days after the wide release of American Sniper: “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse”.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the emotional spectrum, were opposing reactions to the film. This particular disgust was not at the sniper profiled, but those he targeted in combat: “American sniper made me appreciate soldiers 100x more and hate Muslims 1000000x more,” and “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are — vermin scum intent on destroying us”.
Too often some who lean Left politically are eager to conflate objection to military conflict with servicemen and servicewomen. Contempt for individuals grows. No, you don’t have to agree with military action, but you should respect those involved in such service. The training they’ve received is meant to bring about success in armed conflict. Said success means destroying the enemy, protecting your own, and advancing the military objective. To be alarmed at the particulars involved, targeting and killing the enemy, represents a utopian worldview that has been shattered. Those such as Michael Moore, disgruntled at reality, condemn the actions of ones such as Chris Kyle as cowardly rather than realising that what is necessary may not be subject matter that is comfortable to discuss.
Conversely, some who lean Right politically view a film such as American Sniper in a light which romanticises both the experience of war as well as those involved in said war. As a sniper, Chris Kyle found himself perched on rooftops for hours, with a line of sight to the events below, and with the responsibility of making the decision to end the lives of those bent on destroying his comrades. Furthermore, his targets weren’t marked because of race, but were marked because there was a clear indication that they meant harm. Such depth of responsibility is not something to be trivialised.
“The Legend of Chris Kyle”, a piece that appeared in D Magazine just two months after his death in 2013, shared his own thoughts from previously held interviews. While killing was not something Kyle enjoyed, he understood its necessity in war. Of those he killed, Chris Kyle said: ” ‘They rule by putting terror in the hearts of innocent people. The things they would do—beheadings, dragging Americans through the streets alive, the things they would do to little boys and women just to keep them terrified and quiet—’ He paused for a moment and slowed down. ‘That part is easy. I definitely don’t have any regrets about that.’ ” Enjoyment? No. Regret in ending the lives of the bloodthirsty who had or were intent on harming others? None.
After the war, Chris Kyle struggled with depression and drinking until he found a post-war purpose in helping veterans, and caring for those who were recovering physically or emotionally from their own service. One of those veterans he reached out to allegedly was responsible for ending Chris Kyle’s life, and the life of his friend Chad Littlefield, on February 2, 2013 at a Texas gun range. The suspect goes on trial later this month and American Sniper has been nominated for several Oscars.
The most touching moment for me in the movie came at the end, showing the 200-mile motorcade across Texas heading to Chris Kyle’s memorial service where thousands attended. On the way there many, many people lined the road, paying respects to a man they did not know personally but had come to know through other means. American flags lined the way, a final tribute to a man who did his job to protect others in battle, and worked to care for others at home.
As a society are we really that incapable of viewing a movie about war without being consumed in some way with hatred? Is our take-away from such an experience so clouded by our own emotions that we can’t honestly process it without reverting to preconceived notions of what we believe is good, evil, and just? I don’t find either type of hyper-emotional response mentioned to be in any way representative of the film laid out before me and other audience members.Those whose hatred against Arabs grew, or whose dislike at the military increased upon seeing the film, had established feelings along these lines well before the opening scene. The claim that the movie glorified death or war is wholly inaccurate. The film does not wallow in the grotesque nor does it whitewash the very real aspects of life, death, legacy, and the repercussions of each.