Hating the Sniper as Hero

Hating the Sniper as Hero

I have not finished reading "American Sniper" or seen the movie, so I can't (and won't) talk about the merits of the book or the film. I can't glean anything from material that wasn't in the movie to prove X or Y. But what I can do is talk about the reaction to the movie.

The response of right-wingers is expected, not surprising: they love the movie. They laud Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, as a hero. For these folks, anything that puts the military in a positive light, despite the subject matter, is a win for patriotism and, more importantly, a strike against "Hollyweird" liberals. For added relish: the movie is a hit, and sweet revenge for director Clint Eastwood, which makes up for his weird performance art act at the GOP National Convention in 2012. (Remember the empty chair?)

And the response of left-wingers is also expected and not surprising: they hate it. They loathe that there's a movie with a sniper as the focus. They bemoan a movie that, in the rush to judgement, makes a "murderer" a hero. And therein lies my primary interest. On left-wing sites, like TPM and especially Salon, there's an urge to lecture to readers about What "American Sniper" Tells Us About America. For these folks, the sniper-as-hero is an obscenity, because, as Michael Moore dutifully said, "We were taught snipers were cowards." I would love to know who the "we" is in that statement. It's laughable that left-wingers seemed appalled that the military actually has snipers and has been using them since God know when.

But more to the point: the response of the left exposes a deep-seated hostility to any expression of American power, and nothing represents that more than the military. Like I said, I expect right-wingers to browbeat people with "support the troops." But the liberal response is more disappointing, because I'd hoped for something less reactionary. As my father told me, if you join the military without an idea that you *may* have to kill someone, you don't belong in the military. Additionally, when anyone in the military winds up on the sniper track, well, if that person isn't absolutely sure that he can pull the trigger, he doesn't deserve to be a sniper. And if you can't be conditioned to that culture and accept that you may need to kill someone to protect your brothers and sisters in arms, then pick another line of work.

What offends liberals about someone being a sniper is that Kyle said he loved his job. "It was my duty and shoot and I don't regret it," Kyle wrote. "I loved what I did. I still do." This sentiment was carried off by pundits as showing the essential depravity of the American solider, who is, by their estimation, a fool, a dupe, mindless and inhuman with insatiable bloodlust. For them, Chris Kyle's comments confirms their bias. It does not seem to matter that Kyle just didn't wake up one morning and decided he wanted to be a sniper because of an innate urge to kill: he would have been thrown out the recruiter's office with that mentality. He was trained to do what he needed to do and that was to protect American lives. For some commentators, that's the real problem on many levels.

Not My Freedom!
The Iraq War was based on lies. Right after 9/11, secret plans were made up to invade Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction. But the military went, overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein and then spent years fighting a bloody, difficult conflict that has cost close to 5,000 soldiers' lives. Because the war was based on faulty intelligence (to be polite), no action by military personnel is justified, according to conventional liberal thinking. It's all a fraud, a lie. So the idea that someone is "fighting for our freedom" is especially odious to left-wingers. Never mind that any number of military personnel may harbor those thoughts as well, No, they just all killers. And that they continued to do their duty just confirms they're probably like Nazis, just following orders. So that means that Kyle's actions in "saving American lives" is faulty as well because we should never have been there in the first place. Thus the sole woman that Kyle shoots as she approaches Marines with a grenade is actually the victim: she was driven to do that based on a lie, killed by a dupe. Kyle wasn't saving American lives any more than soldiers can be "fighting for our freedoms" in a country we should never have invaded.

Just as right-wingers like to use soldiers as props, so do left-wingers as a platform to bemoan American foreign policy. The soldier as person is not really interesting, unless it's someone like Bradley (Chelsea) Manning or in this case, Chris Kyle: one to laud, one to excoriate, both useful for political potshots via blog entries. In Kyle's case, there are two purposes: talk about America's foreign adventures and personify it as a villainous sniper. We are supposed to hate him because he trained to do very uncomfortable and ugly things that we have the luxury of choosing not to do. We are supposed to consider him a simple murderer, or to use Moore's word, a "coward" because he was a sniper. Likewise, we're supposed to dislike the film because he's the protagonist, or that it distorts Islam. The biggest irony is that left-wingers sound just like their right-wing adversaries: it's either-or, no in between. Both sides distrust the federal government as a tool of oppression. For the left, it's other people; for the right, it's themselves. People like Kyle and the movie "American Sniper" just serve as pieces to prove one thing or the other.

I do not write this as a defense of Chris Kyle or the military. I respect that military culture is very different from my own background and experience, and Kyle writing that he loved his job does not offend me. I have the luxury of being offended and complaining about it, or just avoiding it altogether. I've harped on the reaction of the left because it's the most disappointing: for a group that likes to pride itself on nuance and context, there's none of that going on in the rush to condemn "American Sniper." There's no attempt to understand any part of military culture, but a rush to call Kyle a murderer. You don't need to praise Chris Kyle or bury him, but it would not behoove liberals to try to make a connection with a sizable part of the population merely written off as dupes and cowards.