Friday, February 06, 2015

The Problem(s) With American Sniper

The film American Sniper has been gaining so much attention lately, because of its new blockbuster status, the ethnic and racial hatred that it is stimulating and also the way it is leading to both a challenging and also a lionizing of the American soldier through the figure of sniper Chris Kyle. Bradley Cooper, who plays Kyle in the film recently came out in defense of the film, noting that if you have problems with the political aspects of war, blame the politicians, the ones who make the decisions to send troops into war. Don't blame the troops who suffer because of those fights.

This of course makes sense to most people. The politicians are corrupt, they are the ones you can blame, but the soldier, the self-sacrificing warrior should remain untouchable. They didn't choose to go to war, they just obeyed orders and did what their country told them to do. But this defense of the film leads to the natural problem of dealing with the morality of conduct if a war is not justified and if it is fought for the wrong reasons. There is no way to keep the two separate. On the face of things the Iraq war was not justified, was not necessary. The lies and the exaggerations that were told by Bush Administration officials are well documented. If you actually wanted to have a real discussion about this war, things would inevitably lean towards this being a wasteful and pointless war, based on bad intelligence, in both forms of the word. But what prevents people from challenging those leaders is not the love of Americans for their political leaders and how they don't want to burden them with ethical considerations. The reason why that conversation isn't happening is because of troops on the ground. As most people feel that if troops are deployed you should support them no matter what, as long as soldiers are fighting, it is never supposed to be right to question things. After all protesting the Iraq War might weaken the resolve of the soldiers, might make them rethink their willingness to sacrifice and die for things they problem don't understand. It would hurt their feelings and even if the war is wrong, they need to be able to focus on defending themselves and killing those they are fighting.

The key problem here is that morally or ethically you cannot simply separate the troops from the leaders. You cannot stay that one side is accountable and the other side can do whatever they want. If a war is wrong, then it means that the soldiers participated in something that is wrong and furthermore that means it is wrong to celebrate what they did as part of a potentially unjust endeavor. To honor their service means that you are also honoring the immorality of their actions. These are questions of core morality, ones that few countries, much less people are able to deal with. If something is wrong, then don't look for the silver linings in it, don't look for the way to still give awards, to find something to celebrate in it. That is precisely how people do not learn from their mistakes, it is exactly the way they continue to make them. Because while the war can be wrong, the warriors are still right. There will always be ways of trying to use that heroism, that glory to cover over the immorality, to erase the mistakes, to find a way, as the movie does, to make sinless the sinful. The movie gives the impression, one that so many people in the US already incorrectly hold, that invading Iraq was justified because of their role in 9/11, and when you are focusing on the heroism and trauma of the troops, who has time to remember that sort of crucial detail? Who would want to remember that sort of complicating truth when you are presented with this well-made portrait of sacrifice and heroic trauma?

This is the main problem with a film like American Sniper is where it situates the focus of victimization or the locus of the viewer's sentimental gaze. The way that it helps to prevent the viewer from seeing who truly might be a victim in the context. If the war was wrong, immoral, unjustifiable, then that means that the victims are not the soldiers who suffer and sacrifice, but it means the victims are those they fight against. So many portraits of war in film and media struggle with this fact. You want to paint in beautiful and touching strokes something that will not condemn the nation, that will not remind everyone of the sins that their nation as committed, and so you instead focus on the suffering of the troops. Their battles against their enemies, how they perform bravely, how they suffer with trauma when they come home. This is a way of keeping the imperial and self-serving gaze of the US intact. So that it can still be seen as a proud, democracy loving nation that is more likely than any other to bomb a country or overthrow its leaders for selfish self-interest or gain


Below is an article from a Iraq war veteran which makes some similar points.

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Iraq Vet: Chris Kyle is no hero - and neither is anyone else who served in 'immoral' war
by Travis Gettys
Rawstory
1/28/15

A former U.S. Marine who took part in the second siege of Fallujah said “American Sniper” Chris Kyle is no hero, but he said no one who served in Iraq should be considered one.

“Our invasion of Iraq was in violation of international law, we did not have the (United Nations) Security Council’s approval in invading Iraq, and also our occupation was imposed on Iraq – it was not something that they wanted,” said Ross Caputi, an outspoken critic of the war since he left the military in 2006.

“Instead it was something that we forced upon them and didn’t give them any say at all, so I feel that our mission in Iraq was illegitimate and also very immoral,” he added.

Caputi appeared Tuesday on Alan Colmes’ Fox Radio program, where he discussed Kyle’s autobiography and the blockbuster movie based on it.

He told Colmes he thought the book was a typical combat veteran memoir, but he thought the film adaptation was structurally weak and sometimes confusing.

Caputi, the founding director of the Justice for Fallujah Project and director of the Fallujah documentary film “Fear Not the Path of Truth,” said he hoped the popularity of “American Sniper” would spark a needed debate on the war.

“At first I was very happy to see such a loud debate about the film, but then I started to realize how polarized the debate had become,” he said. “At this point I think the debate has just become really emotional.”

Although Caputi said he can’t consider any Iraq veteran a hero, he doesn’t blame them as individuals.
“This might be a little overly philosophical, but I believe in collective responsibility,” he said. “You can’t point to any one individual in the U.S. military or on the civilian side of the leadership that is hold responsible for the second siege of Fallujah. Arguably even civilians in this country, who their tax dollars went toward creating the bullets and shipping them to Iraq and putting them in Chris Kyle’s and my hands.”

He said Americans take a great leap of faith by assuming every returning combat veteran was a hero.
“I think it is indeed a leap of faith that we just kind of assume that of course returning soldiers are heroes they did heroic things and they did indeed protect our freedoms, and I don’t think that’s supported by the facts on the ground,” Caputi said. “So I think it’s accurate to say that it’s a leap of faith, and I think it’s a salient one because we very much want to believe that our guys are the good guys and that they’re doing good things.”

Watch the entire interview posted online by The Alan Colmes Show:

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