West, Lindy: American Sniper

West, Lindy

The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?The Guardian, 7 January 2015 (updated)

Of interest not so much for its remarks about Clint Eastwood’s movie but about what it says about how the movie has been received in the United States and more generally the insights it may offer into how war hero stories are turned into myths. That phenomenon is probably universal; there may well be Australian cases.

But however effective [the movie] is as a piece of cinema, even a cursory look into the film’s backstory – and particularly the public reaction to its release – raises disturbing questions about which stories we choose to codify into truth, and whose, and why, and the messy social costs of transmogrifying real life into entertainment.

While Eastwood made ‘a morally ambiguous, emotionally complex film’ US right wingers have been giving the film ‘the same unconsidered, rah-rah reverence that they would the national anthem or the flag itself’. They have responded angrily to criticism of violent and racist statements made by the real Kyle.

The patriots go on, and on and on. They cannot believe what they are reading. They are rushing to the defence of not just Kyle, but their country, what their country means. They call for the rape or death of anyone ungrateful enough to criticise American hero Chris Kyle. Because Chris Kyle is good, and brown people are bad, and America is in danger, and Chris Kyle saved us …

There is no room for the idea that Kyle might have been a good soldier but a bad guy; or a mediocre guy doing a difficult job badly; or a complex guy in a bad war who convinced himself he loved killing to cope with an impossible situation; or a straight-up serial killer exploiting an oppressive system that, yes, also employs lots of well-meaning, often impoverished, non-serial-killer people to do oppressive things over which they have no control. Or that Iraqis might be fully realised human beings with complex inner lives who find joy in food and sunshine and family, and anguish in the murders of their children. Or that you can support your country while thinking critically about its actions and its citizenry. Or that many truths can be true at once.

The article received more than 2700 comments. Another linked article by an Iraq veteran, Alex Horton, explores how movies have distorted the view that Americans have of war. Might the same be said of Australians? Another piece from The Guardian and another from the London Telegraph via Fairfax and another from The Independent, which sums up the discussion in the United States thus:

[T]he film has been subject to widespread praise among conservatives for depicting an American soldier at his best, and condemnation among liberals who question the admitted pleasure Kyle took in killing and dehumanising Iraqis.

Miranda Devine weighs in. There is a brief review in The Observer. Luke Buckmaster in Daily ReviewComments on a US blog about alleged half-truths and lies in the movie. The real Chris Kyle talks about the impact of war service on families as well as soldiers. (One of a number of such items searchable on the net.) Meanwhile, the possible relationship between heroism and psychopathy is explored here while common threads of heroes and villains are addressed here. An article by an army officer about ‘natural killers’ is here. There are extended comments (and lots of comments on the comments) on the film on the World Socialist Web Site here and here. Movie not widely popular in Iraq. Another American comment.

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