Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American Sniper and the Fallacy of "They Fight to Keep Us Free"

  • This piece is the conjoining of two comments from Facebook. The first is a response to an eloquent and important observation by the excellent singer-songwriter, Nathan Bell, who began his post with this statement: "Somewhat lost in the furor over American Sniper is the simple fact that almost every person in this country lets these wars continue without a second thought and just ignores the fact that it is the children of OTHER people dying and being mentally and physically maimed while they go shopping, go to movies, and carry on." He ended his statement with this observation: "We have another election cycle starting way too soon, and if we really want to fix the problems that movies like American Sniper bring out in the open we are going to have to vote out the militarists and the chicken hawks on both sides of the aisle."

    Here are my comments.

     We have been constantly at war for over 14 years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, but it is nearly an invisible war. We hear nothing about the day to day efforts. We hear nothing about the casualties: nothing about our soldiers; nothing about their soldiers; nothing about innocent civilians being killed. Nothing about the trillions of dollars that we have poured into these immoral wars. We just hear about the "DEFICIT" and the need to cut social programs because of it.

    We have run literally thousands of air strikes and drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, and the data suggests that at least 1/10 and as many as 1/5 of those killed were civilians. We hear NOTHING about it. Furthermore, I am afraid that we have so bought into the immoral notion of "acceptable collateral damage" and the overt political demonization of "them," that we might not care even if we did know the truth about our ugly little wars.

    We ask both our military personnel and private mercenaries to do the bidding of those who profit from endless and pointless war, while we tacitly accept the fallacious fantasy that "our brave soldiers are fighting to KEEP US FREE!" Or, as that coward Lindsay Graham mewls, "So that we don't have to fight them here." Yet, the very people who promulgate the war—the politicians, pundits, and profiteers—while mouthing patriotic platitudes and verbal "support" for our veterans, actually slash many programs that are so necessary to serve the many needs of our veterans. 

    In line with the radical social and economic policies of Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and the many others who argue that the social safety net harms the people who need it, they gleefully send people into war, then, to those who have had their legs blown off, they say, "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps." And the American People have not raised their voices against these vicious, self-serving hypocrites.

    We have become so partisan, so much of which is based on the most petty of pretenses, that the deep injustice and immorality of a profit-based invisible war may not even show up on the radar of the 2016 election. Since it is so intertwined with the "profits over people" philosophy, perhaps we can call it out and change it.

    Here is my review of "American Sniper" from another thread, and in response to the claim that they are "keeping us free."

    Anyone is entitled to their opinion, but opinions that are not rooted in fact are merely ignorance and, in too many cases, dangerous. This "commenter" says, "...you have no idea what it takes for this country to maintain our freedoms," when he is talking about the war in IRAQ, an illegal and immoral war based on proven, incontrovertible LIES, a war that destabilized a country and radicalized a population and a region; at the same time, our cowardly response to an attack by 20 people lead us to sacrifice our basic principles of honor and integrity, free speech and individual privacy, while destroying our economy.

    I did see the movie, and it is well made. My guess is that Eastwood is actually a bit more subtle than the film's supporters suppose; in fact, I am fairly certain that most will miss the film's several deeper points. I have not read the book, but this film does not portray a shining hero (despite the accolades and moving portrayal of the real life individual in the epilogue); it portrays a very flawed man who is obsessed and deeply troubled. It depicts the powerful negative impact of war on the human psyche. The most moving part of the piece is a mother reading her son's last letter at his funeral (I don't want to give away who it is, but it is perhaps the most important statement in the film).

    Finally, whether he intended it or not, the heart of Eastwood's film is basically just a mano y mano battle between an Iraqi sniper and an American sniper. My question to anyone is this: If the American sniper is a hero for the number of kills he made of men, women and children, is the Iraqi sniper also a hero, perhaps a greater hero, because he was actually protecting his homeland and his family from an invading army? If not, why not?

    The major failure of the movie, and one that has been pointed out, is that it does not offer any historical context except a visceral reaction to the September 11, 2001, attacks. It makes the case for a man who wants to do his duty, serve his country, protect and save his comrades, but it never explores any justification of our actions in Iraq. Perhaps Eastwood expects his audience to have a sense of history; after all it was only 14 years ago. Unfortunately, this is the United States of Amnesia in which half of the country is still under the delusion that we attacked Iraq for two clear reasons, they had WMD's and they were responsible for 9/11. Both of those "reasons" were not merely "mistakes," they were KNOWING lies perpetrated on the American people, the Iraqi people, and the people of the world by many major figures in the Bush administration whose rapacious interest in Iraqi oil is well known. Without that context, heroism becomes a much easier fantasy to maintain.