Monday, February 02, 2015

The truth about "American Sniper"

From City Journal by Michael J. Totten:

...So yeah, [Chris]Kyle thought his enemies were savages and didn’t shy away from saying so. There are better words—I’d go with psychopaths myself—but do we need to get hung up on the semantics? Kyle, along with everyone else who fought over there, should be judged for what he did rather than what he thought or what he said. Had Kyle chosen to murder innocent women and children with his rifle, then we could call him a hate-filled killer with justification. But as far as we know, everyone he shot was a combatant.

We do see actual hate-filled killers in this film, and none of them are Americans. The man who shot them did everybody a favor, and that can’t be undone by his vocabulary. What would you think of a man who kills a kid with a power drill right in front of you? Would you moderate your language so that no one at a Manhattan dinner party would gasp? Maybe you would, but Kyle wasn’t at a Manhattan dinner party.

No experience produces as much anxiety as going to war, and anxiety changes the brain chemistry—sometimes temporarily, other times indefinitely. When the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, it strips away our ability to think in shades of gray. It’s a survival mechanism that evolved to keep us alive; it’s older and more primitive than human consciousness itself. Complex and slow higher-brain reasoning inhibits the fight-or-flight response necessary in times of imminent danger, so the brain is hard-wired to short-circuit around it.

As a journalist in various combat zones, sometimes embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq and other times working solo, I’ve spent time in that mindset. It’s not pleasant and it’s not pretty, but there’s nothing immoral about it. Nearly everyone is susceptible to it. Don’t believe me? Try spending a few months being hunted by ISIS in Syria and watch what it does to your mind. A left-liberal friend of mine in the media business who spent years in the Middle East put it to me this way over beers in Beirut: “I get a lot less liberal when people are trying to kill me.”

I managed to pull myself out of that mental state fairly easily, partly because I experienced no personal trauma and partly because I never spent more than one month at a time in a war zone. But Kyle spent yearsin that state, and it persisted after he left Iraq and returned home with at least some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. After his final tour, we see him go straight to a bar and order a beer. His wife calls him and is shocked to discover that he’s back in San Diego rather than still overseas. When she asks why he didn’t come home, he says, “I guess I just needed a minute,” and breaks down in tears. Later we see him in his living room staring at a dead television set while horrific sounds of war explode in his head. Kyle absorbed an extraordinary amount of mental and emotional trauma, stress, and anxiety. This makes him a coward? A psychopath? A hate-filled killer? A Nazi? Seriously?

Here’s a medical fact: psychopaths don’t suffer from post-traumatic stress or any other kind of anxiety disorder. And cowards don’t volunteer for four tours of duty in war-torn Iraq. I live in a coastal city in a blue state, like most of the critics of American Sniper. I was raised with the anti-military prejudice common in my community, despite having a military veteran and Republican for a father. (He served in the army during the Vietnam War, on the Korean DMZ, and to this day has a hard time saying anything positive about the military.)

Spending months with the U.S. military in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad—the cities Chris Kyle fought in—shattered every stereotype about soldiers and war I had in my head. Michael Moore, Seth Rogen, and Bill Maher likely wouldn’t change their views of war and foreign policy had they done what I did, but they almost certainly would moderate their view of the men and women who fought on our side, if for no other reason than that the words they use to describe men like Chris Kyle apply tenfold to the killers Chris Kyle brought down with his rifle. The people complaining about this film are those who most need to see it, even if watching American Sniper can’t compare with time in the field with the army and the Marine Corps.

I lost track of how many soldiers and Marines told me of their frustration with an American media that so often describes them as either nuts or victims. If we don’t want to lionize them as heroes—Eastwood doesn’t, and Kyle himself is portrayed as uncomfortable with that kind of praise—we should at least understand and respect what they’ve gone through and save our rhetorical ammunition for the other side’s head-choppers and car-bombers.

Rob's comment:

US leftists think---or half-think---that this country is the bad guy, which is why they are so uncomfortable about an American soldier killing whoever he's fighting against. Kyle was particularly good at killing the Sunni jihadists in Iraq, so Michael Moore and Bill Maher don't like it. If we're the bad guys like Noam Chomsky says, maybe the people our military are killing in combat are the good guys---or at least half-good guys, even if they plant bombs in the marketplace or burn down schools for girls? Nope, not even close. These people---al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram, all motivated by Islam---are the real face of evil in our time.

Check out Totten's excellent blog, including this recent post on the late Christopher Hitchens.

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At 9:46 AM, Anonymous sfthen said...

"Spending months with the U.S. military in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad—the cities Chris Kyle fought in—shattered every stereotype about soldiers and war I had in my head."

Apparently this guy didn't read Michael Herr's "Dispatches" before he went into a combat zone.

At 6:42 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The people we were fighting in Vietnam were civilized compared to the Islamic fanatics we now face. Not sure if the excellent "Dispatches" would be helpful preparing anyone for war as it's being fought in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The great novel about the Vietnam era---actually more about what was happening in the US than in Vietnam---is "Dog Soldiers," by Robert Stone, who died just the other day. Stone was also one of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters before he became a novelist. Not much merriment in "Dog Soldiers."


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