Does ‘American Sniper’ take aim at the truth?
Hollywood sold us out to the military-industrial complex
by John Myers
In a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” a helicopter gunner fires wildly at civilians scattering in rice fields below. After that comes the following exchange:
Private Joker: “How can you shoot women and children?”
Helicopter gunner: “Easy! Ya just don’t lead ‘em so much!”
As you can bet, Kubrick’s acclaimed movie got zero Pentagon support. Two other critically acclaimed Vietnam movies from that period that also got no cooperation from the U.S. military were Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”
It is easy to understand how these movies were denied any support from the Pentagon. Besides showing the determination of the enemy, they also showed American soldiers committing suicide, fratricide and mass killings of civilians. Aeschylus said, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”
Not so much perhaps for Stone’s movie “Platoon,” especially when you consider he was a decorated combat infantryman who served in Vietnam. Yet the truths he told in “Platoon” were discredited by the very government that sent him 8,000 miles to fight.
Overall, Hollywood has little compunction in not being truthful. Most blockbuster war movies have full U.S. military support, including the use of off-duty personal as well as the free use of everything from Black Hawk helicopters to aircraft carriers. All the Pentagon wants in return is a hand in writing the script to portray the military in the best possible light and, if possible, to get teenagers attending movies to enlist. For example, when “Top Gun” was shown, the Navy even set up tables for recruiters to catch enthralled young moviegoers leaving the theater.
Such is the case with the new record-breaking blockbuster at theaters, “American Sniper.” It is the “true story” — a term that is meaningless to our military and its Hollywood propaganda machine — of Chris Kyle, a man we are told is America’s most proficient sniper with “160 confirmed kills” to his name. It rolls off the lips of cable news anchors the way ESPN anchors might report the number of touchdowns thrown by an NFL quarterback during his career. Yet there may be a gap between the real Kyle and the fictionalized one developed by director Clint Eastwood. For example:
•Kyle tells of how he punched former Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura square in the face because Ventura was critical of the war. That never happened. Ventura sued, winning a jury award of $1.845 million.
•Eastwood suggests that the invasion of Iraq after Kyle saw the planes crash into the Twin Towers on 9/11 was the motivation that brought out Kyle’s warrior spirit. While polls have shown that 40 percent of Americans still believe Iraq was involved in that attack, it is only because the Bush administration sold such lies so well.
•Kyle has been accused of fabricating a story of killing 30 armed looters from the roof of the Louisiana Superdome to protect the innocent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
After his four tours, Kyle was killed by a disturbed veteran at a gun range. But in the book of the same name as the movie, he wrote:
•“Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq.”
•“I only wish I had killed more…”
•“I loved what I did… it was fun. I had the time of my life…”
•“I don’t shoot people with Korans — I’d like to, but I don’t.”
Whether all this derision against Kyle is deserved I cannot say. I am not out to besmirch the name of a dead and even heroic American soldier. But the real question is if any of these things were true, would they be part of a Hollywood movie? Of course they wouldn’t because they too would be a casualty of war.
Canadians who know some history know who the Black Watch is. They have an illustrious past as a regiment. For the past 40 years, I’ve gotten my hands on as many World War II books as I could find and talked to many veterans of that war: Canadians, Americans and Germans. What I learned was the Black Watch was feared by the SS and for good reason. The SS was not inclined to take prisoners. After seeing one lineup of executions of Allied POWs, the Black Watch wasn’t either. Black Watch soldiers killed as many SS troops as they could lay their sights on, hands up or not. That’s not a popular notion, but it is the truth.
What I find most interesting about “American Sniper” is that it is much like the subplot within the 2009 war movie “Inglourious Basterds.” In it Joseph Goebbels has created his masterpiece, a “fact-based” movie about Fredrick Zoller, a handsome and heroic German sniper who killed more than 200 Allied soldiers in a single day. In “Inglourious Basterds,” Goebbels premiers his movie in occupied France. The premier is attended by the Nazi leadership, who chortle as Zoller racks up kill upon kill of Americans in German-occupied Europe.
Why Islam hates us
So what is “American Sniper” about? It’s about a gifted marksman killing in countries occupied under orders of the American government. The only difference, it seems to me, between the purely fiction Zoller and Kyle is that Zoller kills enemy soldiers, whereas Kyle was compelled to shoot women and children. Yes, he killed women and children who did threaten American combat lives, but two facts remain:
1.The United States occupied Iraq without that country being a clear and present danger to America; the outcrop of that occupation is a Middle East set to implode.
2.The war in Iraq that took 5,000 American lives took as many as 500,000 Iraqis — Iraqis who had nothing to do with 9/11 but a dozen years later are under siege by the Islamic State.
The blowback from that invasion and occupation continues to this day. I have a friend who works in the Middle East. He told me he saw a teenage Arab boy with the words “Die Charlie” on his arm.
The question is not why attacks like the one in Paris on Charlie Hebdo happened but why they don’t happen more often? Of course, the answer is they will for as long as the military-industrial complex continues to wage wars on Arab lands.
What surprises me about the Islamic violence is that millions of Americans are surprised about it. One reason might be that so many Americans believe the nation is imbued with manifest destiny to remake the world the way the presidential administration believes it should be. This is ironic, considering the bridling of Americans when presidents attempt to rewrite our Constitution or change our values.
What would you do if China occupied America?
Suspend disbelief the way some radio listeners did during Orson Welles’ presentation of “War of the Worlds.” Imagine China launching an all-out attack on American cities. Imagine their use of drones, tanks and up to 2 million troops on patrol in our cities. Your business and even your home is lost, your brothers or sons rounded up and interrogated. Would you be willing to die to kill that enemy? I would.
Today, my only firearm is a Remington 12 gauge shotgun. I would be a far more effective killer wearing a bomb underneath my coat and walking up to a group of communist soldiers.
How many like-minded Americans would act the same? No doubt, many would. We wouldn’t need a holy book to tell us to do it, and we wouldn’t need the promise of 72 virgins. We would just do it.
No doubt, the Chinese back home would not understand. No doubt, Chinese filmmakers in Hong Kong would write heroic films about their troops who killed people like you and me that endangered their fine, patriotic soldiers.
Consider what 20-year war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges wrote in “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”:
As long as we think abstractly, as long as we find in patriotism and the exuberance of War our fulfillment, we will never understand those who do battle against us, or how we are perceived by them, or finally those who do battle for us and how we should respond to it all. We will never discover who we are. We will fail to confront the capacity we all have for violence.
The problem is that thousands more people will go see “American Sniper” than will pick up a thoughtful book by someone like Hedges. After all, the theater is an escape — a place where we get to watch actors like Bradley Cooper and Tom Cruise make us proud.
Modern-day war movies are a spectacle filled with special effects and noble warriors. They take us away from our worries. They let us escape our dreary lives. Like alcohol, marijuana, gambling and sports spectacles, movies are opiates for the masses.
Therein lies the tragedy because war movies cloud our understanding of Islam — why many of us hate them and why they hate us. Until we are willing to deal with some harsh truths about the evils of Islam and how to best deal with it, we will be in a perpetual state of war. Then again, this may be what the military-industrial complex wants.