Sunday, February 8, 2015


by Ray Jason

One of my best friends wanted to see the movie ‘American Sniper’ and he asked me to join him.  I would not have done so on my own, but I realized that it could be quite unsettling for him - and he might need my help.  We are both Vietnam Veterans, but he was an infantryman and I was on an ammunition ship.  His experience was so gruesome, that he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The fact that he can function as a normal person amazes me.  If I had those images jangling around in my memory vault, I would probably be living under a bridge somewhere. 
            Twice during the film, the emotional intensity was so overpowering that he had to leave the theatre and catch his breath out in the lobby.  Although we had planned a hearty meal for afterwards, his system was so disabled, that he could only handle a bowl of soup and a beer.  But he made it home safely and when I checked on him this morning he was okay.


That incident triggered this meditation on the movie.  In particular, I wanted to ponder what impression it made on the young veterans who had actually served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  My sense is that it left them with a hollow and unfulfilled feeling – that it was like an emotional and philosophical itch that had not been scratched.  That’s because the messages that were conveyed were actually just subtle retreads of the standard-issue war movie platitudes.  These include: 

·        War is brutal - but necessary.
·        Even though they often make no sense, you just follow orders.
·        Americans are always the good guys and must triumph.
·        The loss of a buddy must be avenged.
·        The enemy is sub-human.
·        Atrocities are forgivable because you are “serving your country.”
But those who have experienced the insanity, fury and viciousness of combat, know that the war movie clichés are at best fraudulent and at worst they are deliberate lies.  Allow me to clarify at this point that I am not a starry-eyed pacifist.  If someone directly threatened my loved ones, I would use whatever force was required to protect them.  But let’s examine the true nature of war.  Here is my concise Sea Gypsy Philosopher definition:
“War is the deliberate murder of individuals who have not directly harmed us.   This senseless killing is done because we have been convinced by political or religious leaders that these people are our enemies.”  
               In the movie there is a poignant moment where the sniper argues that he is protecting his family by killing Iraqis.  His wife challenges this claim, but the film doesn’t delve into their conflicting views.  But I certainly will; because this is the common excuse that conquering armies repeatedly use.  They proclaim that they are invading a faraway country in order to protect their Homeland.  Offensive strategies are always portrayed as defensive necessities.  Conquerors never admit that their true purpose is to gain control of oil or gold or slaves, etc.
            And this war is a perfect example of that.  There were no Iraqi forces encamped on the Canadian or Mexican borders poised to attack.  Saddam Hussein’s navy was not positioned off the American coast ready to invade.  So instead, the film uses the decoy justification of 9/11 even though there was no Iraqi connection to that dreadful day.
            American troops were not protecting their next door neighbors at all.  Instead, they were shielding American business interests.  “Qui bono?” is the Latin question that the Roman Senators would wisely ask.  It means “Who benefits?”  I will gladly tell you who benefits - since Clint Eastwood will not.  American multi-national corporations, the military-industrial-complex, politicians and the media are the ones who reap the rewards of all of this needless death and mutilation.
            The U.S. oil giants gained access to one of the largest remaining petroleum deposits on the planet.  The giant construction companies received enormous contracts for building military bases and providing services for the forces stationed over there.  Then on the flip side, they engorged themselves on the profits from the gigantic reconstruction projects.  Blow it up and build it over again.
            The military-industrial-complex is probably the biggest beneficiary.  Suddenly all of those dormant generals and admirals seem useful again.  And the military hardware contractors such as Raytheon and Boeing and GE see their profits increase dramatically.
            The politicians are rewarded when the lobbyists for the weapons dealers shovel them huge campaign contributions in exchange for their support of the war.  And our “representatives” get to wrap themselves in the flag, which always brings them reflex votes from the aroused patriot sector.
            As for the media, they get a surge in their viewers and readers as the battle commences.  The conglomerates that own the major networks and newspapers never bother to mention that they also happen to own many weapons companies.   They do not reveal that their enthusiastic call to arms greatly increases their profits.
            And what makes this situation even more obscene is the fact that the people who reap the obese profits of this war-mongering never have to risk being anywhere near the killing fields.  They instead send the poor and dispossessed out to do their dirty work as they relax in their executive suites.
             This might seem like a harsh critique of our wars in the Middle East, but I believe that it is honest and accurate.  If you can disprove the allegations that I just made in the previous four paragraphs, I would happily welcome your evidence.  Otherwise, I contend that these accusations are indisputable. 
And what is even more profoundly tragic about the myth that our soldiers are defending the homeland is the fact that those who are TRULY DEFENDING THEIR HOMELAND are portrayed as inhuman savages.  If the roles were reversed and Chris Kyle was defending his loved ones in Texas with the fierceness of a lioness turned hellcat, we would be lauding him as a hero.  Yet in the movie, Mustafa the Middle Eastern sniper who IS protecting his loved ones from foreign invaders, is a devil, but the American squinting into the scope of his rifle is an angel.


            What troubles me most about ‘American Sniper” is that at its core it is just a clever and subtle recruiting film.  It is particularly dangerous because it uses soft-sell messaging.  Yes, the hero agonizes over some “pull the trigger decisions” but by constantly portraying the Iraqis as soul-less barbarians, his “kills” become noble and necessary.  Never once are any American atrocities displayed on the screen. The horrific torture of Abu Ghraib is conveniently omitted.  Plus, human rights groups and our own military records contain many examples of brutal U.S. war crimes.  These are deliberately ignored since they do not support the myth of noble liberators. 
And soldiers with sensitive consciences, who question the morality and purpose of the war, are portrayed as misguided and weird.  They also end up getting killed.  And to make these deaths even more callous, the movie tells us that they probably died because they had “gone soft.”

My guess is that Chris Kyle will become a major new hero for impressionable American young people.  They already have terrible job prospects and many of them are still living at home.  So they are probably contemplating the military as a desperate means of cashing in the lousy hand that life has dealt them.
            These kids have all grown up with the phony violence of video games in which humans are portrayed as nothing more than targets in a shooting gallery.  So they are dangerously unaware of the real consequences of combat.  And this movie, which glorifies murder and mutilation, with high-tech guns and wireless communication, further distorts the true, blood-soaked reality of war. 
The air-conditioned comfort of the arcade shields these youngsters from the screams, smells and sights of the actual battlefield.  And so does the movie ‘American Sniper.’  I do not know whether its distortions are delusional or deliberate.  But I do know that they further the horrible cycle of senseless war and needless death.