So I’m a bit behind everyone else it seems, but I finally got out to see American Sniper, the story of Chris Kyle, who is known as the deadliest sniper in American history with 160 kills confirmed and a potential total of 255.
While I haven’t read the book (yet, I want to though) I do have tvtropes which tells of a few differences between events in the movie and those in the book. While the historian in me does wish this was not so, many of the changes make sense in a story way to help build connections with characters, or give examples of the kinds of things he and other soldiers were dealing with, so I can let it pass.
I’m not really going to review the movie, except to say that it was really well done. Like all great movies, everyone has their own opinion about it. One of the common attitudes people come away with is that Chris had a black and white view of war, that his people were the good guys and those they were fighting were nothing more than savages and evil. Or that he was all “God, Country, Family” in a jingoistic way.
The truth is, though…I saw something different. Yes, at several points he does emphasize that the war is about God, Country, and Family. He does it to his fellow soldiers and his family. He does view those he fights as savages (though given that he not only has to watch, but has to kill women and children as they try to murder his fellow soldiers, or as a man tortures and kills a boy using a cordless drill in the movie certainly doesn’t disprove this view). He does view himself as a force for good, someone out there stopping people who are killing their own people as well as his fellow soldiers and country men, but also safeguarding his fellow soldiers.
But, and this is the brilliance of Cooper, he isn’t doing it because of any chest pounding, glory-dogging desire or belief in his own righteousness. Perhaps it is because of my own personal history, and my own nature, but you can see that he does it because he has to. Not just because it is right, or he is better, or anything like that. But because he has the skills and he cannot justify to himself letting people die if he has the power to save their lives. So he wraps it up in God, and Country, and Family, because like a cast on a broken leg, that is how he keeps himself standing. That is how he stands looking through a tiny scope and seeing the faces of every person he kills…because each life he takes is another ten, twenty, hundred, thousand that get to live. And remember, he potentially killed 255 people. Not only is that the highest sniper count in American history…that’s probably the highest individual kill count of the entire war outside of maybe bombing crews. And artillery doesn’t see the people they kill, not like snipers.
In the movie, he assures his wife that he is not a death seeker, he isn’t trying to get killed by going over there again and again. but even as you see it you can almost taste…not a lie, but a hidden truth. He doesn’t want to die, he wants to be home with his family, but he can’t justify to himself being home, being safe, being with those he loves…while other people are dying and he could stop it. I could feel the agony of wanting nothing more than to hold the woman you love, but knowing that as you do, deaths you could stop, lives you could save, happening while you’re safe. I could feel his agony over his desires verses what he felt he had to do. Duty over desire. And the fear that the only way he will be able to stop is if he is dead, because that is the only way he knows how to stop.
Eventually, after four tours and a lot of really tough times and bad fights, he found a solution helping wounded vets. As everyone knows by this point, he was killed by one of the vets he was trying to help.
Now, this part is going to get a bit political and philosophical, so if you don’t want that, thanks for reading and see the movie if you haven’t. But people have made this movie a political issue so I’m going to deal with my own stuff on that.
Michael Moore called Kyle a coward for being a sniper. I’m fairly sure he’s been ripped apart enough for that, but for a fat bastard who has no brave deeds of any kind to his name, Moore calling anyone a coward is like Jabba the Hutt calling out someone for being fat and slimy.
As I said, some people (mostly on the political left) have called Kyle out as a jingoist, a racist, and a few other not so nice things. They seemed to missed the things I saw, but I suspect I know why that is.
The political left is often based on, and driven by, fighting against things. To paraphrase Nietzsche, the “I will not” or “I Will against” a thing. They fight against things like racism, sexism, classism, etc. They will these things not to be. So they fight against them, and where you see the radical parts coming out such as “manspreading” or “microagressions” or “privileges” where they get angrier and angrier as they fight against ever smaller things in the name of eradicating that which they find abhorrent. Now, this is not an inherently bad thing. Somethings should be fought against, But it is an act of “negative will” and when you will something not to exist, as long as even as tiniest micron of “it” exists, you will have failed.
What Kyle represents, however, is the act of “I Will” or “I Will to Be.” He is not there to will terrorism not to be, at least not after the first tour, or even really after the first kills he had (a child and his mother who were trying to bomb a troop convoy). The glory is gone, all that matters is that his fellows did not die. He, from that point on, takes a position of “I Will My Men To Live.” And he does whatever he has too in order to make that will come to be. It was a will that carried him through up to 255 kills and over a thousand days in one of the worst war theaters America has ever known.
And, well, those who spend their lives willing things not to be, willing only destruction, cannot comprehend the act of creation. So I think many critics of the movie and Kyle in the movie are those who see him and his actions only through a lens of destruction. “If I live to fight against things, then everyone must live to fight against things, so he is fighting against these people who he views as savages, and because these people are of a different race, he must be a racist.” for example. They cannot see that he is instead fighting for something, he is fighting to save his fellows, not to kill the enemy. That is why he does not regret any kill he made, because for him, each kill was lives that he saved, not an enemy that he destroyed.