Chris Kyle, American Sniper

The Columbus Free Press recently printed a movie review of “American Sniper”, the Clint Eastwood directed film portraying Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in a positive or at least a conflicted character. The movie is a huge box office success in America, bringing in $217,092,013 in the first 5 weekends.

The review by Richard Ades printed in this paper concludes with this gem: “The real-life Kyle was celebrated as a hero. Despite its occasional whiff of dramatic manipulation, American Sniper makes a compelling argument that he deserved the label. “

Unlike the review printed in this paper, American Sniper has been savaged by progressive voices throughout the country.


The best of the reviews is by “Killing Ragheads for Jesus” by Chris Hedges, which begins with this excellent introduction:


American Sniper” lionizes the most despicable aspects of U.S. society—the gun culture, the blind adoration of the military, the belief that we have an innate right as a “Christian” nation to exterminate the “lesser breeds” of the earth, a grotesque hypermasculinity that banishes compassion and pity, a denial of inconvenient facts and historical truth, and a belittling of critical thinking and artistic expression. Many Americans, especially white Americans trapped in a stagnant economy and a dysfunctional political system, yearn for the supposed moral renewal and rigid, militarized control the movie venerates. These passions, if realized, will extinguish what is left of our now-anemic open society.


Hedges thoroughly covers both the movie and the book, which is important because the movie attempts to portray Chris Kyle in a way that the audience can empathize and even agree with his murderous rampage. The book however, written in first person by Chris Kyle, demonstrates in no uncertain terms that Kyle was a murdering psychopath, incapable of any empathy for the women and children he murdered in as a member of the American occupying force in Iraq.


Hedges concludes his critique of this “Sniper” with this:


The culture of war banishes the capacity for pity. It glorifies self-sacrifice and death. It sees pain, ritual humiliation and violence as part of an initiation into manhood. Brutal hazing, as Kyle noted in his book, was an integral part of becoming a Navy SEAL. New SEALs would be held down and choked by senior members of the platoon until they passed out. The culture of war idealizes only the warrior. It belittles those who do not exhibit the warrior’s “manly” virtues. It places a premium on obedience and loyalty. It punishes those who engage in independent thought and demands total conformity. It elevates cruelty and killing to a virtue. This culture, once it infects wider society, destroys all that makes the heights of human civilization and democracy possible. The capacity for empathy, the cultivation of wisdom and understanding, the tolerance and respect for difference and even love are ruthlessly crushed. The innate barbarity that war and violence breed is justified by a saccharine sentimentality about the nation, the flag and a perverted Christianity that blesses its armed crusaders. This sentimentality, as Baldwin wrote, masks a terrifying numbness. It fosters an unchecked narcissism. Facts and historical truths, when they do not fit into the mythic vision of the nation and the tribe, are discarded. Dissent becomes treason. All opponents are godless and subhuman. “American Sniper” caters to a deep sickness rippling through our society. It holds up the dangerous belief that we can recover our equilibrium and our lost glory by embracing an American fascism.


Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone took a different perspective on the movie. His review is titled 'American Sniper' Is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize”

Taibbi compares “Sniper” to Forrest Gump as follows: This is the same Hollywood culture that turned the horror and divisiveness of the Vietnam War era into a movie about a platitude-spewing doofus with leg braces who in the face of terrible moral choices eats chocolates and plays Ping-Pong. The message of Forrest Gump was that if you think about the hard stuff too much, you'll either get AIDS or lose your legs. Meanwhile, the hero is the idiot who just shrugs and says "Whatever!" whenever his country asks him to do something crazy.

Among many excellent observations made by Taibbi are these:

Sniper” is a movie whose politics are so ludicrous and idiotic that under normal circumstances it would be beneath criticism. The only thing that forces us to take it seriously is the extraordinary fact that an almost exactly similar worldview consumed the walnut-sized mind of the president who got us into the war in question.

And this:

Eastwood, who surely knows better, indulges in countless crass stupidities in the movie. There's the obligatory somber scene of shirtless buffed-up SEAL Kyle and his heartthrob wife Sienna Miller gasping at the televised horror of the 9/11 attacks. Next thing you know, Kyle is in Iraq actually fighting al-Qaeda – as if there was some logical connection between 9/11 and Iraq.


Another excellent observation: They did this after Vietnam, when America spent decades watching movies like Deer Hunter and First Blood and Coming Home about vets struggling to reassimilate after the madness of the jungles. So we came to think of the "tragedy" of Vietnam as something primarily experienced by our guys, and not by the millions of Indochinese we killed.

Taibbi concludes his review by saying “Sometimes a story is meaningless or worse without real context, and this is one of the”.


Noam Chomsky, in discussing the film, first read a glowing review from the New York Times, then made the observation that “Now, that [sniper] mentality helps explain why it’s so easy to ignore what is most clearly the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern history, if not ever — Obama’s global assassination campaign, the drone campaign, which officially is aimed at murdering people who are suspected of maybe someday planning to harm us.”

I’d advise you to read some of the transcripts with drone operators,” Chomsky said. “They’re harrowing — the guys who are sitting in front of computers in Las Vegas,” drawing a comparison to the manner in which Kyle dehumanized his targets”.

Ross Caputi, a veteran of the Iraq war, and organizer of The Fallujah Project, noted that “The criminality that has characterized American military engagements since the American Indian Wars, and most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, is hardly noticeable in this film. “


Perhaps my argument seems strange — that the most insightful part of this film is what is not in it. However, I believe that these omissions reflect more than just what the director decided to be irrelevant to the plot. These omissions reveal an unconscious psychological process that shields our ideas about who we are as individuals and as a nation. This process, known as “moral disengagement”, is extremely common in militaristic societies. But what is fascinating about American Sniper is how these omissions survive in the face of overwhelming evidence of the crimes that Chris Kyle participated in. The fact that a man who participated in the 2nd siege of Fallujah — an operation that killed between 4,000 to 6,000 civiliansdisplaced 200,000, and may have created an epidemic of birth defects and cancers — can come home, be embraced as a hero, be celebrated for the number of people he has killed, write a bestselling book based on that experience, and have it made into a Hollywood film is something that we need to reflect on as a society. 


When discussing with family and friends the subject of torture, drone assassinations, and perpetual war, we are consistently faced with misconceptions and false statements which are justified by a basic belief in the American Empire. All of these interactions are reflected in America's acceptance of “American Sniper”. It is true that people do admit openly that they cannot “be happy” and face the world simultaneously, they therefore admit to choosing to hide behind sporting events, television shows, shopping, and the rest of American culture. The fact that Americans are flocking to see this movie is beyond troubling, it is in fact revolting. There has never been a Hollywood movie made that so seriously reflects the moral and spiritual decline of the American public.