Thursday, January 29, 2015

Snipers, war and political fallout

I'm both amused and somewhat sickened by the ravings from the politically left-wing and progressive about the film 'American Sniper'.  I'm sure readers have already seen press reports about comments by Michael Moore, Seth Rogen and many others.  The latest is from an interview with NBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin:

MOHYELDIN: A lot of his stories when he was back home in Texas, a lot of his own personal opinions about what he was doing in Iraq, how he viewed Iraqis. Some of what people have described as his racist tendencies towards Iraqis and Muslims when he was going on some of these, you know, killing sprees in Iraq on assignment. So I think there are issues --

SCARBOROUGH: Wait, wait. Killing sprees? Chris Kyle was going on killing sprees?

MOHYELDIN: When he was involved in his -- on assignments in terms of what he was doing. A lot of the description that has come out from his book and some of the terminology that he has used, people have described as racist.

There's more at the link, but IMHO, Mohyeldin's words aren't worth reading.  I won't comment on his character, or his worth as a human being.

I get the feeling that a lot of the negative comments about 'American Sniper' are specifically directed at the entertainment industry in general, and this year's Academy Awards in particular.  The loony left simply can't abide the thought that the film may win an Oscar - or, horror of horrors, perhaps more than one! - so they're trying to shoot it down among Academy voters.  Frankly, it seems to me that compared to classic movies of years gone by, the modern Academy Awards aren't really worth having, but then, I'm hardly a Hollywood fanboi.

I found two comments by veterans to be far more sensible - and sensitive.  First, from former US Marine and now US Army active-duty serviceman (and qualified sniper) 'Arctic Specter', this:

As for the recent attacks that have been focused on my sniper brethren, that is a whole different line.  The insults towards what we do being “cowardly” are nothing short of inflammatory and ridiculous.  I have stayed more or less silent in regards to them, but once again, there are lines.  “I think most Americans don’t think snipers are heroes”.  Personally, I would say Michael Moore is pretty detached from the average American.  The “average” American household brings in approximately $50,000 annually, whereas Mr. Moore’s net worth is placed at $50 million (  I’m not entirely sure on this, but I’m fairly certain that a person worth $50 million runs in different social circles than most American citizens and probably didn’t get a fair census of what Americans truly think of snipers.  More accurately I would say his social circle is fairly limited to extremely leftist, highly pompous, and overly arrogant Hollywood elitists who’s major life accomplishment was winning an award for aiming a camera in a provocative manner.  It’s infuriating to suffer the comments generalized at my friends, colleagues, and myself, though it’s not for the insult itself, but rather the fact that such an insignificant person who hasn’t seen a shot fired in anger can judge the honor and courage of various roles on a battlefield.  Comparably, the irritation that I feel when I see these tweets is reminiscent of having your hands tied while a gnat gnaws on your cheek.  Ultimately, its not going to damage you, but fuck all if you don’t just want to swat the shit out of the damn thing to make it stop.  But then there’s those lines again.  It would be crossing quite a major one to swat such an insignificant little insect; as pleasing as it would be to many.

I’m not an obtuse man.  I have a bit of clarity that most people see movies and see snipers in movies and have a general belief that a sniper is some guy that gets up in a bell tower somewhere and shoots a bad guy in the face.  While that’s not completely untrue, there is much more to it than it seems.  Snipers operate in the smallest groups on the battlefield.  We have less guys watching our backs.  We go deeper into unfriendly territory than everyone else, and we survive against the greatest odds.  We are masters of precision fire.  A sniper and his rifle can do with one well placed shot what it would take an artillery barrage to accomplish, and do it with a lot less collateral damage.  We are more than just a gun.  We are a psychological factor.  If you need proof, Mr Moore’s uncle was shot by a sniper and to this day he feels the need to demonize them.  Psychologically effected an entire generation into the future with one single shot which Mr. Moore didn’t even witness.  Now imagine the enemy’s resolve after the man next to them is taken out by a single accurate shot.  You just took two men out of the fight, maybe more.  We create chaos.  Imagine trying to ask your boss what your tasks for the day are, but he decided not to show up for the day.  What work gets accomplished?  Who takes charge?  Who has to do the work of the guy that took charge?  Disorder ensues.  Leadership is the priority target of a sniper.

Snipers are not as base as an anti-war sensationalist would lead you to believe.  We are feared on the battlefield and can do more to shape it than an entire battalion of soldiers.  A single, well-placed, arrow completely ended the Battle of Hastings in 1066 by reportedly piercing the skull of the then crowned king, King Harold.  This one arrow changed the future of England and allowed the Normans to conquer it and establish a new ruling dynasty in Britain.  Obviously, when you are that effective there is going to be some animosity thrown in your direction.  There is going to be a lot of misunderstanding and fear.  There are, apparently, even going to be people calling you a coward.  All you can do is toe the line, keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you intend to fire, and, from time to time, shoo away some gnats gnawing at your cheek.

There's much more at the link.  Go read it all.  He's good.  (Oh - and read his reactions to his first post on the subject 'going viral' in the blogosphere.  They're fun.)

The second article appears at the oddly-named 'OAF Nation' (it describes itself here), and is titled 'American Sniper:  The Voice of Veterans'.  It's by someone calling himself 'Grifter'.  He comes across as genuine, even though I don't know his personal background.  Here's an excerpt.

American Sniper portrayed Chris Kyle as a guy trying to do the best he could in shitty situations. Doing what he had to in order to protect American lives. It highlighted perfectly that coming home is almost impossible. There’s always an urge to go back and keep working. Not for fortune or glory, but for each other. The way I always thought was, “if I don’t go, who will?” I couldn’t bear the thought of some 18-19 year old kid taking my perceived place in the long line of casualties. American Sniper showed the anguish at the bureaucracy of the Iraq war and the tough decisions that had to be made and later scrutinized by someone at home on the couch. He even said, “we’re at war, and I’m going to the mall.” It accurately shows the disillusionment of returning to a country that isn’t engaged in any capacity with what’s going on with their troops. It captures the essence of what it’s like to come home and try to assimilate into a society that is oblivious.

It’s most powerful statement was that it clearly shows the absolutely bitter loneliness a vet can experience coming home. I don’t mean loneliness as is synonymous with solitude. Kyle was surrounded by family and loved ones. He had reasons to celebrate his life, his wife, and his babies. Yet, he still felt a void. He had the support structure of a family that needed him, yet he couldn’t relish in the love they gave. He could not sit back and enjoy being home, due to the longing for his brothers and a crippling grief for the men he could not keep from harm.

. . .

However, I read a piece by Amanda Taub ... in which she bashes the film and accuses it of “rewriting American history.” Her point of contention was that the film was too black and white for her tastes. She calls the war in Iraq a grey area, which I agree. I also agree with her disdain at the treatment of the conventional troops in the film as cannon fodder or inferior to the SEALS in importance. However, she smashes on Eastwood’s flick by calling into question the lack of mention of G.W. Bush, WMD, or Saddam Hussein. She accuses the movie of inventing fictional characters for Kyle to fight. I’m taking this as she is mad the movie didn’t take a political stance or mention any of the media hype, hot buttons, or buzzwords normally associated with the war in Iraq.

My answer to that: Yeah, no shit.

The film wasn’t about any of that because for US, the war wasn’t about any of that. Do you think any of us gave a fuck about Saddam Hussein, WMD, Bush, Cheney, or any of that shit that was being ejaculated by the news? The film wasn’t about grey areas, because to us it didn’t matter. All that mattered to us was the guy to our left, and the guy to our right…and especially the guy that still had a can of Skoal. It wasn’t that we were willfully ignorant of the issues surrounding the Iraq, or that we were in denial, but when your finger is on a trigger, when you’re face is covered in your friends’ brain matter, you aren’t thinking about “good and evil” or “grey areas.” That is the entire point this civil rights attorney misses, the film was about a man on the ground and the struggle to come home with a head full of grief and regret, not the Iraq war itself.

. . .

To the people that saw the movie for what it was, it was a glimpse into our world. It offered up our collective hearts to you in a manner a typical, movie-going civilian would understand. That is powerful, and hopefully opens a broader dialogue about our struggle to really come home. This is what we’re thinking and why we’re still fighting. As far as our silent war goes, this movie got it right.

To those that saw it as more “pro Bush/Iraq/Right Wing/anti-Muslim” political statement and want to bash it and our military, I say this:

The movie wasn’t for you. It was for the guy with mud on his boots and a hole in his heart, and for the families that are left to pick up the pieces. Go back to your latte.

Again, much more at the link.  Go read.

To both 'Arctic Specter' and 'Grifter', as one combat veteran to another:  Thanks, guys.  If we ever meet, the first beer's on me.


EDITED TO ADD:  Kurt Hofmann has an interesting take on this subject over at JFPO.  Recommended.


August said...

One of the things that made me realize there was a problem here was that if someone was invading my home, I'd not only want my right to self defense, I'd be pretty upset, especially if it was someone who is an agent, in some capacity, of the U.S. government.

This is the problem with labeling Chris Kyle a hero. It is being obstinate about labeling things as you want them to be, like you want the U.S. to be something still defensible, but most of our freedoms are already lost. This guy went there, apparently worte himself that he liked killing them, wished he killed more. He doesn't meet any definition of hero, just like our nation no longer meets any of its definitions either.

Peter said...

@August: I think you're suffering from projection. I don't read any of those things into 'American Sniper': but then, I suspect that only those who've 'been there and done that' will have an inkling of that man's soul (and his wife, of course).

Chris Mallory said...

I understand Moore's comment. I was born in 1969. Growing up, I can remember my grandparents, uncles, parents, even movies and books referring to snipers as cowards. Japanese and Vietnamese snipers were considered cowardly. Charles Whitman the Texas Tower sniper was considered a coward by people I knew. Oswald, called a coward.

Do I consider Kyle a coward? I don't know the man. Is he a hero? Not to my mind. One hundred years ago, we had Alvin York. I will take York over Kyle any day of the week, if I needed an example of a hero.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting that Mohyeldin [sp?] is a former AlJazeera reporter who got picked up by CNN and the other networks. And he has been on record explaining that Arab audiences do not want straight reporting, but prefer listening to someone who defends them and their interests. Not that it has much to do with discussions about the use of snipers, but it certainly explains his approach to the question.


Toastrider said...

Maybe you should include some context with that bit, August. You know, like how the men Kyle shot were savages, had been savages, were behaving as savages, and would continue to be savages.

I feel pity for Kyle. No, not in a contemptuous way, but as Peter says, these men come back from wars invariably damaged -- some physically, most psychologically.

And it has to be that way, because someone has to be Atticus Finch. Someone has to shoot the rabid dogs.

Charles said...

To highlight Chris Mallory's point. In 'Dirty Harry' the sniper is the bad guy, now Chris Kyle is regarded as the hero. Times have changed and, with movies such as Sniper (Tom Berenger) and Jarhead the US public has been given a more sympathetic portrayal of the role. I suspect this is related to the fact that the US Army only opened its sniper school in 1987 as before that only the 'bad guys' (and the Marines, and much of NATO) had snipers.

Moore’s response reflects the experience of the veterans in his family who, in WW2, regarded snipers in much the way we view suicide bombers – calling men who drive into the enemy with half a ton of explosives cowards... Like the snipers of WW2 it is an enemy of which we have no experience and is perceived as dishonourable but has its own logic to the groups using it (poor man’s smart bomb?) and is many things but cowardly would not be one of them.

Chris Kyle was a brave and highly skilled soldier carrying out the role he was prepared for but not without cost. As nations we ask, and many young men willingly volunteer, that our armed forces execute wars that are remote from our homes and highly sanitised but which leave those directly engaged often deeply affected by events of which we understand little.

If I may quote Rudyard Kipling

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool—you bet that Tommy sees!

Will said...

IIRC, our revolutionary war might have turned out differently, if the snipers on our side had not been active. The British had none, AFAIK.

JK Brown said...

Hey, remember when even the Left were all atwitter when the Navy SEAL sniper took the shot that saved Captain Phillips from the Somali pirates?

Was that sniper cowardly as he lay on a rolling ship deck in 100 degree heat for hours before taking that shot into a bouncing survival boat right next to the man he was tasked to save?

Anonymous said...

I don't see these liberal, left wing keyboard commandos calling a sniper a Coward to his face.
As a member of 5th. Group (provisional) when I returned from Vietnam after my 3rd. tour we had some demonstrators calling us vile names, but they made it a point now to get too close to us when they did. Who's the coward?
Paul in Texas

The Raving Prophet said...

Saw the movie, haven't read the book.

It seems to me that snipers are loved or hated based on whether they're on your side or not. On your side, they're the angelic guardians watching your back and keeping you from harm. On the other side, they're the cowards who won't "come out to play" like other decent troops. Personally, I am very grateful for the skilled and dedicated snipers watching over our own troops; their efforts are shaping battlefields and enabling others to come home alive. So as far as I'm concerned, I'm all for our own... I'm a homer that way.

Where the movie is concerned, I thought it did a good job helping me see (if not understand, I'm not sure I fully can) the difficulty in a soldier not just being home but also being home. Whatever Chris Kyle's faults may have been, he was trying to help others do that. I can respect and appreciate that. I won't say the movie was entertaining; I think that's entirely the wrong word to use. It held my interest and built my appreciation for those who were doing a hard job in a hard place. The politics and causes aside, they were sent, they went, and they did what they had to do (and in some cases, much more than that).

Thankfully, experiences like Paul in Texas had seem to be very few and far between nowadays. I wonder if some of the lauding of troops is a reaction to that sort of thing after Vietnam. But I get the feeling there are those (like a certain filmmaker I refuse to name) who would love to see those days come again. To hell with that, say I.

R. said...

Did the film portray Kyle's unfortunate tendency to embellish or plainly make up stuff (shooting looters during Katrina, having shot a carjacker somewhere else) etc?

The more I read about the guy the more it seemed he was a capable warrior but one who had a journalists's approach: that truth is whatever you can get away with..

Peter said...

@R: Unfortunately, much of what you read about him is nothing more than character assassination. Take it with several very large pinches of salt.