Henry Rollins: American Sniper and the Fate of Our Veterans
Photo by Heidi May
I have found the passion and intensity with which We the People are responding to the film American Sniper to be a fascinating look into America and Americans. The film has become somewhat of a stethoscope, a licked finger determining the wind’s direction. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
The numbers don’t lie. Many people have seen this film. American Sniper will lead to arguments at dinner tables and who knows how many bar fights for years to come.
American Sniper is the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who goes to Iraq. He serves multiple tours of duty and returns to America, where he is killed by another American and fellow veteran, Eddie Ray Routh.
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Director Clint Eastwood is in familiar territory with this subject. He is perhaps the perfect person to bring this story to theaters and send you back to your car in less than three hours. He has the ability to create suspense, excitement and truly affecting drama without making you have to think too much about just how completely insane and avoidable America’s time in Iraq was.
American soldiers went to Iraq. Chris Kyle was one of them. These are facts. This is where Mr. Eastwood picks up the story. There are bad guys out there, and they gotta get got and someone has to do it.
Chances are, you will never have the slightest inkling as to what a minute of a soldier’s life in battle is like. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to try to understand or in some way experience it for yourself from the safety of a comfortable seat in a multiplex. Your curiosity, your willingness to stand in line for a ticket, even your choice to consume a food product while you watch depictions of killing — none of that makes you a morbid rubber-necker, pro-war, anti-Muslim or a coward.
That last word came up very soon after American Sniper arrived in theaters. Michael Moore reacted to the film and, in a tweet that was read many times, said: “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”
Michael Moore lost me more than a decade ago with his Breitbart-like editing treatment of Congressman Mark Kennedy in Fahrenheit 9/11. I’ve never been back.
In a war zone, every single person is in danger. It does not matter if you are on patrol or on base preparing food; you are at high risk at all times. You might be afraid, which is a perfectly natural reaction. But the fact that you’re there day after day makes it difficult to impossible to be a coward.
Being in a region where a lot of people want you dead and, at great peril, keeping yourself and your fellow soldiers alive? Not a coward. Five deferments from the Vietnam War and being partly responsible for sending thousands of other people’s sons and daughters into harm’s way — that’s a coward.
War is perhaps humankind’s most stupefying, idiotic invention. It’s amazing and sad how much money is devoted to it — and, when it is made into consumable product such as a film or video game, how much money it makes.
There is no nation better at war than America. Some of the brightest minds and greatest technological breakthroughs have been focused on killing with greater efficiency.
And this is where the potent elixir of war and myth runs deep into the American identity. Because it’s not about killing. It’s about keeping America safe from those who would willfully destroy America if they could.
Yet those engaged in the protection of the American way of life seem to live in a permanently quarantined area upon return to the country they defended. A veteran can see himself or herself portrayed by talented, good-looking actors in a theater full of people who will stand up at the film’s end, applauding, some in tears as they walk to the lobby. The veteran can walk through the audience as he makes his way home, back to a shelter, the fourth one in the last two years.
I am angry. Not at the film, Mr. Eastwood or the fine cast who no doubt worked very hard to bring American Sniper to the screen. If at any point in the film you felt you were being propagandized or led around, that the Iraq War was being simplified into a high-tech Western, the fact that you were so offended neutralizes any attempt the film may or may not have been making to blow the proverbial smoke up you.
If you think anyone who is critical of the film is a commie, well, you’re a dumbfuck and what can be done about that?
My anger stems from every ad I see for Wounded Warrior Project or for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. They are great! But why has it been left to American citizens to be the eternal custodians of Iraq and Afghanistan’s veterans? Why do these excellent organizations have to exist?
Why isn’t the government, which sent these men and women into war, obsessively devoted to the health of every single veteran? How can the Bush or Obama administrations say they truly care when they have failed repeatedly and spectacularly in being there for these people?
I cannot imagine anything else our veterans would have to do to get any care they need. Surely the powers that be don’t see them as expendable, right?
If Navy SEAL Chris Kyle had to die of something other than natural causes, statistically, it should have been in Iraq. Not in Texas. Not at the hands of a Marine.
DVD packaging, streaming rights and tie-ins to maximize profits for American Sniper are done. That is as fucked up as anything you will see in the film.
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