Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movies, Military, and "Patriotism"

The movie "American Sniper" had a huge opening week at the box-office. That seems to have alternately made some people very happy and some people very unhappy. Not because of Clint Eastwood's directorial skill, or Bradley Cooper's acting skill (or the lack of either) but because of what they think the movie says about America and all the baggage that goes along with the notion of "patriotism".  War movies, to some extent, have always carried this baggage, especially since Vietnam. As usual, I'm here to try and piss everyone off, whether you loved or hated the film.

May I suggest that the following list of propositions can all be held simultaneously, and consistently:

1. Clint Eastwood is an excellent director and Bradley Cooper is an excellent actor. As such, I am under the assumption that "American Sniper" is an excellent, well-made movie.
2. Movies very rarely are completely historically accurate. That is why they are "movies" and not "documentaries".
3. It is not necessary that one agree with a movie's point of view to recognize its artistic merit (i.e "Birth of a Nation", "Triumph of the Will", etc.)
4. The American military is, generally speaking, made up of very good people who perform their duties with professionalism and honor.
5. As with any profession, there are individuals in the American military who do not rise to that level of professionalism and honor, likely for a myriad of reasons.
6. Chris Kyle, the author of "American Sniper" was, by all accounts, an excellent marksman, exhibited personal bravery in the Iraq War, and likely saved the lives of numerous of his fellow soldiers.
7. Outside of his military life, Kyle was a habitual liar who concocted stories of supposed exploits that served to either help him sell books, propped up his self-made image of a bad-ass, or, more likely, some combination of same. Additionally, it appears that he and his widow actually donated very little of the proceeds of his book to charity, despite claims to the contrary. This is fair game, as he made himself a public figure.
8. The Iraq War was a war of choice for America, premised upon, at best, lazy or sloppy analysis of questionable intel.
9. As such, the Iraq War did not (does not) protect America's "freedoms" in any tangible way.
10. As such, there is little basis to claim that Kyle, or any military personnel involved in the Iraq War, was "protecting America's freedom".
11. Note, the preceding statement is not a personal criticism of Kyle or any military personnel involved in the Iraq War (at least any below the rank of General), nor does it detract from whatever bravery they exhibited in such conflict.
12. Criticism of "American Sniper", Chris Kyle, the Iraq War, the use of or tactics of the American military in any conflict, does not demonstrate a lack of patriotism, nor is it any commentary upon or degradation of, the particular service of any member of the American military, past, present, or future.

So, if you've read the book and enjoyed it, good for you. Just know a lot of it is fiction. If you saw the movie and enjoyed it, good for you. Just know a lot of it, too, is fiction. If you hate everything about the movie, good for you. Just know that most of the American military do their best under trying circumstances and don't get a vote in what war they fight, so don't paint with too broad a brush. Oh, and Chris Kyle, like most people, was neither all saint nor all sinner. Like most folks, he was a maddening mix of both.