(Just a handful of the racist and Islamophobic Twitter responses to American Sniper)
Set to be the highest-grossing war film in U.S. history, American Sniper is about Chris Kyle, a real life Navy SEAL sniper who holds the unconfirmed record for most kills on the job. The film documents his four tours in Iraq right up until he returns home for the final time, only to be shot by a fellow soldier who suffers from PTSD.
Critical and public reception of the film has largely been positive, and it’s now up for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture. For all intents and purposes, it’s been marketed as a patriotic tear-jerker that’s worthy of an award or two. But behind the glitz, threats against Muslims have sky-rocketed since the film was released, and people who criticized the film on release day were inundated with death threats.
I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.
If you see anyone from about 16 to 65 and they’re male, shoot ’em.
Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.
We killed the bad guys and brought the leaders to the peace table. That is how the world works.
I only wish I had killed more … I loved what I did … I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun … I had the time of my life.
They hated us because we weren’t Muslim. They wanted to kill us even though we’d just booted out their dictator.
– Chris Kyle in his own words.
This alone might be enough to convince you that Chris Kyle was no hero, and was instead a genocidal murderous freak who relishes in war. But in case it’s not, consider how Kyle repeatedly referenced the “bad people” in his memoir – not unlike how a 6 year old does – and employed no discernible moral compass, shot to kill no matter what the circumstances dictated, had absolutely no regrets about any of the actions he undertook, and had a world-view which boiled down to ‘bad guys vs. good guys’.
Kyle also recounts in his memoir how he received remote-controlled cars for Xmas while on duty, and proceeded to use them to terrorize Iraqi civilians who mistook them for bombs: “Their high-pitched screams, coupled with sprints in the opposite direction, had me doubled over … Cheap thrills in Iraq were priceless”. Isn’t that the exact definition of terrorism?
Kyle was not some great modern hero, he was a man-child who delighted in killing people and who has now been canonized in a Clint Eastwood film. This is America’s version of Gandhi or Mandela, and this is who America has chosen to idolize. Kyle’s memoir, if you removed all references to his background and the people he killed, could just as easily have been written by an Iraqi insurgent.
This is by no means the first time Hollywood has regurgitated the lies that leads to illegal wars – The Hurt Locker presented the myth that U.S. soldiers were liberating Iraqi civilians, instead of torturing them and killing innocent civilians, and Zero Dark Thirty presented the myth that torture was necessary to capture Osama Bin Laden (a myth that the CIA repeatedly used to justify its torture program) – but American Sniper is unique in that it so shamelessly and bluntly regurgitates a myth that even some neoconservatives found hard to swallow: That we had to invade Iraq after 9/11 because Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons. We apparently didn’t have to invade Iraq when Saddam was using chemical weapons against his own people, but nukes are a red line that’cha just don’t cross.
Along a similar vein, Stop The War, claims that Hollywood has a long-standing history of turning questionable conflicts into digestible entertainment for the masses:
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.
The film shamelessly recreates the falsified narrative that we had to invade Iraq to stop terrorism. It shows Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, being a shirtless buff on his sofa when he sees the twin towers go down, only to quickly switch to Kyle being a Navy SEAL killin’ bad guys, as if 9/11 and the Iraq War were somehow connected. They weren’t. At all. Bush capitalized on post-9/11 national sentiment to invade a wholly unrelated country for the benefit of defense contractors. His own Vice President Dick Cheney had close ties to Halliburton, which made nearly $40 billion on the Iraq War in one of the most shameless examples of war profiteering in modern history. The message of the film, not totally unlike that of Forrest Gump, is that the hero is the guy who can look hot on his sofa, and the enemy is any Iraqi citizen who is trying to defend their homeland from an illegal U.S.-led insurgency which would leave over 100,000 civilians dead. That’s not to suggest that there were no extremists in Iraq, but the film completely fails to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
To revise history in this way does a real disservice to the civilians and servicemen who lost their lies during this illegal terror campaign.
But aggressive foreign policy actions did not cease the day Obama took office, and now take the form of drone strikes which unintentionally kill civilians everywhere from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia, which apparently ‘keep us safe’, and require further propagandistic films to justify. Some critics of U.S. foreign policy claim that for each foreign civilian killed in Obama’s drone strike programme, ten new civilians in the Middle East become radicalised. The same is true of the people Kyle killed – what family member of a dead insurgent is going to pat Kyle on the back and thank him for liberating the Iraqi people? It’s as if nobody in the U.S. has ever heard of the term “blowback“.
So given that the U.S. hasn’t learnt the error of its ways, and continues to brutalize various people across the globe, propagandistic and ultra-nationalistic depictions of “heroes” (now a political euphemism for “killers”) is as vital today as it was on the day Coalition troops landed in the Middle East. We must not question the actions of the Bush administration or his successor because, in the eyes of Chris Kyle and all who loved American Sniper, that is tantamount to loving terrorists. We must inject ourselves with overly-simplistic narratives that tell us the world is divided into us and them, the good and the bad, the liberator and the terrorist. There is no room for blurred lines when it comes to war – you’re the good guy, they’re the bad guy. Suspend all moral judgement, watch this film, then go threaten some fuckin’ Arabs.
According to Patrick Henningson:
Altering history for entertainment purposes is not just deceptive, besides the fact that it’s not true yet is being passed off as history, [but] it also borders on mass brain washing, further distorting generational truths about what our nations’ governments actually get up to on tax payers’ time.
Not only do we glorify the Iraq war (again) with this movie, a war which left over a million people dead and a further 5 million homeless, but we now seek to glorify one of its most deadly, racist, sociopathic killers. Seth Rogen was right to point out that American Sniper is starkly similar to the film-within-a-film Stolz der Nation in Inglourious Basterds, where fictional Nazi sniper Fredrick Zoller is hailed as a morally superior and skilful war hero, all for treating potential enemies as sub-human.
Salon writer Andrew O’Hehir dodged the issue of canonizing somebody like Kyle by pretending that American audiences would somehow see Kyle for the racist crusader he was. O’Hehir even went as far to claim that director Clint Eastwood was trying to criticize the Iraq War through his film, in a very very subtle way. So subtle was this criticism, in fact, that almost nobody on the planet noticed it. If Eastwood really was trying to paint Kyle as the bad guy – and he most certainly wasn’t – he did a pretty poor job.