The American Sniper As Hero

by on January 26, 2015 · 10 comments

in American Empire, Culture, History, Media, Military, Peace Movement, Politics, Veterans, War and Peace

American SniperBy FDRDemocrat/ Daily Kos

The controversy over the movie American Sniper has predictably reopened the divide among many Americans over the Iraq War. What is more interesting is how the choice made by director Clint Eastwood to choose a sniper as a heroic archetype unravels classic notions of what is considered heroism.

The concept of heroism has been with humanity since the beginning. At it’s heart it contains a common thread where the hero (or heroine) risks themselves for the sake of others.

How then to adapt the heroic archetype to the profession of sniper? This is no easy task.

There is no question that sniping is a useful military skill. There is also no question that it can save friendly soldiers and civilians from death at the hands of an enemy. Several ancient battles such as Hastings in 1066 were more or less decided when a skilled archer put an arrow through a key leader. Every army in the world snipes. The trade goes back before gun powder.

Sniping has always had a bad odor about it though. And the distaste often comes from fellow soldiers, who feel snipers don’t really decide the battle or war, they just add to the misery and death toll. The submarine service received similar reactions from battleship officers during World War One. Shooting someone from stealth, or torpedoing them from beneath the waves, just wasn’t “sporting.”

In the 21st century, the advances of technology have raised uncomfortable questions about the nature of heroism. While warfare has always been about causing the greatest harm with the least risk, the advancing state of technology means that people are able to kill from farther and farther away. The person pulling the trigger may not even be on the same continent. That is why it is so unusual that Clint Eastwood chose a sniper to be his lead in a war movie. Useful trade or not, it is hard to place sniping within the classic hero mold.

So what? That is the response of many American conservatives. And to a degree they have a point if you believe, as William Tecumseh Sherman stated, “war is hell” and it is immoral to fight wars with anything less that utter ruthlessness. The concept of total war was not invented during World War Two, but its precepts led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If the conservative defense of Chris Kyle is that he saved American lives, then why don’t we have a monument on the Washington Mall to the crew of the Enola Gay? Military historians believe an allied invasion of Japan would have cost at least a million dead on all sides, among them 50,000 Americans. Did not the crew of a single B-29, by incinerating 200,000 Japanese men, women and children, come out 800,000 lives ahead? We are rightly very uncomfortable with this sort of calculus. We are taught (or should be) that all human life is sacred.

What of the conservative defense of sniping itself? Namely, that in war the purpose is to accomplish the mission, not put oneself or other “friendlies” at risk. Again, to a degree, they have a point. We would regard soldiers who needlessly expose themselves to enemy fire not as heroes, but as fools.

But if that is so, how would we react if, instead of featuring Chris Kyle, Eastwood made a movie called “American Drone Operator”? A taut thriller about the American technicians who, from a bunker in the US, manipulate the controls of the missile armed drones that globally take out key Al Qaeda “targets” (as well as, on occasion, un-involved men, women and children who had the bad luck to be nearby). What are Predator Drone operators if not snipers taken to the limits of available technology?

Well, we know that a heroic movie about the Enola Gay would not go down well, even with most Americans. That goes double for a movie about heroic Predator Drone operators.

To take things to yet another level, consider this: the next revolution in military technology – robotics – is well under way. A future Hollywood movie about an American military hero may feature robot soldiers. There is something very unsettling about the idea of America sending waves of robots to kill human enemies in the not too distant future, perhaps robots controlled by a generation of young Americans who grew up learning to kill like this on their Play Stations.

I don’t share his politics, but I like Clint Eastwood. He is a great actor and an amazing director. I wonder though if he is really making the point people think he is.

Not about heroism, but about its twilight. We can attempt to enshrine long-distance, high tech killing as a traditional form of heroism. But in their guts, most people know it doesn’t quite fit. It casts an unflattering light into the darkest parts of human nature. And it makes us all accomplices to actions we’d rather not think about.

I don’t think the movie American Sniper will ultimately settle into place in the classic war movie genre. Rather, it will be regarded like another Eastwood movie called “Unforgiven” – a western many believe was Eastwood’s apologia for his Dirty Harry days. Whether Clint intended this all along is an interesting question.

Originally posted at Daily Kos

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Kandi Anderson January 26, 2015 at 2:33 pm

This Movie is nothing more than Propaganda to keep fueling the war….. and it makes me sick!!

Chris Kyle was NOT a hero in my book….no… he was a pussy for doing what he was told to do. Didnt have no balls to stand up for what was right…. which would have been putting his gun down, and getting out of the military service.


cat January 27, 2015 at 3:08 pm

That’s a disgusting comment… You have the freedoms that you have BECAUSE of the military… Get a clue !!


Kandi Anderson January 27, 2015 at 6:40 pm

I have freedom because of the military?? LOL!! No, YOU have no clue…. I have freedom because I was born with freedom and rights…. God Given Rights… NOT man made rights….. and the truth of the matter is… the REAL terrorists IS the government, and our soldiers are just doing as they are “told” to do like good little GI Men. IF they knew what they truly were supporting, they would be at HOME on their OWN LAND protecting us from the scumbags in office that are sucking the life outta this country and slowly shredding more and more of the peoples rights away along with the constitution.

So I stick by my original statement regardless of how crass, rude, or disgusting it might sound. We need REAL men in the military, not these wusses that just do as they are told!


John February 3, 2015 at 12:47 am

You seem to live in some detached fantasy reality where:

The military should recruit and train men based on their ability to rebel against their chain of command, question the justification for their mission, and quickly throw their weapons down and run home merely to satisfy self defeatists among the populace…


That all of our military are wholly ignorant of the fundamentals behind the policies their missions support and know nothing of current events and the mechanisms of our government. To you they are all blood thirsty rednecks who have no conscience about what they do as long as they cloak it in red white and blue… and would surely throw their weapons down if they were as intelligent, well read and ethical as you are.

I find your position as I assess above rather arrogant and patronizing but worse for us all, so much so that it causes those who oppose such a self important view to disengage from any possible progressive discourse with you on the matter. In short you’ll get nowhere influencing policies regarding the military and the engagement of them in conflicts because you’ll so thoroughly anger and frustrate those who do with such an insulting attitude to begin with.

The military has played a major part in shaping historical events that resulted in the global status quo today. Most of this happened in the 20th century but it continues today. Not many experts would have proposed after 9/11 we not go into Afghanistan and instead allow Osama Bin Laden to operate freely and stage and execute further attacks from there.
Perhaps you disagree and would root him on that his followers would hijack more planes and even arm them with small nuclear weapons and defeat the (you allege) real terrorists of the world in Washington DC. In any similar scenario your freedoms would swiftly disappear as our infrastructure crumbled and supplies were cut off.

Or perhaps you lament our victory in the cold war and long for living conditions as existed in the Soviet Union to have spread world wide. Hard to imagine and easy to scoff at right?
While its trendy to salute that Che Guevara poster in your basement the truth is you can thank the military and terrorists in office in Washington for the ability to laugh off any possibility of being sent to the gulags for speaking your mind.

That’s just my opinion as ignorant as it may be. The military didnt teach me that but one thing you may consider: As current events unfold and conflicts develop, the policies our government pursues drive the deployment of military units that will spend months overseas often in extreme hardship. They are separated from wives, children, mothers, fathers… and know they may not return. Alive or in one piece that is.

It would be a foolish assumption to believe with so much of their own destiny riding on these policies and mechanisms of government that they are in any way more ignorant of the details of them than you.


Kandi Anderson February 3, 2015 at 11:55 am

First off…. Dont you know… Osama Bin Laden also was known by Tim Osman…. he died in 2001…..

As far as who I believe was behind the attacks on the Twin Towers… Zionist Israel. And they blamed the Arabs. The reason for my assessment is simple. Mossad’s Motto is ” Through Deception, We create War”

None of the Middle Eastern countries have ever attacked Israel, but Israel keeps attacking her Arab neighbors. The Wars we are in arent because “WE”, “America” was threatened, yet we stand up for Israel… Why can’t Israel stand for themselves? Why do they need “OUR” military to do their fighting for them? War is all about money. Propaganda abounds everywhere from both sides. Its a fact that Israel owns all of the American Media outlets, as well as Hollyweird. So of course they are only going to put out movies, and information that further their plans for world domination.

Did you know that every country we have invaded since 2001 was a country that did NOT have a “central banking” system by the Rothchilds/Rockefella’s? Again, WAR is MURDER, and WAR is all about MONEY… and it is WE the PEOPLE that suffer because of it.


John February 3, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Ah. A 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Detachment from reality as I presumed.

This is an issue I am so well read on I know further discussion is pointless. Have a splendid day.


unwashedwallmartTHONg January 27, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Anonymously, I stand w/ Kandi, (except for the God Given Rights part).


unwashedwallmartTHONg January 27, 2015 at 8:10 pm

For the thinkers in our society read Chris Hedges’ article “Killing Ragheads for Jesus: On watching ‘American Sniper.’
For the non-thinkers, forget it. . . .


Kandi Anderson January 28, 2015 at 11:38 am

Thank You! :)

There is supposed to be some kind of “town meeting” tonight that I am probably going to attend…. I hope that the subject matter isnt just all about the “expansion” of the library… I really want the people of OB to HEAR MY opinions. ;)


rchalmers3 January 28, 2015 at 5:42 pm

I did not, and have no interest in viewing the mentioned movie. However, I believe that Clint Eastwood did his job. We are discussing the meaning of the word “hero” and questioning what has become of humanity.

To respondent cat: I too believe that our freedoms arise naturally, and NOT from our military committing mass killings of people in foreign lands. I invite you to consider the amount of expenditure of the US GDP spent on diplomacy vs. the military, and ask yourself: Could we create a safer world another way?

Rick Chalmers


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