Monthly Archives: February 2015

More on “American Sniper”

Here’s a much more informed review of “American Sniper” than I can provide by a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Brock McIntosh (“As a Veteran, I See ‘American Sniper’ as Dangerous, But Not for the Reasons You’d Think,” posted today on the Common Dreams website:

“After watching the movie ‘American Sniper,’ I called a friend named Garett Reppenhagen who was an American sniper in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. I asked him if he thought this movie really mattered. ‘Every portrayal of a historical event should be historically accurate,” he said. ‘A movie like this is a cultural symbol that influences the way people remember history and feel about war.’

Garett and I met through our antiwar and veteran support work, which he’s been involved with for almost a decade. He served in Iraq. I served in Afghanistan. But both of us know how powerful mass media and mass culture are. They shaped how we thought of the wars when we joined, so we felt it was important to tell our stories when we came home and spoke out.

I commend Chris Kyle for telling his story in his book American Sniper. The scariest thing I did while in the military was come home and tell my story to the public – the good, the bad and the ugly. I feel that veterans owe it to society to tell their stories, and civilians owe it to veterans to actively listen.

Chris Kyle didn’t view Iraq like me and Garett, but neither of us have attacked him for it. He’s not the problem. We don’t care about the lies that Chris Kyle may or may not have told. We care about the lies that Chris Kyle believed. The lie that Iraq was responsible for 9-11. The lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The lie that people do evil things because they are evil.

The film ‘American Sniper’ is also rife with lies. This was not Chris Kyle’s story. And Bradley Cooper was not Chris Kyle. It was Jason Hall’s story, a one-time actor in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and screenwriter for ‘American Sniper,’ who called his film a ‘character study.’ Don’t believe him. His movie is as fictional as Buffy Summers.

In the movie’s first scene, Cooper faces a moral dilemma that never happened in real life. Cooper suspects a boy is preparing to throw an improvised explosive device, or IED, at a convoy of approaching Marines on the streets of Fallujah. Either he kills a child or the child kills Marines. A soldier next to Cooper warns, ‘They’ll send your ass to Leavenworth if you’re wrong.’ In writing this line, Hall implies that killing civilians is a war crime for which U.S. military members are sent to prison. If U.S. soldiers, including Kyle, don’t seem to be getting punished for killing civilians, then they must not be killing civilians.

Garett and I agreed that even if that boy was a civilian, nothing would have happened to Cooper for shooting him. Americans have responsible for thousands of Iraqi and Afghan deaths and almost none have been held accountable.

The movie leaves out the American bombardment of Fallujah that destroyed the city. An officer explains that the city has been evacuated, so any military-aged male remaining must be an insurgent. Conveniently, every Iraqi that Cooper kills happens to be carrying a rifle or burying an IED, even though the real Chris Kyle wrote that he was told to shoot any military-aged male. Obviously, every non-insurgent did not evacuate Fallujah.

‘Many Iraqis didn’t have cars or other transportation,’ Garett explained. ‘To get to the nearest town, you’d have to walk across very hot desert, and you wouldn’t be able to carry much. So a lot of residents just decided to stay indoors and wait it out.’”

To review the history of what happened in Fallujah (according to Wikipedia), “The United States bombardment of Fallujah, a city 43 miles southwest of Baghdad, began in April 2003, one month following the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. In April 2003 United States forces fired on a group of unarmed demonstrators protesting the invasion and occupation of their country. US forces alleged they were fired at first, but human rights groups who visited the site of the protests concluded that physical evidence did not corroborate their allegations and confirmed the residents’ accusations that the US forces fired indiscriminately on Iraqis with no provocation. Seventeen people were killed and 70 wounded. Iraqi resistance fighters were able to claim the city a year later, before being ousted by a siege and two re-invasions by US forces. These events caused widespread destruction and a humanitarian crisis in the city and surrounding areas. As of 2004, the city was largely ruined, with 60% of buildings damaged or destroyed, and the population at 30%–50% of pre-war levels.

On March 31, 2004, Iraqi insurgents from the Brigades of Martyr Ahmed Yassin in Fallujah ambushed a convoy carrying supplies to a US military base, killing four American private military contractors.  The contractors were dragged from their cars, beaten, and set ablaze. Their burned corpses were then dragged through the streets before being hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.

In response to this incident, US Marines surrounded the city, attempting to capture the individuals responsible as well as other insurgents. On April 9th, the occupying force allowed more than 70,000 women, children, and elderly residents to leave the city. After this, at least one US battalion had orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not. In violation of the Geneva Convention, the city’s main hospital was closed by Marines, and a US sniper was placed on top of the hospital’s water tower. There were also reports of the use of cluster bombs by US forces in Fallujah during this time, and a spokesman for the city’s governing council said U.S. military snipers were responsible for the deaths of many children, women and elderly people.

At the beginning of May 2004, the US Marine Corps announced a ceasefire due to intense political pressure. Still, throughout the summer and fall of 2004, the US military conducted sporadic airstrikes on the city, all supposedly intelligence-based strikes against houses used by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an insurgency leader linked to al Qaeda. In October and early November 2004, the US military prepared for a major offensive with stepped-up daily aerial attacks against militant ‘safe houses,’ restaurants, and meeting places. There were reports of civilian casualties.

On November 7, 2004, Marines, US Army soldiers, and allied Iraqi soldiers stormed into Fallujah’s western outskirts, secured two bridges across the Euphrates, seized a hospital on the outskirts of the city and arrested about 50 men in the hospital. US forces prevented male refugees from leaving the combat zone, and the city was placed under a strict night-time shoot-to-kill curfew. In 2005, the US military admitted that it used white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in Fallujah in violation of the Geneva Convention.” Fallujah is now in the hands of ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq.

Back to McIntosh’s article… he asks, “What brought Bradley Cooper’s character to Iraq? Early in the film, Hall sets the stage for the moral theme of the movie. When Cooper was a child, he sat at a kitchen table with his father, who explained that there are only three types of people in the world: sheep who believe ‘evil doesn’t exist,’ wolves who prey on the sheep, and sheepdogs who are ‘blessed with aggression’ and protect the sheep. In this world, when Cooper watches the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings on television, there is only one explanation: evil wolves being evil. So, he joins the military.” Cooper sees the same thing behind 9-11, and continues his war against the wolves.

“Hall and Cooper’s war is about al Qaeda, which in real life followed the United States into Iraq after we invaded.” US forces are depicted killing Iraqis, never helping them. “Except for the military’s interpreters, every Iraqi in the movie, including the women and children, are either evil insurgents or collaborators. The sense is that there isn’t a single innocent Iraqi in the war. They’re all ‘savages.’

Finally, it seems that a voice of criticism will be heard through the character of Marc Lee. When Lee voices his skepticism, Cooper asks, ‘Do you want them to attack San Diego or New York?’ Later in the film, Navy SEAL Ryan Job is shot in the face. Distraught, Cooper decides he should lead a group of SEALs out to avenge Job’s death, which is portrayed as the heroic thing to do. While Lee and Cooper are clearing a building, an Iraqi sniper shoots Lee in the head. The audience is then at Lee’s funeral, where his mother is reading the last letter that Lee sent home expressing criticism of the war. On the road home, Cooper’s wife asks him what he thought about the letter. ‘That letter killed Marc,’ Cooper responds. ‘He let go, and he paid the price for it.’ What makes Cooper a hero, according to the film, is that he’s a sheepdog. In Jason Hall’s world, Lee stops being a sheepdog when he questions US actions in Iraq. He becomes a sheep, ‘and he paid the price for it’ with a bullet from a wolf.

Hall claims his film is a character study, yet he shamelessly butchered Marc Lee’s real story (and part of Kyle’s) to promote his moral fantasy world and deny legitimacy to veterans critical of the war. Here’s the truth: On the day that the real Ryan Job was shot, the real Marc Lee died after stepping into the line of fire twice to save Job’s life, which apparently was either not ‘sheepdog’ enough to portray accurately in the movie or would have taken the focus off of Cooper’s heroics. And Kyle never said those things about Lee’s letter and never blamed Lee for his own death for being skeptical of the war.

Chris Kyle was like so many soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He believed in doing the right thing and was willing to give his life for it. Was Kyle wrong that the Iraq war had anything to do with September 11th, protecting Americans, seizing weapons of mass destruction, or liberating Iraqis? Without a doubt. But that’s what he was told and he genuinely believed it – an important insight into how good people are driven to work for bad causes. Was Kyle wrong for calling Iraqis ‘savages’? Of course. In one interview, he admits that Iraqis probably view him as a savage,’ but that in war he needed to dehumanize people to kill them – another important insight into how humans tolerate killing, which was left out of the movie.

Enough about Chris Kyle. Let’s talk about Cooper and Hall, and the culture industry that recycles propagandistic fiction under the guise of a ‘true story.’ And let’s focus our anger and our organizing against the authorities and the institutions that craft the lies that the Chris Kyles of the world believe, that have created a trail of blowback leading from dumb war to dumb war, and that have sent 2.5 million veterans to fight a ‘war on terror’ that persists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Pakistan. Critics and nonviolent organizers can be sheepdogs too.”

Yes! Thanks, Brock. And apologies for editing your article in the interests of brevity.




Other religions

There are other religions besides Christianity (number one in the world, with about a third of people), Islam (number two, over 20%), Buddhism, and the rest. In fact, you could say that a person’s religion is anything in which they fervently and consistently believe, even to the extent of looking down on people with different beliefs. In France, for example, long a majority Catholic country in which the Church dominated politically, there’s a strong belief in secularism, even anti-clericalism, since the French Revolution of 1789. And that’s an important element in the French reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings, and the attitude of the majority of French people toward France’s immigrant populations.

Most of France’s immigrants, largely the result of its long history of colonialism, are Muslim and/or black, and there’s definitely an element of racism in the general French attitude. Immigrants tend to live in segregated areas, find it harder to get work, and are discriminated against in other ways, causing resentment. But, where French Muslims are concerned (7% of the population), the main problem is that the majority population refuses to accept them as full-fledged fellow citizens – as French – because of their religion and other cultural differences. Muslims tend not to separate the religious and secular realms, and, as noted above, the French insist on that. France, intensely proud of its secular culture, not surprisingly has a history of all-or-nothing assimilationism with regard to its subject peoples.

This is going to be an ongoing problem in the France of today, where, apparently, there are mandated moments of silence for the Charlie Hebdo victims – resented by many Muslims, especially youth, who feel that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists despised and mocked what they hold most sacred. For many of these youth, their Muslim faith is the only thing they have to be proud of.

What’s the solution? There is no easy one. But being aware of one’s beliefs and prejudices and not acting on them willy-nilly could be a start. Being aware of history and other people’s beliefs and feelings couldn’t hurt either. We’re not all the same, but we are all, by virtue of being human beings, deserving of respect and care. This doesn’t mean allowing or condoning harmful behavior, but it does imply a high degree of thoughtfulness and a realization that other people are always affected by everything we do.

Not all – in fact, perhaps not much of this can be legislated. It’s a matter of each of us taking on the responsibilities of a mature adult living together with others. You’re entitled to your beliefs – just be conscious of what they are, and do some ordering of priorities. Free speech, for example, is an important value, but it isn’t being protected equally for all in France right now (it’s illegal, for example, to express any degree of sympathy for the Charlie Hebdo killers). And, in my opinion, it should be tempered by respect for others as part of living peacefully together in a multicultural world.