Tonight’s Messenger (behind a paywall) featured an editorial by Mike Smith, a onetime Secretary of Administration under Jim Douglas. In it he adds his outrage to the cacophany of right-eous voices in the blogosphere, all in defense of a Hollywood action flick.
Along with many others, Mr. Smith might want to walk back some of the heat in his response to remarks made about the movie “American Sniper.”
It is, after all, only a blockbuster movie; so get a grip, Mr. Smith.
Michael Moore doesn’t need defending. Neither does Howard Dean; and Bill Maher, least of all.
I know the context in which each commented regarding “American Sniper” and it is sufficient to say that I get what they were trying to say.
But this would be an opportunity lost, if we didn’t pause to remark on yet another invocation of the false outrage that threatens to sap our collective common sense.
The real story here isn’t political; it is cultural…and maybe ethical.
Being a former Navy Seal certainly qualifies Mr. Smith to comment on his own experience and whether or not the movie represents that in a meaningful way, but it does not endow him with particular privilege to attack anyone who doesn’t love this picture and the creepy blood-lust it raises in some audiences.
Howard Dean may have regretted his quip about the Tea Party, but that’s because he is a politician and the remark violated political “best practices,” not because there was no grain of truth in it.
And nothing that he said disrespected real servicemen and women in any way. His remarks were directed primarily toward “armchair warriors” who just love a fighting war, especially when they aren’t in it.
The fact is that movies glorifying American warriors, while appealing on many levels, do find a particular audience among the simply xenophobic, and those who distrust anyone who doesn’t share our common zeitgeist.
While the Tea Party’s founding principles were primarily based on small government and conservative fiscal policy, it was soon co-opted to deliver messages of “American Exceptionalism” and xenophobia.
It isn’t much of a reach to joke that a movie that is heavy on defining the enemy as “savages” might have special appeal to the extreme right of American politics.
I looked to see what other ex-military had to say about the movie and found this very articulate piece on salon.com, by Garrett Reppenhagen, himself a former sniper in Iraq.
Says Reppenhagen of the movie:
This portrayal is not unrealistic. My unit had plenty of soldiers who thought like that. When you are sacrificing so much, it’s tempting to believe so strongly in the “noble cause,” a belief that gets hardened by the fatigue of multiple tours and whatever is going on at home. But viewing the war only through his eyes gives us too narrow a frame.
So while he acknowledges there is some truth in the portrayal, he is quick to point out the risk in allowing the emotions this piece of docu-drama raises in the susceptible to be mistaken for authenticity.
I met some incredible Iraqis during and after my deployment, and it is shameful to know that the movie has furthered ignorance that might put them in danger.
And he points to an important difference in the nature of the war wounds his own service as a sniper has left upon him:
Unlike Chris Kyle, who claimed his PTSD came from the inability to save more service members, most of the damage to my mental health was what I call “moral injury,” which is becoming a popular term in many veteran circles.
As a sniper I was not usually the victim of a traumatic event, but the perpetrator of violence and death. My actions in combat would have been more acceptable to me if I could cloak myself in the belief that the whole mission was for a greater good. Instead, I watched as the purpose of the mission slowly unraveled.
In Mr. Reppenhagen’s remarks we read authentic pain and haunting shadow.
This is not a movie.