It’s just a movie. Get over it.

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, 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.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

3 thoughts on “It’s just a movie. Get over it.

  1. Whenever reading commentaries and movie reviews for that matter I like to know where the reviewer is coming from. After running through the revolving door former government figures are most often identified by their last government job and not more recent private sector positions when some have “cashed-in”.

    The Messenger (pay walled) apparently identifies Smith as the former head of Administration for Governor Douglas. More recently Mike Smith was Vice President of FairPoint for Vermont. You know who would look twice at an opinion piece by a former Vice President of FairPoint, Vermont’s worst run telecom company?

    I haven’t seen the movie and can’t read the pay walled article-not sure if I will. But it’s no no surprise that Smith a former Navy Seal would rise to defend Clint Eastwood’s latest entertainment.  Matt Taibbi (back at Rolling Stone) has an insight that zeros in on the hub bub surrounding the film

    “The thing is, it always looks bad when you criticize a soldier for doing what he’s told. It’s equally dangerous to be seduced by the pathos and drama of the individual soldier’s experience, because most wars are about something much larger than that, too.”

    Link to Taibbi quote

  2. The things that become a bee-in-the-bonnet are pretty hilarious – an editorial??? Yes I’m grateful for those who serve but some former military & LE are now the flag-infested patriot club who mainly inhabit the local legions. And they never get DUIs. It’s a religion & sum total of existance – so f’king serious complete with cop-like gaze. I try not to make eye contact. Lighten the hell up! My Marine dad can’t even stand them nor can my ex-army ‘other’ he hated it & wouldn’t even let me put a flag sticker on the car after 9/11.

    There’s a mobile home in the area where the property is covered with 1″-2″ Walmart flags. Seems to be a mobile home phenomenon – filling the property with cheap decorations – unsure where the custom started or why. They have them planted like flowers & in bunches everywhere. What an eyesore. Overkill much?  

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