American Sniper and the Politics of Ignorance

As a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, I looked forward to the release of the film American Sniper, and my wife and I saw it as soon as we could. I found it an excellent portrayal of one exceptional serviceman's experience. My wife called it the best depiction she's seen of what a spouse goes through during deployments.

The controversy surprised me. Other hard-hitting war films set in recent conflicts have generated far less debate: Lone Survivor, The Hurt Locker, the HBO series Generation Kill.

The stupidity of the debate surprised me, too, mainly because it revealed so much ignorance about military operations. Michael Moore's comments took the discussion to a whole new level of idiocy. If you think a sniper's cowardly, just follow one around on a day at work. Not only do snipers face the same dangers as other troops; when they take a shot, they can become the focus of concentrated enemy fire.

Some who praised the film weren't any smarter. After seeing the movie, the world's dumbest chicken hawks took to Twitter with insights such as this: "American sniper makes me wanna go shoot some f----- Arabs."

The Arab pilots helping us carry out air strikes against ISIS would probably find this a little disconcerting. In addition, Muslim countries have granted us basing rights ever since 9/11. And, as shown in the film, Muslim interpreters have assisted our troops -- often at great risk to themselves.

These facts don't come as a surprise to people who know anything about the military. The problem is that there are so few of those people. Less than 1 percent of the population has borne the burden of our 21st century wars. Many of those who didn't serve see the wars through their own political prisms -- which is easier to do the less you know.

One of the things I like about American Sniper is that it doesn't fit easily into the political narratives of the right or the left. Some liberals allow for only two kinds of military personnel -- victims or psychopaths, not winners like Chris Kyle. Some conservatives seem to think there's a military solution for everything -- but the film poignantly depicts the sniper's anguish when his team can't keep a promise to protect an Iraqi family.

Friends in several states who saw American Sniper tell me of packed theaters, with moviegoers leaving in stunned silence. I'm glad to hear that, and I hope more films educate the American people about what their military does on their behalf and how that work gets done.

But I suspect a lot of veterans would make this request: Between the time the wars start and the movies begin coming out, for God's sake pay attention. Follow the news enough to know that Arab allies are helping us and snipers aren't cowards doing an easy job. How can you support the troops if you don't understand what they do?

Tom Young served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Air National Guard. He is the author of a series of military novels published by G.P. Putnam's Sons. His latest novel, Sand and Fire, was released in July 2014.