Before getting too far into my commentary on the much-discussed film American Sniper, I want to state that, yes, I have actually watched the film but not read the book. I won't say that I liked or loved it. It doesn't seem to be that kind of movie to me; if you did in fact like or love it, I have concerns about you.
The movie did, however, affect me deeply. It was brilliant in every aspect, but most importantly in its tone. The filmmakers simply did an amazing job of communicating the feel of not only being in Iraq, but also the psychological dislocation of coming back to the United States. It's an eerie feeling -- one that I've experienced on each of my three tours in varying degrees, and this movie captures it perfectly. I thought Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller were brilliant, not because of who they were portraying, but because I believed they could have been any one of the many families I've seen throughout my time in the military.
Yet, half of talking about American Sniper is not with respect to the movie itself, but the man upon whom it (and the ensuing public debate) is focused. As for Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle, I never knew him. In our great military family, folks tend to know one another through one or two degrees of separation, but the only similarities we share is that we both volunteered to serve and deploy for our country. Also that he is from Texas and I have, in fact, been to Texas. We probably both have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express at one point, but that's about it.
And now to address the various constituencies of American Sniper, all of whom managed to miss the themes in the movie.
First, to Michael Moore, Seth Rogan and others who seem to think that this movie glorifies war: Did we see the same movie? The movie shows, in excruciating accuracy, the challenges of our military families, the pain and pressure they deal with each and every day. Most importantly, the movie showed how hard it is for many of us to "come back" and be present. Even as I write this, I'm having a visceral reaction to my own returns, and the movie captured this with grace and genius. If this is "glory," it is hard to see how anyone could want it.
The sensitivity surrounding the movie seems absurd to me. I know many have brought up the book, but I want to emphasize since I did not read the book I can only comment on the movie. Furthermore, I should note that war is by its nature, a de-humanizing experience for all. I would not be surprised that someone heard or saw me say something I would be less than proud of. Many of the things veterans do, whether it's writing a book or a blog or getting a movie, are about going through a healing process (which I would assume was the experience of CPO Kyle). The bottom line though is that I do not remember any scene in this movie where CPO Kyle was thrilled about shooting anyone. In fact, I remember quite the opposite. I remember CPO Kyle never wanting to pull the trigger -- hoping, almost praying, that a child did not put him a position to have to pull the trigger. Given my own experiences of deciding whether or not to pull the trigger, I completely empathized with that scene; I even tensed up watching it -- reliving my own history over there.
I read Michael Moore's comments and explanation and have no problem saying that I've been a big fan of his work through the years. I even enjoyed watching Fahrenheit 9/11 during my second tour in Iraq. But Mr. Moore, you are not your father, and did not have his same experiences -- and when you act as though you did, you simply come off sounding silly. While I don't think you owe CPO Kyle's family an apology, I would argue that you owe one to all those who look to you to add something to the great debate in this country. Take care that you do not become that which you so rightly criticize: A hypocrite.
For the conservatives, the level of hatred and vitriol coming from many of you is ridiculous. If people do not agree with you -- even the dreaded, elitist Hollywood-liberal complex -- your beliefs are not under attack, nor thought of as less than legitimate. Writing off anyone who criticizes American Sniper as unpatriotic, un-American or worse, however, does in fact cheapen your view; it is reactionary and amateurish, as silly as Moore's warrantless bloviating. This movie was not the second coming, nor did it, in any way, make the Iraq War or the reasons we went into that conflict somehow "okay." This movie is not a broader commentary on the geopolitical context, nor does it justify and excuse the short-sighted decisions or patently incorrect world views of the people who propagated this war on the American and Iraqi people. It is simply the story of one warrior and his family, and the struggle to do the right thing.
I do not know what CPO Kyle was like as a man. I would imagine that he is much like the rest of us -- a little good, a little bad, both saint and sinner. He was also something more. What struck with me most from the movie was a sentiment -- echoed by those who knew him -- that he was not as much interested in the people he killed as he was by those he saved. If for no other reason, that is why you should consider Chris Kyle a hero, for he is certainly one of mine.