Through it all, all the people he shoots (and, truly, Bradley Cooper seems like he’s acting in a different, much deeper film), all the scenes of him watching fellows soldiers get killed and wounded, all the psychological damage he does to his poor wife when he calls her during firefights, Kyle maintains a pathetic belief in the good of his mission and in the protection of his “brothers.” It has an effect on him – he suffers from PTSD – but the film wants us to believe that it was necessary.
So, in the end, American Sniper is the story of a dumb man who wrecked himself for a worthless cause and about all the young men (and it is all, mostly white, men in it) who were sacrificed for nothing. It’s not the film that tells us it’s nothing. We know it was for nothing. We know that one of the great crimes of the new century is the invasion of Iraq for absolutely no rational, demonstrable reason. We know that all those “savages,” as Kyle calls the Iraqis, that we killed were for nothing. We know that all those Americans who died lost their lives for nothing. Our military was protecting us from nothing. Our freedoms weren’t at risk from Iraq.
And the lie many soldiers from Iraq cling to and the lie we tell ourselves, and the lie that so many have worked so hard to maintain, is that as long as we don’t discuss that it was for nothing, as long as we pretend that the fact that soldiers fought when they were told to fight and, mostly, did so nobly, we don’t have to face the truly gut-wrenching reality of our national complicity in the crime.
We are spending far more ink and airtime fact-checking this guy’s movie, this guy’s book, this guy’s own personal hell and the stories he told about it to stay alive afterward, than we will ever spend fact-checking anything Dick Cheney has ever said. Than we will ever spend fact-checking anything Donald Rumsfeld has ever said. Than we will ever spend pretending George W. Bush is anything other than our National Fuckup Cousin Who Has Recently Left Rehab.
We are acting like this film about the war must be either Good or Bad, either a Glorification or a Condemnation, and completely ignoring the fact that this film about the war shouldn’t even BE, because there was no reason for the war to even EXIST.
By making Chris Kyle — who by all accounts saw some pretty horrific shit he shouldn’t have had to see and did some pretty horrific things he shouldn’t have had to do and told some pretty impressive stories about it all afterward which may or may not have been true — into some kind of stand-in for our feelings about the war, we are doing exactly what the architects of that war want.
We are arguing about our feelings about the war, and not about the war at all. We are taking this guy and making his truths or untruths stand trial for the crimes of Bush and Cheney and everybody who didn’t try hard enough to stop it, the same way we took Lynndie England and made her stand trial for the abuses of Abu Ghraib. We are copy-editing the soldier instead of fact-checking the war. We are arguing about the number and caliber of the bullets, and ignoring the gun.