“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” – Howard Zinn, Terror over Tripoli (1993)
Before I get into the gist of why I’m writing this article, I must stress that I have not seen the film American Sniper. The chief motivating factor for this is that I do not wish to waste the precariously small amount of money that Student Finance England bestow upon me on a flag-waving, war-fest directed by a man who spent the better part of the 2012 American election counter-arguing an inanimate object. The reactions that I’ve seen online tell me enough about what American Sniper is, and most importantly why it’s dangerous.
American Sniper is one of those war films that can be used a political tool. Most admit that Iraq was a disaster – but films like American Sniper work as a tool for historical revisionism. It creates an ‘us vs. them’ mantra. The protagonist of the film, Chris Kyle, is placed upon a plinth by the directors and the Iraqis are painted as violent savages. It makes the American cause in Iraq seem righteous to an audience of sheep who seem all too keen to lap up the historically untenable film. Kyle, it should be noted in his autobiography, scolded the Iraqis as “savages”. I do not however wish to make this piece as an attack on Chris Kyle himself, his story of his post-war struggles with PTSD are testament to the sheer amount of stress he must have endured in Iraq, which if anything shows that he needs a better film than one that simply paints him out to be some kind of superhuman paragon of justice.
Tragically though, it seems as a political tool it has actually worked on the more brain-dead movie goers who were influenced by this film. This was best shown when two celebrities, Michael Moore and Seth Rogan, condemned aspects of the film. Fox News attacked Moore as “disgraceful”, whilst a glance at a Daily Mail article unearthed some substantial arguments from its intellectual readership such as “Michael Moore is the epitome of what is wrong with the direction America is going: left wing, fat and stupid” and “why is this fat slob even listened to? He's nothing but a liar and a phony.” I must note also with great sadness that these comments were among the most up voted on the piece. When Seth Rogan made an accurate link between American Sniper and the propaganda film in Inglorious Bastards, Twitter unleashed all its fury, accusing him of hating the troops, America, freedom and all other buzzwords used by right-wing social media foot-soldiers whenever they are faced with a substantial argument.
If anyone dares to speak out about American Sniper, they are essentially attacked by frothing at the mouth, patriotic individuals who see the troops as angelic figures who are beyond reproach, and anyone who is critical of them clearly just hate liberty and freedom for some reason or other. According to them, all those fighting in Iraq were fighting for my, and your, freedom. Now this is a very poor argument to make in the first place – I can hardly point at many recent examples of war that were fought for my liberty, especially when America’s involved. But films like American Sniper wrap themselves in the flag and make it seem like the likes of Iraq were fought for us. In a worryingly Orwellian way, they reach out to the viewer and demand that they unconditionally love the military.
Some pieces of media works wonders to show us the true horrors of war and why, in most cases, states throwing lives at other states in faraway battlefields isn’t something we should praise. However others, such as American Sniper serve as brainwashing tools. They whip up a patriotic fervour that leads many cinemagoers to unconditionally defend the falsified life of a sniper whom they have never met, and the film in question of which is based on exaggerated facts. Whenever anyone dares to speak out about it, they are met with a backlash so vicious you’d think they had just justified genocide or racism – but no, they merely criticised a piece of media.
Chris Kyle, and the veterans of Iraq deserve better – they need a film that shows the true horror of what went on in Iraq. One that doesn’t paint the Iraqis as two-dimensional villains and the American forces are some kind of totally righteous force. American Sniper isn’t a piece of art that shows the stark realities of state sanctioned violence, it’s dangerous, politically-motivated propaganda.