American Sniper: Is patriotism blurring the lines between justice and freedom?

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 10.38.37 AMWhen it comes to American Sniper, there is no hiding the controversy that arose after the movie made its big $105 million debut. Many people went to see the movie because it was the patriotic thing to do. Others went to see it to gain a better understanding of Chris Kyle and the war in Iraq. After reading various reviews and watching videos that expressed differing views, I came to the conclusion that if we want to have a great debate over American Sniper, we need to get some facts straight. This blog is inspired by an article titled: 7 big lies ‘American Sniper’ is telling America about Iraq and Chris Kyle.

It is necessary to consider the credibility of the movie and how the character (Chris Kyle) was portrayed. Chris Kyle is a Navy Seal from Texas and was deployed to Iraq in 2003. According to The Guardian, he has killed more than 255 people during his military career. Many refer to him as the “deadliest sniper in America”. In his memoir, Kyle explains that he “loved” killing. He thought it was “fun” and he firmly believed that anyone he shot was a “bad guy”. In 2013, Chris Kyle was murdered at a gun range by a 25-year-old veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The film is implying that the war in Iraq was in response to 9/11. However, the film does not highlight that Iraq was the wrong place to invade and that going to war with Iraq was a violation of international law. In 2003 the Bush Administration decided that Saddam Hussein was a threat to democracy and he was preparing weapons of mass destruction. Because he was a big leader at the time, he was viewed as a threat to America. George W. Bush tried to get the international committee to join a coalition against Iraq. They declared war and started bombing away for the ultimate reason of stripping Saddam from his power. The reality is that the invasion was illegal under international law. Understanding how this war was unnecessary might make those who are watching American Sniper applaud a little less, and realize that celebrating the death of many innocent lives does not validate our freedom. According to the United Nations Charter, a country can defend itself if it is attacked by another country. Moreover, a country can legally use force if it is authorized by the U.N. Security Counsel.

So one begins to wonder, was the United States invasion of Iraq a legitimate act of self-defense? Any expert on this topic would say no. Saddam Hussein was never connected to Al-Qaeda and there is no evidence that he was. Therefore, 9/11 was a false excuse used to invade Iraq. As the article mentioned above states about American Sniper, “one way to get audiences to unambiguously support Kyle’s actions in the film is to believe he’s there to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The movie cuts from Kyle watching footage of the attacks to him serving in Iraq, implying there is some link between the two.” The war in Iraq was a strategic move to gain access and control of Iraq’s vast oil fields. Overthrowing Iraq’s government was something that the Bush Administration wanted in order to build more military bases in Iraq.

An individual may look at this in any way they please as they watch American Sniper, but the war cannot be justified as an act of self-defense. Nowhere in the United Nations Charter does it say that a nation may attack another country preemptively. It just does not make sense to legally start a war in order to prevent one that you think might happen. The U.N. Security Counsel never authorized the use of force in Iraq but the Bush Administration went ahead to invade the country anyway. The invasion can be considered a war crime. According to Costs of War, “in Iraq, over 70 percent of those who died of direct war violence have been civilians. Iraq Body Count conservatively estimates that at least 133,000 civilians have been killed in direct violence due to war between the invasion and early May 2014.” This is not to mention the torture and inhuman treatments of detainees and executing those who are wounded. Moreover, civilians have died at checkpoints as they try to collect wood to tend to their fields. They are kidnapped and executed because of intimidation. These are all considered war crimes.

Noam Chomsky, the highly influential academic figure, gave the movie a familiar review quoting, “What was the patriotic, pro-family film that so entranced everyday Americans? It’s about the most deadly sniper in American history, a guy named Chris Kyle, who claims to have used his skills to have killed several hundred people in Iraq.” So are we glorifying acts of terror? Should we be celebrating Chris Kyle’s actions? The biggest question is, why are we applauding a guy simply because he killed more people? It is quite frightening to ignore the ones who only targeted those they needed to target, the ones who died with honor. Instead we are celebrating a man who loved to kill simply because killing was “fun.”

Laura Miller writes in the Salon, “in Kyle’s version of the Iraq War, the parties consisted of Americans, who are good by virtue of being American, and fanatic Muslims whose “savage, despicable evil” led them to want to kill Americans simply because they are Christians.” Clint Eastwood’s film can be effortlessly portrayed as a black and white film. Good guy versus bad guy. We know this familiar story too well. I have yet to see a movie that presents post-traumatic stress disorder as one that affects all of those who are a part of war. Soldiers and civilians alike. War death and injury linger for a lifetime and those who have these experiences suffer immensely. Preserving our freedom should not mean demolishing other nations and stripping them from their own basic human rights and needs. Only if we need to, should we defend ourselves. Being patriotic is a beautiful thing when knowledge accompanies patriotism. But being blindly patriotic makes one carry a flag without a real purpose in mind.

As Emma Goldman once put it, “Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves nobler, better, grander, more intelligent than those living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.”

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2 thoughts on “American Sniper: Is patriotism blurring the lines between justice and freedom?

  1. I absolutely love this post because, while I’m already not a big fan of the way this movie portrays Chris Kyle and the fact that it seems like an Islamophobic film, you bring about so many points I hadn’t thought of! It never occurred to me that this movie is painting an inaccurate picture of the war we shouldn’t necessarily be in. Thanks for the thought-provoking look at this movie!

    • Thank you for your feedback! I think it’s important to continue to shed light and inform others about things that don’t make it to mainstream outlets. Your thoughts are appreciated.

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