By Thomas Scott
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to recent box office figures, the film “American Sniper” has made $200,137,000 since its limited release on Christmas and subsequent wider release on Jan. 16.
I don’t plan on seeing it any time soon, though.
To be fair, I never saw “Avatar” or “Interstellar,” either.
But my reason for skipping “American Sniper” is a bit more ideological.
I finished Chris Kyle’s book, titled “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” on the plane ride back to Union after spring break last year. Initially, I was absolutely smitten.
It had everything an action junkie could ask for — visceral tales of narrow escapes and nail-biting accounts of battle in war-torn Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province.
Most importantly, it featured a hero, albeit one tortured by the events in which he had taken part.
After further contemplation, though, I began to question what I had read.
Two things stood out for me. First was his failure to question his part in carrying out American foreign policy.
Second was the role his story has played, both in book and movie form, in shaping American support for our government’s actions in the War on Terror.
I found it interesting that Kyle never truly questions the origins of the Iraq War.
He does however, state his frustration with critics of the war. He notes that even though “(e)veryone talks about there being no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq … they seem to be referring to completed nuclear bombs, not the many deadly chemical weapons or precursors that Saddam had stockpiled.”
What Kyle failed to comprehend was that most of those chemical weapons were provided by the United States during Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran during the 1980s.
Recently, comedian Seth Rogen was criticized for a comparison he drew to the film.
Rogen, whose latest film “The Interview” ends with the assassination of Kim Jong-Un at the behest of the CIA, tweeted that:
American Sniper kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of Inglorious Basterds.
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) January 18, 2015
The film he is referring to is a fake Nazi propaganda film called “Stolz der Nation,” or “Nation’s Pride,” in which a fictitious Nazi sniper kills roughly 250 Allied soldiers in one sitting.
Perhaps Rogen’s point was that there are similarities between the two films.
Both have a national hero protagonist on the backdrop of a brutal battle.
Meanwhile, the enemy is evil and there is no room to consider his or her point of view.
In addition, both snipers kill many people and are glorified as a result.
I think that a better comparison to “American Sniper” would the 2001 film “Enemy at the Gates.”
The film follows the famed Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev.
Vasily, as long as we’re keeping count, is believed to have killed 225 Axis soldiers, including 11 enemy snipers during the savage struggle for Stalingrad from August of 1942 to February of 1943.
In the film, Danilov, a political officer, realizes that Vasily’s story could be useful for morale purposes.
In a scene with none other than Nikita Khrushchev, Danilov argues that in order to boost morale not only among soldiers, but also on the home front, the Red Army needed to “tell magnificent stories … that extoll(ed) sacrifice, bravery” and “ma(d)e (the people) believe in … victory” as well as “give them hope, pride, a desire to fight.”
In summary he says “(w)hat we need … are heroes.”
Chris Kyle was a hero. He fills the same role that Vasily Zaytsev did.
Kyle’s story is especially useful at a time when Americans have started to ask dangerous questions, such as: Why are we fighting? And, how long does the war on terror have to go on?
If we’ve learned anything from Chris Kyle, however, it is that it’s best not to ask questions.