Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, American Sniper, has become the most controversial film now being considered as Best Picture at the upcoming Oscars.
The Academy Awards ceremonies are scheduled for February 22.
The criticism is coming from the Left, and this has triggered outrage from the Right. Some of this criticism is correct and fair, but some of it isn’t.
The film suggests the Iraq war was in response to 9/11. The movie cuts from American Sniper Chris Kyle watching 9/11 on TV to him serving in Iraq. Critics charge that this implies a connection between the two.
Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in “American Sniper”
The movie depicts a terrorist sniper who becomes Kyle’s evil nemesis. Named “Mustafa,” he is portrayed as a Syrian Olympics champion marksman. In a furious mano-a-mano duel, Mustafa almost nails Kyle. But, at the end of the movie, he meets his end with a well-placed bullet from Kyle’s rifle.
FACT: Mustafa is mentioned in a single–and short–paragraph in Kyle’s book. Kyle admits: “I never saw him, but other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we thought was him.” So the Mustafa-Kyle duel never occurred.
But Eastwood clearly decided its inclusion was necessary to make a dramatic finish for his movie. This is what’s known as “dramatic license” in filmmaking.
The movie portrays Chris Kyle as tormented by his rising casualty rate among Iraqis. During his fourth tour of duty in Iraq as depicted in the film, he agonizes over the possible need to shoot a child who’s about to pick up a dropped rocket launcher. He mutters, “Don’t pick it up,” and when the child runs off, leaving it behind, Kyle feels relieved.
FACT: Throughout his autobiography–on which the film is based–Kyle makes clear his contempt and hatred for Iraqis. He brags of having told a military investigator: “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”
He refers to his Iraqi enemies as “savages.” And, having been credited with killing 160 Iraqis, Kyle writes: “I only wish I had killed more….I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.”
Chris Kyle was a hate-filled killer, but the movie turns him into a hero.
FACT: It’s entirely natural for soldiers to hate their enemies. They live in a world where they–or their comrades–can be blown away at any moment. So they fear and hate those they know are intent on their destruction.
The toughening-up process starts in boot camp, where the restraints of pacifism and individuality are broken down. The purpose of boot camp is to turn “boys” into “fighting men.” This must be done in weeks, so the process is shockingly brutal.
Soldiers who aren’t toughened by boot camp are by the battlefield. As General George S. Patton famously warned: “When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do.”
General George S. Patton
During the Indian wars, soldiers called Indians “Red niggers.” In World War II–the “Good War”–America’s servicemen fought “Japs” and “Krauts.”
During the Vietnam war, Vietnamese became “dinks” and “gooks.” Today our servicemen and women refer (unofficially) to their Islamic enemies as “ragheads” or “sand niggers.”
“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.” –Laura Miller, in Salon
FACT: British military historian B.H. Liddell Hart noted in his introduction to the memoirs of World War II German General Heinz Guderian, the creator of the Blitzkrieg theory:
“[Guderian] did not question the cause which he and his troops were serving, or the duty of fighting for their country. It was sufficient for him that she was at war and thus in danger, however it had come about.
“As a dutiful soldier, he had to assume that his country’s cause was just, and that she was defending herself against would-be conquerors.”
What proved true for Guderian proved equally true for Kyle–and for soldiers in armies throughout the world.
Moreover, every great war movie tells its story from a given viewpoint–German, Russian, American, British. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the narrator is a young, idealistic German soldier who is disallusioned by the horrors of war. When he dies at the end of the movie, we feel saddened by his loss.
Similarly, when we learn, at the end of American Sniper, that Chris Kyle was killed while trying to help a fellow veteran, we feel a similar loss.
In the end, a biographical or historical movie can tell only so much. It is for the audience to decide its meaning–and whether to learn more about that subject through their own researches.