Illustrating the point I made in these pages three weeks ago — that movies with conservative or libertarian themes did amazingly well at the box office in 2014 – American Sniper has made over $110 million this month, shattering January box office records, and is well on its way to becoming Clint Eastwood’s most successful movie.
For many on the left, this cannot stand. So while positive reviews pour in and moviegoers sell out theaters all across the country, criticism of the film — and the Iraq War — is growing.
Steve Pond, at TheWrap, writes “multiple Academy members told TheWrap that they had been passing around a recent article by Dennis Jett in The New Republic that attacks the film for making a hero out of [Chris] Kyle.” One Academy member was quoted as saying that Kyle “seems like he may be a sociopath” before admitting that “he had not yet seen the film.”
That didn’t stop The New Republic, which published Jett’s hit piece on the film before he’d seen it as well, basing the review on the film’s trailer and the book upon which it was based. If you’ve read that book, Jett writes, then you know that, “[Kyle’s] bravado left no room for doubt. For him, the enemy are savages and despicably evil. His only regret is that he didn’t kill more.”
Lindy West at The Guardian struck a similar chord, writing that Kyle “bare minimum, was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanising and killing brown people.” It is unclear whether or not West saw the film before publishing the piece, which is more about the film’s backstory.
Alex Horton, also writing for The Guardian and a veteran of the Iraq War, did see the film and gets to the heart of Kyle’s guilt, “not the guilt of taking lives, but the agony of not saving enough. It’s a vital part of countless veterans that civilians must understand.”
Chris Kyle is confirmed to have killed 160 people, and he claimed to have killed 255. In a 2012 interview with Time he appeared to confirm the fears of Jett and West, saying
I’m not over there looking at these people as people. I’m not wondering if he has a family. I’m just trying to keep my guys safe.
These three sentences perfectly capture the controversy surrounding the film and the moral ambiguity surrounding the Iraq War itself.
Chris Kyle killed a lot of brown people. Liberals will focus on this fact almost to the exclusion of all others. It doesn’t matter what those brown people were doing, or would have done. America invaded Iraq under false pretenses and it follows, in Jett’s analysis, that every “excess” death in Iraq can be laid at the feet of not only George W. Bush, but every single American.
Seven-hundred-ninety-six of those “excess” deaths occurred on August 14, 2007, near Mosul, Iraq, in what is second only to 9/11 as the deadliest terrorist attack in history. Four near-simultaneous suicide car bombs, targeting the Yazidi community in Kahtaniya and Jazeera, “crumbled buildings, trapping entire families beneath mud bricks and other wreckage as entire neighborhoods were flattened.”
I would characterize this as “despicably evil.” I can think of few things more evil than slaughtering innocent men, women, and children, but liberals like Jett must find a way to rationalize evil to place the blame on the American people. If we hadn’t invaded Iraq, according to the theory, then this wouldn’t have happened. The American invaders, therefore, are responsible for creating this evil.
But are we? The same Yazidi community targeted in 2007 was persecuted and massacred again by ISIS just last year. America famously left Iraq in 2011, but the killing hasn’t stopped.
I lived in a small outpost in central Baghdad for months during the surge in 2007 — we were attacked only once by harassing small-arms fire. The gas station less than a mile away from our outpost was blown up by a car bomb that summer, killing scores of innocent civilians. The murderers didn’t target my team, they targeted innocent civilians. Am I responsible for that massacre?
There is an insidiously racist strain in much of the commentary surrounding American Sniper and the Iraq War. Calling Chris Kyle a racist because he killed a lot of brown people dehumanizes the people he killed. They weren’t marionettes forced to dance by the hand of American foreign policy. The people who ordered the suicide attacks which killed nearly 800 Yazidi in 2007 were living, breathing sentient human beings making their own decisions.
They were brown people capable of and enthusiastic about murdering hundreds of people.
That sentence may strike many on the Left as irredeemably racist, but it is precisely the opposite. All humans are capable of evil. White people in the U.S. military are capable of evil, former SSG Robert Bales being just one example. Evil is not the defining characteristic of white military members, and it is not the defining characteristic of brown Iraqis.
Chris Kyle had to clearly delineate between good and evil. In the film’s opening sequence he is confronted with a woman and a young boy moving toward a group of Marines with a grenade. That woman was not in a military uniform and was not carrying arms openly, unlawful under the Geneva Convention. She was hoping that her gender — and the fact that she was with a child — would prevent decent American troops from identifying her as a threat before she could kill a few of them.
In Kyle’s judgment she was “already dead,” the only question was how many soldiers she would take with her. His answer? Zero.
Many of the people we fought in Iraq wouldn’t bother with this type of moral calculation. Sunni suicide bombers and Shiite death squads did quite the opposite of Kyle, killing as many innocent men, women and children they could.
When we find evil in our military ranks — like we did at Abu Ghraib — we punish those responsible. We can argue about whether the right people were punished, or whether they were punished severely enough, but compare that process to the Al Qaeda or ISIS process to prosecute members of their organizations who kill innocent civilians.
Except you can’t. Killing a massive number of innocent civilians is their preferred tactic. That’s evil.
Murdering someone because of their religion is evil. Murdering someone for a cartoon they published is evil. Murdering someone because of their sexual orientation is evil. Are any of these things made less evil when they are perpetrated by brown people?
No. And to suggest as much is racist and dehumanizing.