Commentators, both on the political Left and within libertarian circles, have been wringing hands over the tremendous commercial success of Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle bio-pic American Sniper. From The Wrap:
Over the weekend, 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 Kyle, who said: “The enemy are savages and despicably evil,” and his “only regret is that I didn’t kill more.” Kyle made the statements in his best-selling book, “American Sniper,” on which the film is based…
…Academy members seem to be paying attention to the criticism that Eastwood and star/producer Bradley Cooper shouldn’t be celebrating a man who wrote that killing hundreds of Iraqis was “fun.”
“He seems like he may be a sociopath,” one Academy member told TheWrap, adding he had not yet seen the film but had read the article, which is being passed around.
And Michael Moore, an Oscar voter and former Academy governor from the Documentary Branch, tweeted on Sunday, “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”
Moore has since walked back his comments, if only just a bit. The Interview star Seth Rogen came under scrutiny for comparing American Sniper to a Nazi propaganda film only to also walk his comments back. In these and many other lower-profile cases, the common denominator is a moral equivalence between America and forces like Nazi Germany, the Taliban, or ISIS.
A guy like Moore sees a sniper or “invader” as a monolithic category which he deems cowardly without regard to context. Chris Kyle is like that Nazi sniper who killed Moore’s uncle, because both were snipers. Never mind why each man sniped, or whom they slew under their crosshairs, or the broader objectives and ideologies in play. Both men were snipers. So they’re both cowards.
The same moral equivalence plagues the rhetoric and worldview of libertarian godfather Ron Paul, who routinely characterizes American military action in terms that ignore a broader moral context. How would you feel if a foreign army occupied your neighborhood? Paul has asked that question in one form or another on a variety of occasions, as if your Midwestern suburb shares defining characteristics with Kabul or Tikrit.
Chris Kyle, like any man who’s ever lived save one, bore imperfections which anything beyond a cursory examination would eventually reveal. He should not be deified. Nor do I believe he would have wanted to be. But he was an unqualified hero.
He was a hero because he exhibited uncommon virtue. Specifically, he recognized evil when he saw it and channeled his righteous indignation toward its annihilation. Whether American foreign policy has followed an ideal course or not, this man acted with valor in pursuit of a life-affirming cause.
That statement may cause some to scoff. How can killing be life-affirming? If you really can’t figure that out, then I hope you live your life consistently by never calling the police, owning a gun, or offering any resistance to bullies. The initiation of force can only be answered with retaliatory force.
In her essay on “Collectivized Rights” complied in The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand explains:
A nation, like any other group, is only a number of individuals and can have no rights other than the rights of its individual citizens. A free nation—a nation that recognizes, respects and protects the individual rights of its citizens—has a right to its territorial integrity, its social system and its form of government. The government of such a nation is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of its citizens and has no rights other than the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific, delimited task (the task of protecting them from physical force, derived from their right of self-defense) …
Such a nation has a right to its sovereignty (derived from the rights of its citizens) and a right to demand that its sovereignty be respected by all other nations…
Dictatorship nations are outlaws. Any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany and, today, has the right to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba or any other slave pen. Whether a free nation chooses to do so or not is a matter of its own self-interest, not of respect for the nonexistent “rights” of gang rulers. It is not a free nation’s duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses.
Indeed, Kyle’s righteous indignation, his regard for disposing of evil as “fun,” ought to be celebrated and encouraged. A proper critique of American foreign policy focuses not on its snipers and invasions, but on its irrational restraint in the face of existential threats.
This is where I part ways with most of my libertarian brethren who tend toward the “anti-war” mold. I hesitate to grant them the rhetorical benefit of the “anti-war” label, because it implies: 1) that the opposite view is pro-war, and; 2) that an application of their prescribed policy would result in peace. Neither is true.
“Anti-war” polices invite the initiation of force by pretending that foreign aggressors either bear no aggressive intent or lack the capacity to follow through on it. Conversely, an objective foreign policy which responded decisively to threats would seek not to start wars, but to end them. If our overall foreign policy was motivated by righteous indignation, rather than its current moral confusion, perhaps our conflict with the jihadists would be ended and the Chris Kyles of the world could come home.