Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “American Sniper”

American_Sniper_posterOr “Blood Simple Is As Blood Simple Does”*

by Gene Howington

The definition of success in propaganda is a bit like pulling off a successful magic trick. It works best if no one realizes exactly how they’re being manipulated. At its pinnacle of perfection, no one even suspects they are being manipulated at all. So is “American Sniper” successful propaganda? The answer is both yes and no. We’ll examine why, but first, let us consider the film as cinema art. Does it work as a film? That answer is also a big heap of yes and no. But that, like the answer to the question before it, it not meant to imply ambivalence. It is a statement of mixed outcome.

“American Sniper” technically works as a film. It is well shot. The acting is competent and although I didn’t see “Oscar” writ large upon it, the truly standout performance was by British actress Sienna Miller and not Bradley Cooper. Cooper was actually a bit distracting at first.  The purposeful underbite he was using (to what end? make him more square jawed?) looks not only forced but painful. The main character’s story has arc, albeit shallow. Structurally, it is a bit disjoint. Starting with a single flashback that was clearly meant to focus on Kyle’s first kill as some kind of personal crux came across as mechanical and stiff, the story also suffered from a pace that seemed a beat off time. Perhaps “slow” isn’t an entirely accurate description, but “uneven” certainly fits the bill. As a technical piece, it is fair to describe the film as flawed, but functional. It is not Eastwood’s finest hour behind the camera as a technician.

Many of the reviews I have read have a common word or variation of it that is relevant to that analysis: “simplistic”. It was the word ringing though my head before I even left the theater. That word is important because it is at the root of what “American Sniper” is as propaganda. It paints simple pictures.

There is reason though to cut Eastwood a little – a tiny minuscule amount – of slack on this point and it requires a small digression.

As a student of film, one gets to learn a bit about how the sausage is made. The compromises of screenwriting can often cause gross simplifications from otherwise nuanced source material. A fine example of this is the classic Richard Matheson novel “I Am Legend“. It has been made into a film four times** and not once has it captured the essence of the novel on film. Each attempt is such a gross simplification of the novel, it misses the target of Matheson’s brilliant source material. Just so, these compromises can also keep a source no matter how initially sophisticated from a more interpretative telling. This is often the case where a studio executive has shut down an idea for being “too sophisticated” or “too arty” or “too complicated”. The example that comes to mind was when Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky shopped around his version of Frank Herbert’s brilliant novel “Dune“*** in the 1970’s. Many in the studio system thought it was brilliant, but too risky, surreal, and even absurd to actually make not to mention really expensive. It was though, without question, a sophisticated and complex interpretation of an already sophisticated and complex novel resulting in the studios killing it on the vine. Simplification is a risk of making that sausage Hollywood makes.

220px-Green_berets_postThat does not mitigate things for Eastwood in this instance though. His simplification harkens back to jingoistic war films like 1968’s “The Green Berets“.  In case you haven’t seen this odious swill, “The Green Berets” ss basically a 1950’s western that replaced “injuns” with “charlie”, has little resemblance to the 1965 book by Robin Moore that was its source material, and has a certified Pentagon approved script which naturally left no room for any ambiguity about the morality or ethics of a given war let alone war in general.  Just so long as it was America stomping on whomever, preferably some non-white, non-Christian population.

The simplification in “American Sniper” starts with Kyle’s father.  He describes the world to his son’s in a very simplistic macho way at the dinner table. He tells the boys there are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs (whom he describes as “blessed by aggression” with a temperament to “watch out over others”).  He follows this little homily up by threatening to beat his kids if they became wolves and proclaiming they didn’t raise any sheep in their family. Utterly backwoods charming as that is, it is probably one of two times any analysis of causal actions and human nature was given and the other (which will we’ll get to in a bit) was just as superficial and could fairly be called “glib”. It is also as shallow as a saucer. Worse still, the film goes on to draw a blatantly false connection between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. The rest of the film’s analysis consists of Kyle calling Iraqis “savages” and never once questioning why U.S. troops were there or why the Iraqis might see Americans as invaders rather than liberators or protectors. It’s a black and white picture: God, country and family first so long as that God is from the New Testament, the country is the U.S. and family is whomever Kyle selects as family.

The few times any doubt or regret is mentioned, it is by other soldiers who are portrayed as somehow inferior to Kyle’s flag-wrapped, Bible toting SEAL sniper. When fellow soldiers express doubt, Kyle dismisses it – often with anger and never with analysis. Of particular note is a scene where Kyle encounters his brother in passing. The younger brother, portrayed from the start as a “sheep”, seems clearly shaken by his experiences and ready to go home. The older Kyle assures the “weaker” brother that both he and their father are proud of the youngest sibling. His brother responds “Fuck this place.” For which he earns an angry “What did you say?” from his savage killing sniper brother. Later, one of Kyle’s platoon buddies who had expressed doubt dies on a mission that is primarily for Kyle about revenge for the death of a third platoon member. When the dead man’s mother reads her son’s poignant letter home received shortly before his death expressing his personal doubts about the war, Kyle’s wife tries to talk to him about it after the funeral. Kyle states in no uncertain terms in a dismissive tone that it was doubt and hesitation that killed that man. It was actually a shooter from a building across the street that killed that soldier who was, despite the doubts he carried, doing his job and fulfilling his duty to his brothers-in-arms when unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His moral compass or doubt didn’t have any correlation to let alone causal connection to his death. It is also of note that Kyle’s wife never questions the war or her husband’s actions except in the context of she feels the military is more important to her husband than their marriage and lamenting raising children on her own. Even when Kyle’s story arc goes down and he’s decided to return to his family, it isn’t about his questioning the war or his actions – quite explicitly he is untroubled by his actions. He returns because he is tired after a long slog at getting revenge against “the savage” who killed one friend and wounded another. This is a simple picture in black and white, with not a shade of gray let alone a trace of color. “American Sniper” paints such a simplistic moral and ethical picture so far divorced from the nuanced vivid colorful picture Eastwood painted in “Unforgiven” that it is difficult to imagine that they came from the same director.

As mentioned elsewhere in the Propaganda Series, there are a set of common tools used by propagandists many of which consist of carefully applied logical fallacies used to generate a façade of superficial logical appearing statements to conceal falsities and/or obscure motive(s) of the speaker that may be contrary to the image they present or message they openly convey. Let us consider some of the fallacies and misleading presentations this film commits.

Thought-terminating cliché – Often a commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance, conceal lack of thought, change the subject, etc., that is used to attempt to end the debate with a cliché instead of a conclusive logical point and/or evidence. This is found in the simplistic worldview of Kyle’s father he passes along to the children.  It is ultimately an appeal to authority – when an assertion is deemed true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it. In this case, the authority appealed to is God Himself. Which in itself is a form of reification – a fallacy of ambiguity found when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a “real thing” something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea. For example, arguments that treat good and/or evil as if they were tangible (and usually absolute) properties of the universe instead of concepts defined within the parameters of social context. “God, country, family” is an absolute fact as presented and no deviance from this credo is acceptable.

Guilt by association, in this case demonstrated as deployment of the abusive fallacy, a subtype of “ad hominem” when it turns into name-calling rather than arguing about the originally proposed argument, it can also be a form of transfer. This in turn creates a false equivalence.  This is evidenced by the perpetual use of the terms “savages” to refer to the Iraqis. Even in the one scene where they find an Iraqi friendly to the U.S. forces but reluctant to help them out of fear for his family, he is personally interrogated by Kyle who flat out threatens him if he doesn’t help. He does help Kyle, but pays for it with his own life and the life of his son at the hands of, you guessed it, the savages. No differentiation is made between jihadists and other Arabs who do not support them or their violent methods.

Loaded language is also found in the use of the term “savages”. No Iraqi encountered is ever treated as anything but a savage hostile and someone just a little less than human. This is also a form of dehumanization, a common tactic in propaganda, touching upon both the form of hasty generalization (when a broad conclusion is based on a small sample) and the fallacy of composition (assuming that something true of part of a whole must also be true of the whole).

False causal analysis is at the heart of the blatant lie perpetrated in portraying that the Iraqis or their government were involved in the attack on 9/11, a use of the fallacy of the single cause (causal oversimplification) – when it is assumed that there is one, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes. This plays into post hoc ergo propter hoc, better known as correlation is not causation (X happened then Y happened; therefore X caused Y). There is a correlation between the invasion of Iraq and 9/11, but it is not a causal relationship other than the Bush Administration lied about the reason for invading a sovereign nation that had not attacked us to justify his (nominally illegal) actions.

Further analysis might yield more such examples, but that is sufficient for the point of this exercise.

Let us return to the definition of success in deploying propaganda. The definition of success in propaganda is a bit like pulling off a successful magic trick. It works best if no one realizes exactly how they’re being manipulated. At its pinnacle of perfection, no one even suspects they are being manipulated at all. Does “American Sniper” succeed by this definition of success? The answer appears to be a resounding “no”. The clearly biased political view presented by the film has not gone unnoticed and has actually generated quite a bit of critical analysis and backlash, due in no small part to the simplistic hamfisted approach to the story. While this has generated box office, it serves to undermine its clear purpose which is glorification of war. But what of the the so-called culture war? In that sense, “American Sniper” can be viewed as a bit successful as propaganda. This is evidenced by stories with headlines like “‘American Sniper’ Triggers Flood Of Anti-Muslim Venom, Civil Rights Group Warns” and “Civil rights group: Eastwood, Cooper need to help stop anti-Arab speech inspired by ‘American Sniper’“.  While Warner Bros. issued a statement for the movie studio “denounce[ing] any violent, anti-Muslim rhetoric, including that which has been attributed to viewers of American Sniper. Hate and bigotry have no place in the important dialogue that this picture has generated about the veteran experience”, neither Eastwood nor the film’s star Bradley Cooper have weighed in on the matter.

“American Sniper” is propaganda.  While it does lie outright about the causal connection between Iraq and 9/11, it did not engage in the wholesale historical revisionism of “Zero Dark Thirty”.  Its success as propaganda?  Is debatable. Blood simple premises often lead to simply bloody conclusions, even if built on a complex scaffold of propaganda technique.

What do you think?

Source(s): IMDB, Huffington Post, Washington Post, USA Today, Wikipedia


*All apologies to the Coen Brothers. I’m not just a huge fan. I’m otherwise knowledgeable in the metallurgical arts.

** “The Last Man on Earth” (1964), “The Omega Man” (1971), “I Am Omega” (2007, direct to video), “I Am Legend” (2007).

*** If you’re interested in learning about the aborted film version of “Dune”, see the excellent documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune“. His vision was incredible, it had an ending that was nothing like the book (a sin David Lynch went on to commit as well), and it had a scope still unseen on the big screen.  It was also totally insane (in a good-ish way) and left its mark on many science fiction films to come after it. It is said that genius and madness can be split by a razor thin line. If the tale of trying to make this movie doesn’t convince you that can be true, nothing will. In defense of anyone trying to adapt “Dune” to the screen, it is probably impossible to film as a single movie. It is long, has a huge cast of characters, has an operatic setting that spans several worlds, and a byzantine plot full of political intrigue, messianic themes, and explores just about every kind of human motivation possible. “Dune” alone, setting aside some of the really questionable sequels and prequels, would be far more suitable to a multi-season hour long show format such as enjoyed by George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones“. There are at least three seasons of material in it and the first two reasonably good sequels, “Dune Messiah” and “Children of Dune“, could make for another six seasons. (Looking at you, HBO.)

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
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69 Responses to Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “American Sniper”

  1. Slartibartfast says:

    A masterful analysis, Gene! But, in the end, I don’t think this film will have enough lasting impact to be effective propaganda, but rather it will soon drown in the noise of the 24-hour news cycle.

  2. Bob Kauten says:

    But what would Holly do (WWHD)?

  3. Bob K.,

    Make sausage. (Insert your own choice of sexual innuendo here.)

  4. Elaine M. says:

    What Too Many Americans Don’t See When They Watch ‘American Sniper’
    The glorification of our recent wars abroad exemplifies the degree to which a large portion of Americans are living in a bubble of their own devising.

    From box office success and right-wing praise, American Sniper, is obviously most commonly regarded as a celebration of Chris Kyle as war hero who deserves the thankful praise of the country. From this outlook, Kyle killed enemies of America at great risk and cost to himself, and spared the country a repetition of the 9/11 attacks. It is this self-serving and essentially distorted vindication of the Iraq War that the film presupposes, even to the extent of having Kyle watch on TV as the plane strikes the World Trade Center, with a quick scene shift in the movie to waging war against those presupposed to be the foot soldiers of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Embedded in this view was a double false narrative that the American mission in Iraq was to carry out a necessary counter-terrorism operation linked to the 9/11 attacks and that the Iraqis being killed in Falluja and elsewhere should be perceived as ‘terrorists’ rather than as fighters against an invasion and occupation of their country by a foreign power that disrespects their religion, culture, and sovereignty.

    These narratives dominated my perception of the movie, although those associated with its production deny such lines of interpretation. Clint Eastwood (the director and producer) and Bradley Cooper (who plays Kyle in the film) have publicly questioned employing a political optic in commentary on the film. They insist, in contrast, that the movie was ‘a character study’ of Kyle and ‘apolitical’ in the sense of not taking a position pro or con the Iraq War. Eastwood has tried to lend credibility to his claim by pointing out that he opposed the Iraq War, and was even skeptical about Afghanistan. Yet whatever he privately feels this not how most viewers most viewers would experience the film, either being enthralled by Kyle’s exploits or appalled by them. Eastwood may have aspired to tell an apolitical story, but if so, he has failed badly.

    The Iraq War was a war of aggression undertaken in 2003 despite the rejection of a well-orchestrated (and misleading) American plea to the UN Security Council for authorization. Against such a background, the attack on Iraq and subsequent occupation were widely regarded as international crimes bearing resemblance to the category of aggressive warfare for which German and Japanese leaders were punished for waging after World War II. In this light, the Iraqi violence associated with the hostile American occupation needs to be portrayed as a unilateral repudiation of the limits set by international law and the UN Charter on recourse to war by the world’s most powerful country. Additionally, American Sniper depicts the doomed efforts of an outgunned society to resist a militarily dominant foreign invader that is imposing its will on the country’s future by force of arms. Such a viewing is not meant to imply that we need to endorse some of the horrific Iraqi tactics relied upon, but it should remind us that presenting the Iraqis as ‘evil’ and as ‘savages’ functions in the film as an unchallenged display of Islamophobic propaganda, and cannot be credibly explained away as a realistic exploration of a war hero’s temperament and struggle for sanity and survival. American Sniper also presents Kyle’s story in such a way as to avoid any self-criticism directed at the American mission in Iraq.

    The movie also lacks redeeming artistic merit. It is relentless and repetitive in portraying battle scenes of intensity intertwined with Kyle’s tormented relationship with his wife and efforts to become a father to their two children during his brief interludes of home leave between military assignments. We learn nothing about the realities of our world beyond a tired rendering of the embedded post-9/11 polemic on the necessity of foreign wars to keep America safe from evil forces lurking in the Islamic world. This orthodoxy is not even interrogated, much less rejected. And no where in the film is there any acknowledgement that the United States in Iraq was acting in defiance of international law and causing great devastation and suffering to a totally vulnerable foreign country, as well as producing a massive displacement of the civilian population. Leaving behind a devastated country and widespread chaos. The Iraqi experience of such carnage in their own country is treated as irrelevant, and is reminiscent of Vietnam War films that were mostly devoted to explorations of the victimization of the young Americans caught up in an experience of war that they could neither understand nor win, while overlooking almost altogether the massive suffering being inflicted on a foreign people in a distant land. That is, even most anti-war portrayals of these American wars accept the dehumanization of the foreign others.

  5. Elaine M. says:

    The “American Sniper” cultural moment: How Iraq became the new Vietnam
    America went to war for 10 years and we missed it. Now Iraq is back to torment us, as mythology and macho fantasy

    The “American Sniper” moment marks the first mass-scale reconsideration and myth-making around the Iraq war, fueled by the vague sense that there must have been some meaning in that conflict we missed the first time around. For the Chris Kyle fanbase, with their F-150s and “Terrorist Hunting Permits” and curiously restricted conception of American identity, maybe it was a World War II-style “band of brothers” sense of national purpose that eluded us, or was undermined by the handwringing pantywaist liberalism of the latte-drinking classes. (Even now, Chris Kyle pisses in your $5 coffee, from his sniper’s nest on high. But do they have Red Bull in heaven?) If you belong to the caffeinated bicoastal class and paid way too much for your windbag liberal-arts education, on the other hand, you may perceive some dark epiphany, a moment of Joseph Conrad nightmare karmic reckoning, like whatever the hell happens at the end of “Apocalypse Now” with Marlon Brando and that ox.

    Both forms of navel-gazing are symptoms of imperial decline, and I have no doubt that similar divisions could be identified in Britain before World War I, or in Christian-era Rome. Some people claim we can recapture our lost glory by ignoring history and embracing some obviously counterfactual propaganda narrative; others adjourn to the wine shop or coffeehouse to celebrate the meaninglessness of everything and discuss the new episode of “Girls.” Each side views the other as hopelessly deluded and imprisoned by an evil ideology. To return to the present instance, this moment of reconsideration or nostalgia or collective bewilderment is arriving a bit sooner after the Iraq war than it did after Vietnam. That reflects two interrelated phenomena: the sped-up, ADHD quality of the news cycle and our cultural preoccupations and the fact that, as mentioned above, the 99-plus percent of us who didn’t go to Iraq or Afghanistan had virtually no experience of the war at all. (Vietnam was fought with a reluctant conscript army, which led to immense social discord but also made the war feel real to every young man of every social class, along with their families.)

  6. eniobob says:

    “”While I know there have been critics, I felt that, more often than not, this film touches on many of the emotions and experiences that I’ve heard firsthand from military families over these past few years,” she said. “This movie reflects those wrenching stories that I’ve heard — the complex journeys that our men and women in uniform endure. The complicated moral decisions they are tasked with every day. The stresses of balancing love of family with a love of country. And the challenges of transitioning back home to their next mission in life.”

  7. Mike Spindell says:


    Brilliant analysis. My take though as to its propaganda value, it is propaganda indeed, is that it will have some effect on those disposed to see America as a nation of cowboys in a highly positive way. Our whole cultural mythology is one of the powerful hero, of simple values, who dispatches “evil doers”, protecting those of lesser power. Kyle’s centrality to his “brother” soldiers allows them to be compared unfavorably to him, as sheep he is protecting with his deadly skills. How appealling that image must be to the average American male who can vicariously see himself in that role, killing them savages. Eastwood at times has been a brilliant Director, awash with nuanced portrayals of human stories. He was probably torn by his dealing with Kyle’s. story and with Kyle’s. widow. Hollywood though doesn’t want to risk big dollars on nuanced films that might cause bitter controversy and I think though that they might not have anticipated how much a furor might arise. In the end the film is wildly suggestion financially so its backers are thrilled.

    As far as Dune goes your solution is the only viable way to tell the tale on film. This year Fargo and True Detective showed that one could present a coherent, nuanced story episodically. I’m also a Coen Brothers fan as if you didn’t expect it already.

  8. Mike,

    That’s one thing that got me about “American Sniper”. “Unforgiven” is a masterpiece. It is a true take on human nature telling a tale where there are no good guys in white hats. Everyone is a shade of gray. It’s a far more subtle and truthful movie than the genre usually produces. It’s hard to reconcile the two versions of him as director. I had to put the caveat about making the sausage though, but at this point, I’m pretty sure as a director – especially given this was in part a Malpaso production – Eastwood gets his way. I could be wrong. I kinda hope I’m wrong to tell the truth.

  9. Elaine M. says:

    The problem with American Sniper, explained

  10. po says:

    Masterful analysis indeed, Gene.
    Elaine’s links round it up quite well.
    One thing encapsulates the strangeness of what we have come to accept as an American value, which makes sense as extension of Rambo and the like, is the sentence “the most confirmed kills”!
    The main idea is that this man is a hero because of the high number of people whose lives he took…which requires for the sake of palatability that he needed to do it, and that those lives he took were deserving of being taken. Hollywood has been the most effective tool for US imperialism, it tells the world who is the good guy and who is the bad, and the good, always, is the White American. It has also told us from the start that lives are not worth the same, and to massacre some lives is not only not worth feeling guilt about, but it even earns one praises and hero worship.
    And yes, it is the same idea of the American/White hero against the Indian, the slavemaster against the slave, the US soldier against the Vietnamese, and against the Iraqis 1 & 2…
    When we are readying to wage war against China, Hollywood will offer movies featuring the American/white hero against the Chinese devil… No need, it has already started with the Interview, the Sony movie that has been said to augur the next round of American hostilities directed toward China.

    Too many great points have been made here to adequately address them all, but it is satisfying to see that less and less people seem to buy the bullshit encoded into these movies, the propaganda of us and them, the good guy vs the bad guys, and the rewriting of reality it attempts to enshrine as history.
    And based on his performance at the Republican convention with the empty chair, it is hard to accept Clint Eastwood’s claims of politicization.

  11. po says:

    Meant to say, claims of apoliticization.

  12. Tex says:

    My father was a WWII veteran. He was born and raised in Texas. He went into the military in early 1941to serve 6 months and didn’t get back home to the cattle ranch until he was discharged in 1945. He never talked about his years in the military even though my brother and I knew there were boxes of medals in the corner of the closet on top of a large scrapbook full of all the newspaper clippings about my dad that my grandmother had made for him. He didn’t talk about it and we knew we weren’t supposed to ask.

    In 1966 my dad took the boxes of medals and the scrapbook out of the closet and told us to pack our gear for a weekend at the hunting cabin. When we got there, he sat us down, gave us each a beer, and started talking about war and what being a soldier in battle meant. My brother and I were draft age and Nam was getting hot. In his opinion Nam was a foolhardy war and Johnson lacked the skills necessary to be a good Commander in chief. He told us it was his duty as our father to tell us the truth about combat. We listened and then he answered every question we asked. Finally we asked to see his medals and the scrapbook.

    The headlines from newspapers all across the country kept repeating one word. HERO

    This was my dad. This guy took me camping, hunting, fishing. He taught me how to break a horse and herd cattle. He demanded that I remove my hat when I entered a room and stand up when a lady did. He grounded me when I broke curfew.

    I sat there reading the articles my grandmother had saved trying to wrap my head around the fact that this man, my dad, was a war hero. Then I thought about all the things he’d just told us about killing and watching people die. I began to understand.

    I looked up at him and there were tears in his eyes. Wanting to comfort him I said, “Dad, you were a hero.”

    His response was something I will never forget. “No, son”, he said. “No man should celebrate killing.  Every time you kill, a piece of you dies.  If you become a soldier prepare yourself to kill and then accept the lesser self that survives.” 

    The next day we went home and the subject was never discussed again.

    I liked this post from Gene. I really liked the one Elaine did the other day. (I admire a woman who stands up to macho b.s. and I would stand up anytime she enters the room.) I read Kyle’s book and wasn’t impressed. I won’t be seeing the movie.

  13. po says:

    “No man should celebrate killing. Every time you kill, a piece of you dies. If you become a soldier prepare yourself to kill and then accept the lesser self that survives.”

    Tex, based on that alone, I would watch any movie made of your father’s book, had he written one!

  14. Tex,

    Blouise had shared your dad’s wisdom with me in private earlier this week when we were discussing this column. I think your dad and my grandfather would have liked each other. He served on Tinian and had a similar take on the cost of war. I was one of the few people, maybe the only person, he ever talked to about the war. I am both glad and honored that you chose to share his words here. Thank you.

  15. Mike Spindell says:

    Real men and real soldiers hate war. They don’t want to talk about their heroism perhaps because they understand that they we diminished by every kill no matter its hustice. Tex I would have been proud to have known your father because he seems a real human being, not a cardboard cut out of what society deems heroicm

  16. gbk says:

    To all,

    “No man should celebrate killing . . .”

    “Real men and real soldiers hate war.”

    Why the emphasis on men?

    Do you not think others suffer from this self-imposed hubris?

  17. Tex says:


    Had he done so, it would have been action packed. He lost count of the number of battles he fought. He was in action from the beginning and always part of the point advance because of the weapon he was trained to use. The army said the life expectancy for the man operating that weapon in battle was 30 minutes. He beat the odds in every battle until finally being wounded after 3 years of fighting. My old man was a good soldier.

    There were lots of things he made us do as kids that made sense after he told us about being a soldier. For instance, he had very strict rules about personal hygiene, especially feet. I remember the lectures he would give us as kids about taking care of our feet. None of my friend’s dads said anything to them about their feet. I always thought it was kind of weird until that weekend when he told us all about being a combat soldier constantly advancing to the next battle objective. He spent a long time in battle and he stayed healthy.

    If he had written a book there would have been a chapter on feet.

  18. Tex says:


    It’s a good post you wrote. My wife has told me about your grandfather. I bet they would have taken a liking to each other. There would have been comfortable silences.

  19. Tex says:

    Mike S.,

    You do good work here.

    My old man hated war but knew it was necessary. The only thing he liked about it was Italian women. He liked Italian women a lot! He didn’t talk about that either. My mother wasn’t Italian.

  20. pete says:

    I liked the part in the video Elaine posted where “W” says “We went into Iraq because we thought Saddam had WMD. He didn’t but he had the capacity to produce WMD.” Hell, Home Depot has the capacity to produce WMD. First it was 9/11, then it was WMD, then it was a smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud, then it was Saddam was just an evil man and needed to “be taken out”.

    But none of that matters to the people on the ground who had to survive, follow orders, and make multiple tours because the politicians didn’t want to send enough people to do the job right. If anyone knew exactly what “the job was”.
    Chris Kyle was the perfect soldier. (I assume, I haven’t seen his jacket and never will). He suited up, showed up, did the job he was trained to do in a exemplary manner. Not everyone can put a small pieces of metal into vital areas of the human body at long distances. Pin a medal on him, put him into a plane and send him home. Only nobody planned for what then.

    That was kind of a reoccurring theme in the whole Iraq fiasco, what then. What if plan A doesn’t work. Remember plan A, six days, six weeks, certainly not six months. Iraqis throwing chocolate and flowers at our feet. Ahmed Chalabi sweeping U S run elections into a government happy to give the oil companies anything they wanted.

    After all the money that was spent many people, vets included, (and their families) need to feel something good came out of all this. That the lives lost and people physically and mentally torn apart was for something. If not then it was just a naked grab for a weaker country’s resources. Can’t have gods exceptional america doing that.

    Bring on the propaganda, it hurts less that the truth.

    (even after all this I still feel I didn’t say exactly what I wanted)

  21. Mike Spindell says:


    You many not have said exactly what you wanted to, but what you said directly hits the mark. We wasred untold lives and resources in the ME on a war whose purpose was to protect the interests of the rich and to act as Hessians for the Saudi’s who seem to firmly control us. We note how our President cut short his visit to India, a country with a billion people that has become a world power, to shake the hand of the new Saudi despot. Our history on the world stage since Viet Nam has been one of a military bully for the interests of wealth. Our armed forces lives and health were expended for nothing. Yet those who served and those that loved them, would find it so painful to admit the truth, masking it instead with false narratives of heroism.

  22. Elaine M. says:


    Thanks for telling us that personal story. Your father was a fine man…a true hero…a man of conscience.

  23. po says:

    Well said, Pete.
    I just signed a petition for better care for veterans, as the petitioner just lost his friend and fellow army man to suicide.
    This morning, I read an article on the guardian on the repercussions of the vietnam war, as the carpet bombing of the area led to a huge number of unexploded bombs dotting the Laos countryside, killing and maiming still.
    I thought, how insane is this? That the whims and the desires of the few can take us so far off the path? And, much after we feel that the war has ended and the costs have been paid, blood still spills and pain lingers and recreates! Many Laotians hate Americans. Many Iraqis hate Americans.
    The costs of the war, every war, are still being tallied, in lives lost, in mental unhealth, in enemies made, and perhaps worse yet, in the taking away of so much in resources, in infrastructure, in schools and support for families, children in need.
    And meanwhile, many men left lured by false claims, who returned diminished or fully broken, and their spouses, their children, their community, this nation take the brunt of it.
    That is why, with everything said, that I feel humbled and admiring of those, officers of servicemen who, once they realized the lies that sent them to Iraq, made it a duty to stop contributing to the “war effort”, either by refusing to finish their tour, by refusing to re-up, and by being vocal about against it.
    This insanity has to stop.Especially as the drums of war against Iran are being heard louder and louder.

  24. Elaine M. says:


    I agree with Mike and po about what you wrote in your comment.


    Here’s more food for thought:

    Opinion > Articles
    American Sniper?
    By: Ross Caputi
    (NOTE: The author of this article participated in the 2nd siege of Fallujah as a US Marine.)

    What American Sniper offers us — more than a heart-wrenching tale about Chris Kyle’s struggle to be a soldier, a husband, and a father; more than an action packed story about America’s most lethal sniper — is an exposure of the often hidden side of American war culture. The criminality that has characterized American military engagements since the American Indian Wars, and most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, is hardly noticeable in this film. And that’s exactly my point.

    Your average American viewer might be surprised to find out that Chris Kyle built his reputation as a sniper during one of the most criminal operations of the entire occupation of Iraq, the 2nd siege of Fallujah. He or she certainly won’t learn this by watching American Sniper, which doesn’t even hint that Chris Kyle ever did anything in Iraq except kill bad guys and defend America. And this speaks volumes about how little we understand the wars that our country fights around the world.

    Perhaps my argument seems strange — that the most insightful part of this film is what is not in it. However, I believe that these omissions reflect more than just what the director decided to be irrelevant to the plot. These omissions reveal an unconscious psychological process that shields our ideas about who we are as individuals and as a nation. This process, known as “moral disengagement”, is extremely common in militaristic societies. But what is fascinating about American Sniper is how these omissions survive in the face of overwhelming evidence of the crimes that Chris Kyle participated in. The fact that a man who participated in the 2nd siege of Fallujah — an operation that killed between 4,000 to 6,000 civilians, displaced 200,000, and may have created an epidemic of birth defects and cancers — can come home, be embraced as a hero, be celebrated for the number of people he has killed, write a bestselling book based on that experience, and have it made into a Hollywood film is something that we need to reflect on as a society.

    It is not my intention to accuse Chris Kyle of committing war crimes as an individual, or to attack his character in any way. Some critics have pointed out the many racist and anti-Islamic comments that Chris made in his autobiography (these comments are significantly toned down in the film). Others have noted his jingoistic beliefs. However, I too participated in the 2nd siege of Fallujah as a US Marine. And like Chris, I said some racist and despicable things while I was in Iraq. I am in no position to judge this man, nor do I think it is important to do so. I am far more interested in our reaction as a society to Chris Kyle, than I am in the nuances of his personality.

    In both the book and the film, Chris Kyle comes off as a man who is slightly embarrassed by the labels that his comrades-in-arms and his society throw upon him, such as “legend” or “hero”. This comes off as very selfless and humble of him. But the more important point is that we are the ones who cast him into this designation as hero. And the financial success of Chris Kyle’s autobiography and Clint Eastwood’s cinematic adaptation of it reveals just how willing America is to embrace this man and his story, despite its factual inaccuracies.

    Perhaps the only thing that I think is import to say about Chris Kyle the individual is that a man like Chris has the power to legitimize this sanitized version of events in Iraq that not all veterans have. Somehow in our culture, combat experience is mistaken for knowledge about a war. And Chris Kyle’s status as a Navy SEAL with mountains of medals and ribbons, multiple deployments to Iraq, and battle field accolades that are unmatched makes him an authority on the topic of Iraq to those who don’t know better.

    I sympathize with Chris, because I believed many of the same things he believed while I was in Iraq: That Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. That our mission was just and good. That the people we were fighting against in Iraq wanted to kill Americans because of some irrational political ideology or fanatical religious beliefs. And that most Iraqis wanted us in their country.

    Notice how within this ideological framework, the emotional turmoil that Chris goes through and the strain that his multiple deployments put on his family gets interpreted as a sacrifice that he bravely and consciously makes for a noble cause. Our mission in Iraq is, of course, understood as a peace keeping and nation building operation, not as the imposition of a political and economic project against the will of the majority of Iraqis. Similarly, “hearts and minds” become an object to be won, rather than something to be respected. The lives that Chris ends are interpreted as “confirmed kills”, not murder. And the people he kills are interpreted as “terrorists”, not as people defending their country from a foreign, invading and occupying army.

  25. blouise says:

    I was really struck by Pete’s “what then” post. What does a Country do when the objectives have been reached but the means can’t be justified? What then?

    Call Hollywood.

    Ah, the Cosmic Emptiness of whoremaster man.

  26. Whenever I interview a new hire for a law enforcement agency, we always have The Talk. That is the very real possibility than an officer may find him or herself in a situation where a decision about deadly force must be made. I try to get them to tease out the difference between movies and real life. For that matter, the difference between video games and YouTube videos and real life.

    Part of the talk is to see if they have empathy for others, and can truly see how others may value their own life as much as the officer values his or her life….and the lives of their loved ones. When one takes a life, it changes one’s own life forever. There is no getting it back. They will live with memories of what could have been the rest of their life.

    There are instances where killing another human being is necessary. But as I tell them, it is always a last resort. We had a local deputy sheriff kill a man in his driveway, but that was after he had shot a female deputy….and her dog. The Lieutenant managed to get off a couple of shots before the guy was able to swing his rifle around to kill him. That was justified in every sense of the word.

    Killing by any means is not a video game. It leaves scars. Incidentally, I have had this talk with my youngest daughter many times. She, very wisely, said she had no idea how she would react if ever placed in that situation, but did say she would have no trouble with the decision if it was clear that it was a matter of her life, or another person’s life. Says it is the last thing she would want to do, but it is not a real choice if the alternative is being sent home in a box.

  27. Elaine M. says:

    I was an American sniper, and Chris Kyle’s war was not my war
    Don’t make the mistake of thinking the hit movie captures the truth of the Iraq conflict. I should know. I lived it

    I spent nights in Iraq lying prone and looking through a 12-power sniper scope. You only see a limited view between the reticles. That’s why it’s necessary to keep both eyes open. This way you have some ability to track targets and establish 360 degrees of awareness. I rotated with my spotter and an additional security team member to maintain vigilance and see the whole battlefield. I scrutinized every target in my scope to determine if they were a threat.

    In a way, it’s an analogy for keeping the whole Iraq mission in perspective and fully understanding the experiences of the U.S. war fighters during Operation Iraqi Freedom. No single service member has the monopoly on the war narrative. It will change depending on where you serve, when you were there, what your role was, and a few thousand other random elements.

    For the past 10 days, “American Sniper” has rallied crowds and broken box office records, but if you want to understand the war, the film is like peering into a sniper scope — it offers a very limited view.

    The movie tells the story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, said to have 160 confirmed kills, which would make him the most lethal American military member in history. He first shared his story in a memoir, which became the basis for Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation. Kyle views the occupation of Iraq as necessary to stop terrorists from coming to the mainland and attacking the U.S.; he sees the Iraqis as “savages” and attacks any critical thought about the overall mission and the military’s ability to accomplish it.

    This portrayal is not unrealistic. My unit had plenty of soldiers who thought like that. When you are sacrificing so much, it’s tempting to believe so strongly in the “noble cause,” a belief that gets hardened by the fatigue of multiple tours and whatever is going on at home. But viewing the war only through his eyes gives us too narrow a frame.

    During my combat tour I never saw the Iraqis as “savages.” They were a friendly culture who believed in hospitality, and were sometimes positive to a fault. The people are proud of their history, education system and national identity. I have listened to children share old-soul wisdom, and I have watched adults laugh and play with the naiveté of schoolboys. I met some incredible Iraqis during and after my deployment, and it is shameful to know that the movie has furthered ignorance that might put them in danger.

    Unlike Chris Kyle, who claimed his PTSD came from the inability to save more service members, most of the damage to my mental health was what I call “moral injury,” which is becoming a popular term in many veteran circles.

    As a sniper I was not usually the victim of a traumatic event, but the perpetrator of violence and death. My actions in combat would have been more acceptable to me if I could cloak myself in the belief that the whole mission was for a greater good. Instead, I watched as the purpose of the mission slowly unraveled.

    I served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. During that time, we started to realize there were no weapons of mass destruction, the 9/11 commission report determined that Iraq was not involved in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, false sovereignty was given to Iraq by Paul Bremer, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were exposed, and the Battle of Fallujah was waged.

    The destruction I took part in suddenly intersected with news that our reasons for waging war were untrue. The despicable conduct of those at Abu Ghraib was made more unforgivable by the honorable interactions I had with Iraqi civilians, and, together, it fueled the post-traumatic stress I struggle with today.

  28. eniobob says:

    “an 30 (Reuters) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Friday he would officially declare Feb. 2 “Chris Kyle Day” in the state, in honor of the late Navy Seal sharpshooter portrayed in the film “American Sniper.”

    The movie, starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle who was killed by a disgruntled U.S. veteran on a Texas gun range in 2013, has been a box office hit as well as a flashpoint of debate between liberals and conservatives.

    Abbott, a Republican, made the announcement during a speech at the Texans Veterans of Foreign Affairs Mid-Winter Convention in Austin, according to a statement from the governor’s office.”

  29. blouise says:

    A Hero Holiday in Texas. Somehow that just seems right. Hopefully George Jr and Rick Cheney will make an appearance. Maybe Sarah Palin will give another inspiring speech. Clint can bring his empty chair.

    (All savages should stay home.)

  30. bettykath says:

    Many thoughtful comments on this thread. I appreciate Gene’s analysis. It confirms my lack of desire to see the film, just as I had no desire to see Green Berets

    In middle school (we called it junior high) I read “Johnny Got His Gun”. Until that time I hadn’t thought about war and what it does. This book made me aware. What it did to Johnny is happening still, to our soldiers and to the soldiers and civilians of our “enemies”.

    My heroes of the war include First Lt. Ehren Watada and the others who have refused to fight.

  31. eniobob says:

    “Much has been made recently about the inaccurate representation of Chris Kyle in “American Sniper.” We’ve learned that, despite the fact that the film depicts Kyle as a hero and a martyr, the real American sniper was heartless and cruel. Rather than struggle with moral dilemmas as we see in the film, the actual man had no such hesitation and no such conscience.

    But to focus on “American Sniper’s” depiction of Kyle is to miss the larger problems of the film. In addition to sugarcoating Kyle, the film suffers from major myopia — from a complete inability to see the larger picture. And that is why criticism of the film has to look at its director, Clint Eastwood, and the troubling ways he represents a dark, disturbing feature of the GOP mind-set.”

  32. Bob Stone says:


    I really don’t see how the film constitutes propaganda. And to compare Unforgiven to Kyle’s memoir made into a film isn’t quite fair to Eastwood. Chris Kyle is not David W. Peoples. (BTW, did you know they named the insane asylum in the TV version of 12 Monkeys after Peoples?)

    The Green Berets was propaganda for all the reasons you discussed. Whereas I see American Sniper as just a movie about an American soldier that went to Iraq with a mindset not too unlike the character of Michael in “The Deer Hunter.”

    Regarding the 9/11 – Iraq connection; you know where I stand on that fraud by the Bush administration. But in the movie? Aren’t we looking at the world through the eyes of Kyle? And isn’t the director’s job as an artist to be true to Kyle’s thoughts; not whether the connection was truthful or not? To paraphrase Robert McKee, the artist has no responsibility to improve, uplift, or be politically correct concerning society. His only responsibility is to tell the truth from his point of view.

    Believe it or not, the one part of the film that stuck out like a sore thumb to me was the father’s speech about the sheepdog. I know from my own interest in long range shooting that referring to snipers as sheepdogs is common parlance. So to hear that Kyle’s father told them that story .. well, I had a hard time swallowing it. So, I tracked down an ebook of Kyle’s memoir and searched for the sheepdog or even sheep and found nothing. Thus, as I suspected, Eastwood created that scene out of whole cloth for character development reasons.

    Anyway, my whole take on the art v truth debate goes back to the reactions to Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”

    People like George Will saw the film as “an act of execrable history and contemptible citizenship by a man of technical skill, scant education and negligible conscience.”

    Whereas people like Roger Ebert viewed the film for what it was; a fucking movie:

    “I don’t have the slightest idea whether Oliver Stone knows who killed President John F. Kennedy. I have no opinion on the factual accuracy of his 1991 film “JFK.” I don’t think that’s the point. This is not a film about the facts of the assassination, but about the feelings. “JFK” accurately reflects our national state of mind since Nov. 22, 1963. We feel the whole truth has not been told, that more than one shooter was involved, that somehow maybe the CIA, the FBI, Castro, the anti-Castro Cubans, the Mafia or the Russians, or all of the above, were involved. We don’t know how. That’s just how we feel.

    Shortly after the film was released, I ran into Walter Cronkite and received a tongue-lashing, aimed at myself and my colleagues who had praised “JFK.” There was not, he said, a shred of truth in it. It was a mishmash of fabrications and paranoid fantasies. It did not reflect the most elementary principles of good journalism. We should all be ashamed of ourselves.

    I have no doubt Cronkite was correct, from his point of view. But I am a film critic and my assignment is different than his. He wants facts. I want moods, tones, fears, imaginings, whims, speculations, nightmares. As a general principle, I believe films are the wrong medium for fact. Fact belongs in print. Films are about emotions. My notion is that “JFK” is no more, or less, factual than Stone’s “Nixon” or “Gandhi,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Gladiator,” “Amistad,” “Out of Africa,” “My Dog Skip” or any other movie based on “real life.” All we can reasonably ask is that it be skillfully made and seem to approach some kind of emotional truth.”

    See what I’m saying?

  33. “Films are about emotions.”

    Propaganda is very often based on the manipulation of emotions. Also, documentaries count as films and they rest their credibility on facts. This isn’t an article about the purity of artistic vision or the duty of a director to “be true” to his source material. If you want to talk about the source material, let’s discuss how the Kyle estate lost a 1.3 million judgement to Jesse Ventura about an outright lie Kyle told in his book about supposedly kicking Ventura’s ass. This is about propagating a false meme. That it comes in the guise of a story about a man who may have bought that same bullshit meme is secondary when there is literally nothing done to mitigate that falsity and indeed a story told where questioning the Iraq war was portrayed as weakness and sheep-like. To which my only response can be “WTF?” We are a nation founded upon both questioning and speaking truth to power. I know that in part because of one of the most revolutionary (and ballsiest) documents ever written: The Declaration of Independence. In that regard, “American Sniper” is about as un-American a film as one could want.

    I see what you are saying.

    I’m disagreeing with it, Bob.

    This isn’t a movie about the remote past. It’s a film about events we are still dealing with the consequences of today and the memes it propagates fuels the fires of those pols who would see us not only stay in Iraq indefinitely but expand the war to include the rest of the “savages”. Like the idiots in Congress who would rather go to war with Iran rather than pursue diplomacy with a country that is by all accounts in the midst of a sea change that could be played in the favor of regional stability and normalized relations. That’s an active and current effect of propagating the false hawkish ideals favored by the neocon set. That kind of makes “true to the source” irrelevant in terms of propaganda value. “Triumph of the Will” was technically a good film and about real source material and it was full on propaganda in addition to being a box office smash in Germany.

    I acknowledged that “American Sniper” as a film was competently done but uneven. I used the term “flawed but functional”. If I had to give it a letter grade, I’d say solid B, possibly a B- because of the clunky flashback. In discussing it as art, comparing it to the much better “Unforgiven” is appropriate, especially since the strengths of that film are almost a mirror image of the faults with “American Sniper” from the point of storytelling.

    This analysis was primarily focused on the propaganda value of the finished product which I said was mixed by the definition of success in propaganda given. That is entirely appropriate as this column is part of a continuing series on propaganda. Was “American Sniper” propaganda? Sure it was. It has a distinct political view. It creates mythology and it is a false mythology at that ergo meeting the pejorative definition of propaganda. So was “Casablanca” but it was a great piece of art with a different message in a different time.

    “Art” and “propaganda” are not mutually exclusive states, Bob.

    As art, I found “American Sniper” a journeyman effort. As propaganda, I found it to have a distinct set of messages some of which seem to have worked to their end (the culture war components) and others that did not (it was hamfisted and simplistic to the point the more critical audience familiar with the techniques of propagandists could tell they were being manipulated).

  34. Bob Stone says:


    As someone who agrees with Vincent Bugliosi’s argument that Bush and members of his administration should be tried for murder for defrauding the country into war with Iraq — I just don’t see the film the way you do. Roger Ebert said it best for me.

    I will say that you should update the article to include this:

    “Like the idiots in Congress who would rather go to war with Iran rather than pursue diplomacy with a country that is by all accounts in the midst of a sea change that could be played in the favor of regional stability and normalized relations. That’s an active and current effect of propagating the false hawkish ideals favored by the neocon set.”

    While I may not agree that “American Sniper” was intended by its makers to be propaganda, (and thank you for reminding me about Casablanca), your thoughts in that paragraph serve as an excellent warning about those who would seek to use the film for propaganda purposes. For example, people who hail the film as “A Patriotic, Pro-War On Terror Masterpiece”

    Regarding the Jesse Ventura verdict and Kyle’s book, I’m not sure what that has to do with the quality of the film. Consider that Michael Cimino was described by his colleagues as a pathological liar (e.g. told the NY Times he served as a medic in Vietnam, when he didn’t) yet he made “The Deer Hunter.”

    On the issue of “questioning the war” within the story, that’s simply a function of how the main character happens to view the war. In fact, it’s no different than how the main characters in “The Deer Hunter” saw their war:

    “More terrifying than the violence–certainly more provocative and moving–is the way each of the soldiers reacts to his war experiences. Not once does anyone question the war or his participation in it. This passivity may be the real horror at the center of American life, and more significant than any number of hope-filled tales about raised political consciousnesses. What are these veterans left with? Feelings of contained befuddlement, a desire to make do and, perhaps, a more profound appreciation for love, friendship and community. The big answers elude them, as do the big questions.” – VINCENT CANBY, NY Times review, 12-15-78

    Regarding seeing the Iraqi’s as”savages” in “American Sniper” — as far as “The Deer Hunter” goes, Pauline Kael wrote, “The Vietcong are treated in the standard inscrutable-evil Oriental style of the Japanese in the Second World War movies.… The impression a viewer gets is that if we did some bad things there we did them ruthlessly but impersonally; the Vietcong were cruel and sadistic.”

    And so it goes.

    P.S. Far as I know, referring to God as a person, e.g. “Our Father,” or “his Creator,” doesn’t qualify as reification.

    BTW, you might like this article by A.O. Scott — i.e. on the issue of war films being made while the conflict is ongoing.

    A War on Every Screen

  35. Elaine M. says:

    “The truth is unspeakable”: A real American sniper unloads on “American Sniper”
    “The truth is unspeakable,” says real-life American sniper who wants nothing to do with a dangerous propaganda film

    He did not keep track of his kills and he hates that I ask him for a number.

    “I wasn’t keeping track and oftentimes there was no confirmation. I feel it didn’t make me a better soldier and certainly doesn’t make me more of a man. If Chris Kyle got 160 confirmed kills, I joke and say that I missed 160 times. I wish that was true. We are talking about human beings and I hate quantifying that. Each life is so precious. We destroy that every time. One was too many, the truth is unspeakable.”

    Garett came home and began speaking out. He still does, in fact.

    “I do antiwar talks in high schools and colleges. I stopped telling war stories at these events because no matter how bad and awful it sounds, you can still see the look in kids’ eyes that say, ‘That is the rite of passage, that is how I become a man. I have to go there and live through that horrible shit to know that I am an adult.’”

    Reppenhagen is certain there will be young kids who join the military because of the movie “American Sniper.” Life, however, is never as neat as Hollywood.

    Take Garett’s first hit, the one he described as giving him a feeling of ecstasy. The feeling did not last long. His target was not dead.

    “I remember looking back and he was down in the middle of the road arching his body, spinning on his back and screaming and pulling on his stomach as if I shot him with an arrow and he was trying to pull it out. All the sense of satisfaction just washed away and this horror filled it — this sadness, anger and frustration. I was mad at him that he just didn’t die. I ended up putting another three rounds down and he finally stopped moving. That was the first time I took another life.”

    There is a long pause on the other end of my phone.

    “He looked like he could have been my father. Who knows why he was out there fighting. A lot of people were fighting us because they did not want to be occupied or because they had family members who were hurt or killed and they wanted to get some sort of vengeance. By the end of my tour, it was really hard to justify killing them. We should not have been there in the first place.”

    While in Iraq, Garett was told by an army chaplain that a stronger belief in God would alleviate the guilt he was feeling. God was on America’s side, and Garett was fighting for God and country. Get over it, soldier.

    Once home, he sought treatment for his PTSD from a Veterans Administration hospital and heard the same message delivered in a different way.

    “I was taken aside more than once at the VA [during group therapy] and told that the VA is not a platform to express my political views. My recovery hinged on the fact that I felt guilt and shame over committing atrocities against an occupied country. We went over there and brutalized and oppressed, and that is part of my psychological and moral injuries. If I can’t talk about it at the VA, then the VA can’t help me.”

    Garett’s views are “political,” but the worldview of Chris Kyle as brought to life in “American Sniper” is not. It may be true that it is good for box office for the creators of “American Sniper” to pretend that their movie is not a political one, but if Cooper and Eastwood actually believe that, any narrative not draped in yellow ribbons and billowing red, white and blue flags cannot penetrate the cloak of white imperial privilege they have pulled over their heads.

    Which is unfortunate, and not just for those of us who are insulted by a movie that so ignores important historical context as to cross the line from art to propaganda. It robs movie lovers of a better movie. Allowing such complexities into the narrative, or even framing the context of Kyle’s time in Iraq truthfully, would have made it a stronger story.

  36. Elaine M. says:

    “American Sniper’s” Muslim problem: How Clint Eastwood embraces Chris Kyle’s toxic ideas
    The film neither endorses nor repudiates its subject’s racism. The result is a slick, dangerous work of propaganda

  37. Elaine M. says:

    “American Sniper’s” sinister philosophy: Pro-war propaganda wrapped in moral truth
    Make no mistake — Clint Eastwood’s film is a myth-building tale, not a human interest story

    “American Sniper” is a difficult movie to criticize, partly because of the pro-war jingoism that’s long been a staple of post-9/11 society and partly because the movie itself is competently made, but mostly because of the dogmatic belief among supporters that “American Sniper” is a “human story” and not a political one. And that’s exactly the problem. Taking a conflict in which there are deep historical, economic, social and political roots, and then atomizing it as a single man’s story, robs the conflict of context, and this is a political act in itself. The act of de-politicization serves to obscure the ideological framework within which the story operates, coating it with a human face. In studying this “face” however, the experiences of sniper Chris Kyle that constitute the film, we can see how beneath the obviously “human” story is a troubling philosophical thesis that speaks to the rise of neoconservatism among the U.S. political and military elite.

    This intersection of the personal and political can be seen as early as the first scene, where the titular sniper aims at a man described as a “military-aged male” (borrowing from the language of drone strike casualties) on a cell phone. Of course he is reporting the troop movements below, and from the house he stands atop emerge a woman and her son, who attempts to throw an RPG at the oncoming soldiers. When we return to this scene after a flashback, Chris Kyle shoots both.

    What are we supposed to take from this? We’re meant to see the “horrors of war” that the protagonist must commit out of a sense of duty — it is a “necessary evil” and Chris is deeply affected by the experience. What distinguishes Chris Kyle from a simple child-killer is that he holds the moral upper hand above the jihadis, who slaughter children to advance their political agenda.

    But let’s take a second to look at that moral upper hand Chris holds, and the moral theory it operates under, because in this “human” story morality functions as a surrogate for political theory. The scene of sniping the child is broken up by a flashback detailing Chris’s childhood/training in rural somewhere-or-other where hunting and church-going are the order of the day (and the transition is impressive — we switch from the adult Chris hesitating to shoot the child to a child Chris eagerly shooting a deer). The sequence culminates in a moral lecture from the authoritarian father after Chris defends his younger brother in a schoolyard brawl. I’ll cite the whole thing because it’s philosophically quite dense:

    “There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe evil doesn’t exist in the world. And if it ever darkened their doorstep they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. And then you got predators. They use violence to prey on people. They’re the wolves. Then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression and an overpowering need to protect the flock. They are a rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog. We’re not raising any sheep in this family.”

    At first glance this theory seems merely stupid, a sort of Saturday-morning-cartoon morality of heroes and villains and the civilians they fight over. When extended not merely to a family, but an entire society, however, it gives us quite a lot of insight into neo-conservative ideology of the “War on Terror.” Because the thing is, this speech is critically important to understanding the rest of the movie, and the slaughter of children within it. It is only after we have this moral thesis that we understand why Chris had to do what he did and flash back to the shooting. The political context is replaced and substituted with this familial moral context that shapes his ascent to manhood. In the movie this classification plays out clearly: His wife, Taya, with her obtuse moral concerns and inability to protect herself from “bad men” is the civilian sheep, the insurgents are wolves, and Chris himself is the sheepdog, “blessed with the gift of aggression” who slays the wolves and protects the sheep. Funny to note here the “conspiracy theorist” cries of Americans being “sheep” when this terminology is being co-opted by the very people they accuse of manipulating the citizenry. More on this later.

    What should strike us immediately about this terminology is that it does not cast the hyper-equipped, expertly trained and invading army as the predatory wolves. No. The invaders are, paradoxically, the defenders, the sheepdogs, and the native resistance fighters against them are somehow cast as the predatory wolves. Sheep can seemingly be found in Iraq and the U.S.

    The linchpin of this moral theory is the almost cartoonish evil of the native Iraqis. What the instances of child killing in the movie are meant to highlight are the moral complexities of the war, but these moral complexities are smoothed over again and again to cast the U.S. soldiers as heroes whose fault is, if anything, trusting too much. During every instance in which moral complexity arises, the Iraqis are shown to be trying to deceive the troops into letting them carry out terrorist activities. This is shown first in Chris’s dismissal of the “military-aged male” with the phone as not being a threat, and again when he brutally occupies the house of a man and his child whom he learns after scream-interrogating them that — surprise, surprise — are sheep being forced by threat of death into working for a terrorist mastermind named “The Butcher” who murders people with a drill. And yet again, when the soldiers are invited to dinner by a man whose home they are occupying, and Chris sneaks off to sleuth around and finds an enormous pile of weapons stashed beneath a stack of rugs. (Those sneaky A-rabs!) These instances of seeming “moral complexity” simplify more than they complicate, as if to say that the appearance of complexity is actually one more trick of the wolves to make us feel guilty. And we can never feel guilt. Not even if we shoot 250 people.

  38. Mike Spindell says:

    “What should strike us immediately about this terminology is that it does not cast the hyper-equipped, expertly trained and invading army as the predatory wolves. No. The invaders are, paradoxically, the defenders, the sheepdogs, and the native resistance fighters against them are somehow cast as the predatory wolves. Sheep can seemingly be found in Iraq and the U.S.”

    This is exactly the crux of the movies propaganda. I wonder though if Eastwood and Cooper even realized what they were doing in presenting merely the “human story”. I wonder how if we sort of changed the story a little to that of a German sniper in WWII. He has a wife and two cute children. He grew up in rural Germany on his father’s (a shepherd’s) farm and received the same lecture. Now the perspective shifts to that rag tag bunch of Jews resisting his armies attempts to make them leave and get into box cars. As that ragtag bunch resists with the crude weapons they have at hand, our hero’s sniper’s job is to protect the German troops doing their job. Why in this “human story” could we possibly think that morality and geo-politics need discussion?

  39. Elaine M. says:


    Did you read the entire article? There’s a section on Leo Strauss. I had never heard of him. I thought maybe you had.

    Another excerpt from the Salon article:

    The Strauss Connection

    When we talk about neo-conservative ideology, we have to talk about a man named Leo Strauss. Strauss was an American political philosopher in the mid-20th century who most famously taught at the University of Chicago, where he acquired a following of young non-leftist intellectuals. Central to Strauss’s thought was a belief that liberalism would inevitably devolve into a nihilistic loss of values, either a brutal nihilism as evidenced by the Nazis who he himself had fled, or a gentle nihilism that he saw evidenced in American society, which manifested itself in a hedonistic and permissive belief in equality.

    To counter these strains of nihilism, Strauss saw the need for an intellectual and political elite capable of convincing the general population of “myths” that they could believe in. Much of his writing was influenced by classical political philosophy, and critically by the theory of Plato’s “noble lie.” The “noble lie” was a myth which it was thought necessary to convince the population of, specifically that land belongs to the state even though it is always acquired coercively, and that citizenship is a matter of justice and not an accident of birth. Strauss, while not denying these two virtues, extended the idea to function as a protection against the nihilism that Western liberal rationalism must inevitably reach. In short, “the people” must be led by myths created by the elites so that they will not fall prey to nihilism in its brutal or gentle varieties.

    Among intellectuals unsympathetic toward Marxism (which was, relatively speaking, flourishing in universities at the time) and rocked by the catastrophes of ideological zealots across the political spectrum, this philosophy flourished. Strauss acquired a following at the University of Chicago composed of people who would go on to become leading figures in American politics, among them Paul Wolfowitz, Susan Sontag and Abram Shulsky. Neocons who were unable to find posts in leftist politics departments, the “Straussians” often went directly into the intelligence or political communities, where their ideas regarding the necessary secrecy of a political elite found purchase, and continue to influence policy to this day.

    • Mike Spindell says:

      “Strauss saw the need for an intellectual and political elite capable of convincing the general population of “myths” that they could believe in.”

      Yes I was aware of Leo Strauss back in the day. He was an advocate of the belief that the “common people” needed to be led by an intellectually elite and morally superior class. The University of Chicago with its economics and with Strauss’s political philosophy has been a powerful for in shaping the last six decades. While there were many forerunners to the Straus style of myth making for the masses his coterie and there economic U of C counterparts have pretty much set the agenda for the US

  40. blouise says:

    The Strauss Connection

    Whoa! I have never heard of this Straussians group/philosophy. I’m going to look into this.

  41. Bob Stone says:

    This BBC documentary series is where I first heard about Leo Strauss.

    Hard to believe it was nearly ten years ago.

  42. Elaine M. says:

    Leo Strauss’ Philosophy of Deception
    Many neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz are disciples of a philosopher who believed that the elite should use deception, religious fervor and perpetual war to control the ignorant masses.
    By Jim Lobe / AlterNet May 18, 2003

    What would you do if you wanted to topple Saddam Hussein, but your intelligence agencies couldn’t find the evidence to justify a war?

    A follower of Leo Strauss may just hire the “right” kind of men to get the job done – people with the intellect, acuity, and, if necessary, the political commitment, polemical skills, and, above all, the imagination to find the evidence that career intelligence officers could not detect.

    The “right” man for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, suggests Seymour Hersh in his recent New Yorker article entitled ‘Selective Intelligence,’ was Abram Shulsky, director of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) – an agency created specifically to find the evidence of WMDs and/or links with Al Qaeda, piece it together, and clinch the case for the invasion of Iraq.

    Like Wolfowitz, Shulsky is a student of an obscure German Jewish political philosopher named Leo Strauss who arrived in the United States in 1938. Strauss taught at several major universities, including Wolfowitz and Shulsky’s alma mater, the University of Chicago, before his death in 1973.

    Strauss is a popular figure among the neoconservatives. Adherents of his ideas include prominent figures both within and outside the administration. They include ‘Weekly Standard’ editor William Kristol; his father and indeed the godfather of the neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol; the new Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, a number of senior fellows at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) (home to former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and Lynne Cheney), and Gary Schmitt, the director of the influential Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which is chaired by Kristol the Younger.

  43. Bob Stone says:

    Since parts 2 and 3, available in the right margin of the original page, are not visible here, I’ll post them.

    Power of Nightmares Part 2

  44. Bob Stone says:

    Power of Nightmares Part 3

  45. gbk says:

    I’m amazed Strauss was not known to the contributors of this blog.

  46. blouise says:


    I knew the philosophy , or political science bent, but not the name. I’m not quite sure why … probably because I dismissed it or, at least, spent little time studying it. That was a gigantic mistake on my part. Gigantic.

  47. Elaine M. says:

    The only Strausses that I’m familiar with are Richard, Johann…and Levi.

  48. po says:

    Wow, this is incredible. I too, Blouise, knew of the practice that these neo-cons used, and their relentlessness in implementing it revealed some sort of grand plan or philosophy… I however never heard of Strauss and his inspiration to the neo-cons.
    Curtis’ case that the neo-cons and the islamists are pretty much cut off the same cloth was always obvious to me, both feel legitimate to steal, lie and kill to further their interest, and it is one of complete domination.
    I have made the case elsewhere before and am accused of moral equivalency, but in terms of our droning and random killings in the middle east, its hard for me to see any difference between us and ISL., other than we are legitimate terrorists and they aren’t.

  49. blouise says:

    other than we are legitimate terrorists and they aren’t. – po

    Very good

  50. Elaine M. says:


    Is legitimate terrorism akin to legitimate rape?

  51. po says:

    Elaine, trying to frame legitimate rape has caused me a sprained something in the brain. I hope your liability insurance is good…:)

    The University of Chicago with its economics and with Strauss’s political philosophy has been a powerful for in shaping the last six decades.
    Mike, I have been hearing lately about how the university of Chicago school of economics has driven international economy for quite a while now, and is being more and more discredited. Knowing about this Strauss philosophy does round it up, which makes sense considering economic philosophies and imperialist philosophies tend to support each other.

    • Mike Spindell says:

      “Mike, I have been hearing lately about how the university of Chicago school of economics has driven international economy for quite a while now, and is being more and more discredited.”

      The UC theories have been discredited not so much by stronger arguments for better theory, but by the fact that wherever the UC economic thought has been applied in real world terms, it has failed abysmally.

  52. gbk says:


    Imperialist philosophies and “economic philosophies” are one and the same. I’m not speaking to internal state economic policies, but rather to the overbearing concept of economic growth being tied to natural resources and the use of.

  53. gbk says:

    Jeez, for the third time, (posting, that is):

    In other words, war is highly organized theft.

    Justified through differences of culture, religion, and the perceived needs of both.

  54. gbk says:

    I’m sure after I post this seventh attempt at expanding on my prior post by twenty words, that all subsequent attempts will post and I will appear a fool. Anyway, below the line:

    In other words, war is highly organized theft.

    Justified through differences of culture, religion, and the perceived needs of both.

  55. gbk says:

    I hope at least one of my seven, twenty-word comment, can be pulled from the ether. They were all the same, and only became numerous due to the failure to appear over many hours.

    But hey, I’ll try it again:


    In other words, war is highly organized theft.

    Justified through differences of culture, religion, and the perceived needs of both.

  56. gbk says:

    This thread is locked. Eight attempts to post an additional twenty words over four hours.

    I love the future!

  57. gbk says:

    Oh my god, the last one got through!


    In other words, war is highly organized theft.

    Justified through differences of culture, religion, and the perceived needs of both.

  58. gbk says:

    Oh my god, the last one got through!


    In other words, war is highly organized theft.

    Justified through differences of culture, religion, and the perceived needs of both.

    Added only for WP’s skill at detecting something!

  59. Elaine M. says:


    I retrieved one of your comments from the spam filter.

  60. po says:

    Mike, that’s exactly what David Cay Johnston has been saying, that the failure of those systems has revealed them for what they are. However, there has been an appearance/ more acceptance of alternate economic thoughts lately that may have made it easier to dismiss the UC economic thought as flawed.

    GBK says:
    In other words, war is highly organized theft.
    Justified through differences of culture, religion, and the perceived needs of both.

    Agree there! That is a topic in itself…between the IMF policies, the moral imperatives and the military action…it is a whole system of domination and of theft of resources.

  61. gbk says:


    “I retrieved one of your comments from the spam filter.”


  62. Elaine M. says:

    American Shooter
    Clint Eastwood’s shoot ’em up is remorseless, racist fantasy.
    Stuart Klawans
    February 10, 2015

  63. Elaine M. says:


    This year’s controversy over films and history has led to a dismissive shrug from cultural critics who wearily tell us that movies are just movies, you shouldn’t take their versions of truth to heart, just enjoy the show. “Going to a Hollywood movie for a history lesson is like going to a brothel for a lecture in philosophy,” wrote Esquire’s Stephen Marche. “You’re in the wrong place.” A.O. Scott, the New York Times film critic, tweeted for the hard of understanding, “FEATURE FILMS ARE NOT HISTORY. THEY ARE HISTORICAL FICTION.”

    They are right — Hollywood is not a classroom. The problem, however, is that movies, despite the bonfires of distortion in many of them, can shape our understanding of political events just as much as think tank reports or Pulitzer-winning books. For instance, a lot of major movies are taught in schools. It is disingenuous for the screening room cognoscenti to pretend that films are of no political consequence and shouldn’t be critiqued for historical accuracy — and that’s particularly true for war films.

    As Don Gomez, a soldier and blogger, wrote about “Zero Dark Thirty,” which portrayed torture as playing a crucial role in finding Osama bin Laden, “Filmmakers can always deflect criticism by saying ‘It’s a movie, not a documentary,’ which is true. But that ignores the reality of how it will be consumed — how they know it will be marketed and consumed.” And guess what — opinion polls show a majority of Americans think torture worked, just as ZDT said it did, even though an exhaustive Senate report concluded it did not.

    A recent study conducted by Notre Dame researchers Todd Adkins and Jeremiah J. Castle indicated that movies are more effective in shaping political opinion than cable news or political ads. In the study, different audiences were exposed to different films and the evolution of their political beliefs was tested before and afterwards; there were statistically significant shifts. “Viewers come expecting to be entertained and are not prepared to encounter and evaluate political messages as they would during campaign advertisements or network news programs,” the authors wrote — meaning that viewers are not aware they are being targeted with political messages, so they are more likely to be persuaded by what they see on the screen…

    There is another problem with the “calm down it’s just a movie” attitude — it is chiefly used to protect narratives that confirm our prejudices. When Oliver Stone’s “J.F.K.” came out in 1991, it received coast-to-coast jeers for suggesting a conspiracy behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. “What is fact and what isn’t is not always easy to tell,” Vincent Canby wrote in the Times, calling out the movie’s “unsubstantiated data.” Director Oliver Stone, deeply at odds with conventional wisdom, was eviscerated for his “paranoid fantasy,” as Charles Krauthammer wrote at the time. Yet Clint Eastwood, whose “American Sniper” conforms with traditional notions of patriotism and heroism, gets a pass from historical scrutiny because, as his defenders say, it’s only a film.

  64. Pingback: Henry A. Giroux on “American Sniper” and Hollywood Heroism in the Age of Empire | Flowers For Socrates

  65. ann summers says:

    a fun read, and important to remind us of how all Iraq war films are logically flawed, particularly the ones that have bio-pic elements
    “—-“American Sniper” is propaganda. While it does lie outright about the causal connection between Iraq and 9/11, it did not engage in the wholesale historical revisionism of “Zero Dark Thirty”. Its success as propaganda? Is debatable. Blood simple premises often lead to simply bloody conclusions, even if built on a complex scaffold of propaganda technique.—-“

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