Sniper As Hero: Our Deep Sickness
Chris Kyle's American Sniper, what one critic calls "an odious homage....to wholesale slaughter," is everywhere these days. The film has raked in almost $200 million, the book, including a "memorial" hardcover version, now tops most best-seller lists, and the media is gearing up to cover next month's trial of Eddie Routh, the troubled vet who followed Kyle's twisted lead by killing him at a shooting range - an act The Washington Post declares "American Sniper's darkest chapter."
No. For many of us, the darkest chapter of Kyle's story is happening right now. It's America's eagerness to embrace and lionize a guy who unthinkingly viewed his hundreds of victims as "savages," “confirmed kills,” "despicable," "evil," and "terrorists," not human beings facing an invading army; who repeatedly dismissed those victims using racist and anti-Islamic slurs in the name of "defending" his country; who represented the most mindless, jingoistic aspects of the wars this country persists in fighting around the world; and whose fabulous media success, thanks to enough of us eager to celebrate him, now highlights our own parallel moral failings - our numb blindness to the depravity of an abiding culture that so glorifies guns, war, death and "manhood" that it slowly banishes our capacity for pity or understanding, leaving us less than human.
For some powerful, pained, eminently thoughtful commentary on the disturbing American Sniper phenomenon, read Chris Hedges here and Ross Caputi here. For an ever-eloquent reminder of what "patriotism" does and doesn't mean, revisit Howard Zinn here. For a clear-eyed look at just what, in part, Kyle did in Fallujah, go here and here. For a revealing look at the juncture of money and war, and a much-needed experiment in the kind of empathy Kyle and his admirers lack, go here.
And for insight into his enduring, blinkered world, hear Kyle's widow at an NRA convention urge her listeners, "Don't think of him just as a hero, but as an everyday man who loved his God and country." Cue fervent, mournfully misbegotten applause, followed by a flood of money, and more war.