“American Sniper” and the Iraq War

Jan. 24, 2015 (San Diego) American Sniper is one of those complicated movies, about a complicated war. The short of it, this is a story of a man who believes in mom, apple pie and the American Way, enlist into the military after the attack on the US Embassies in 1998. This does not even start, his commitment to the service that is, on 911.

This is not a story of a man, who goes to war and does his job, never to be touched by what he did. On the contrary, this is a story, a biopic, of a man who goes to war and is deeply changed by what he sees and what he does. This is not a big picture level analysis of the war. This is about a man who is asked to do a job and in his view he is doing his duty. Whether you agree with the war or not, this is about how war affects those who fight them on the ground.

There were a couple points that were made by the movie that most movie reviewers missed. One of them is the tension between the contractors, and the troops. If there was a choice assignment where money could be made, troops were left in support of mercenaries. This included chasing high value targets. The reaction from Kyle and some of his team members is telling. They are not happy.

There is another fair point made by the movie, and that is the tension that does not leave the warrior once he comes home. This is part of that descent to madness. This warrior watching a screen that is not playing, hearing the sounds of war is Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD). This is an ever-present companion in this movie, almost like death.

One scene struck me hard, since indeed I have had this conversation a few times. While most of us moved on with life, as if nothing was going on, troops were dying in Iraq. As a military wife, I had that conversation with family, who could not understand. They also do touch on something else. One of the squad mates, during the next to the last deployment, makes the point that he did not believe in what they were doing in Iraq. While Kyle retorted with what almost sounds cliché, about fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here, this tension did exist in the armed forces. Indeed, this tension exists in every war.

One creative freedom they took is the fight with Mustafa, the other side’s sniper. Mustafa becomes a major character in this movie. He is the reason why Kyle cannot come home. Until Mustafa is dead, the mission is not over. The Iraqi sniper was mentioned once in the book. The sniper though stands for many of those well-known events from the war. These include the building of the wall around the green zone, and snipers were taking down American troops and contractors.

There were things not mentioned in the movie that would round up Kyle’s character, but would have added half an hour to the script I suspect. One of them is his story of stopping carjackers in Texas, never confirmed. The other is shooting people after Katrina, never confirmed, or the lawsuit from Jesse Ventura for defamation of character, which Ventura won.

If you go to watch this movie thinking you will get go team propaganda, you will be disappointed. It leaves you empty, and reaching for tissues. Not because of Kyle, he is a complex man, but his children. If you go thinking you will get a discussion about why we went to war, that is almost nowhere in the story. Troops do not ask why, they just do and die.

This is quite frankly an antiwar movie, relating to the viewer the descent into madness that comes when people go to war. Killing people, and watching friends die, simply put changes people. Most will not speak of that experience outside the military with civilians. This is also touched upon with Kyle’s later experience with the Veterans Affairs organization.

What the current discussion over this movie has shown though, is how divided the country still is about the Iraq war. The fact that it has been a hit I suspect it is partially extremely good marketing, but also rank curiosity since it allows you to be on a perch with a sniper.

As to the language calling Iraqis savages, let me tell you something, this is also the process of dehumanizing the enemy. Humans have been at this since the first humans went to war with rocks and spears. In the end, they show Kyle breaking away from some of it.

The important question not fully answered is did Kyle fully come home? If the movie is even close to his life experience, and given his brother (also a vet) helped write it, not fully. Some of what he experienced and how he was affected staid over there. The only people he could open to with these matters were others who have experienced combat. This is also common with many veterans.

As I talked about this in the morning, my husband added one scene that struck him as true to form as well. When he came back from a deployment, he wanted to stay home. He’s been out there and now he just wants to come home and relax. That scene was very accurate and true to form as well. We also disagreed, that this is an anti war movie. To my husband, a veteran of the war, this is Kyle’s story. Though we both agree, this is not a story of the war, not even close. This is the personal story of a soldier who deployed repeatedly.

Most movie reviews do not go into this. But if you have PTSD due to combat, this is a movie you might want to skip. It does have moments that could clause flashbacks. It also goes without saying; we did leave the theater a tad deflated, since this is not a happy go team movie.

Edited to reflect a conversation this morning.

Twitter: @nadinbrzezinski

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Categories: American Sniper, Iraq War, Movie Review, PTSD

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