Despite claims of a supposed “liberal bias” in Hollywood, it’s rather telling that one of the most highly acclaimed historical dramas of the past decade – Selma – was essentially given the cold shoulder by the esteemed membership which fills the ranks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Perhaps this is to be expected, considering how the Academy membership is approximately 95% white, 77% male, and 86% over the age of fifty. Still, it’s almost unthinkable that over half-a-century after integration supposedly became the law of the land that not a single actor or actress of color could be considered for an Oscar nomination. Equally astounding is the fact that the Clint Eastwood-directed American Sniper – which amounts to a historically inaccurate racist propaganda project – was bestowed the ‘honor’ of six nominations in all major categories. Of course, this is neither the first nor last time the Oscars celebrated a movie that rewrites history to America’s favor, the most recent examples coming to mind being the pro-torture Zero-Dark-Thirty and 2012’s Argo. But the potential showering of accolades for what should be classified as a nothing more than a fantasy film seems to be perfectly timed to coincide with the rising tide of Islamophobia sweeping the West after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. (Such sentiment undoubtedly has something to do with the record-breaking success the movie is receiving at the box office as well.) American Sniper’s one dimensional portrayal of Arabs and Muslims as indigenous savages as opposed to being both the victims and resisters of violent American aggression, imperialism and occupation is part of a troubling Hollywood trend which has only gotten worse since 9/11, not better.
The tale told in the memoirs of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the man on whose autobiography American Sniper is based, is no stranger to this blog. Back in February, 2013, under the headline What of Those Sniped Down by ‘America’s Most Lethal Sniper’?, I asked a question few Americans have been willing to consider. Such is evident by the swift right-wing backlash that has greeted anyone in Hollywood who dares question the heroism of the film’s lead character.
The corporate media, the same media that failed the American public when it came to investigating and reporting on the Bush administration’s outright lies and deception in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, are now complicit in turning many of that war’s criminals into post-war martyrs. On his report on NBC’s the TODAY Show, news anchor Lester Holt described Chris Kyle as “a humble Texan with an overwhelming need to protect people in danger” while describing the new movie as “a realistic portrayal of the Iraq War’s urban battles.” Such stretching of the truth is expected of lesser networks like Fox “news”. Unfortunately when it comes to war-mongering, the major networks don’t fare much better.
The truth about Chris Kyle’s heroic image is that it is just that, an image. It’s an image promoted by the military industrial complex in collaboration with some major Hollywood directors who don’t seem to mind being used to further an imperialist agenda. Thirteen years after the U.S. opened the gates of hell on the Iraqi people, the history of this unpopular war is being rewritten to portray the true victims of that war as the American soldiers, and not the invaded and subjugated peoples of the region.(*) Kyle is just the sort of man the U.S. military loves to recruit to fight its wars, someone who doesn’t ask questions and sees the world in terms of the ‘good’ – meaning white Christians – and the ‘bad’ – the ‘savage’ other. It is supremely ironic that the most celebrated warrior in what the United States termed a war against radical Islamic extremism and fundamentalism was himself the quintessential Christian fundamentalist and extremist. In fact, to demonstrate his ideological devotion to Christianity, he had what is called a “Jerusalem cross” tattooed very large and in red on his arm before embarking on one of his 4-5 missions to Iraq. In Kyle’s own words,
“I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. I had it put in red, for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting… I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.”
“Savages.” This word appears over and over again throughout Chris’s memoirs. “Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq.” Kyle claimed and boasted that he’d sniped out the lives of some 255 of these so-called “savages”, 160 of which are confirmed by the Pentagon. In fact the movie, just like the real ‘American sniper’, imagines Iraqis as incapable of inhabiting any other role than that of the blood-thirsty, beastly savage who preys on all that is pure in the world. The three or four Iraqi characters who appear in the movie, who essentially have no lines, are all racist stereotypes of evil American-hating Arabs who have an insatiable desire to kill just for the hell of it. These include ‘Mustafa’, a character who may or may not have existed in real life (Kyle only mentions him in one line of his entire book), but who is elevated to function as Kyle’s main “sharp-shooting, marine-murdering nemesis” for dramatic effect, a rivalry that eventually culminates into an entirely fictional battle to the death between the two opposing snipers. Another fictional Arab character is a terrorist known simply as the Butcher, “who wears a long black coat and attacks small children with electric drills.” But again, this is 100% in line with how Chris Kyle envisioned war: as something of a sport. In his own words,
“I loved what I did. I still do… I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.”
It’s important to remember that both the movie and the book open with a scene in which Kyle performs what he claims was his very first kill in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, of a woman whom he alleges carried an explosive for the purpose of targeting American soldiers. Kyle insists that all of his kills, in particular those in Fallujah, were of “terrorist insurgents”, not of civilians who were in a state of panic after suddenly being caught in the line of fire between an invading force and a local resistance movement. The truth of the U.S. occupation was quite different according to those who lost so many of their loved ones and were deprived of their belongings during these tumultuous days. Immediately upon entering the residential area, the U.S. Marines “evicted 250 people from an apartment complex on the edge of Fallujah” who had nowhere else to go. It was there that “Kyle set up his sniper nest in one of the top apartments to target insurgents from above.” And what did Mr. decorated American Navy SEAL think about the homes of the people he and his team had just dispossessed?
“To me, the home I was in was just another part of the battlefield. The apartments and everything in them were just things to be used to accomplish our goal – clearing the city…
[Kyle recalls] ramaging through the the complex to see if I could find any cool shit – money, guns, explosives. The only thing I found worth acquisitioning was a handheld Tiger Woods game.”
This is the same man who previously bragged to his friends, in a story that was almost certainly false, that he and another sniper were sitting atop the roof of the New Orleans Superdome in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina where they shot 30 so-called “looters”. And while there is not a shred of evidence to support his being in New Orleans at the time, this tale is indicative of the types of fantasies he regularly indulged in. His mind-frame was apparently one in which crimes such as looting were something that only people of color can do. Certainly in his mind, a “good” white Christian like himself could never be a “looter”, even as he admitted to taking things from the apartments of the people he’d displaced by force. As is true of all imperialists, it isn’t looting when they themselves do it because, as they see it, the entire world is theirs for the taking!
As far as the Rules of Engagement were concerned, Kyle summed them up this way:
“If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. That wasn’t the official language, but that was the idea.”
Eye-witness accounts seem to verify this assertion. Residents of Fallujah reported incidents where innocent civilians were sniped out by the dozens as they tried fleeing the city during several “cease-fires” the U.S. had agreed to. Others reported how emergency ambulances and aid workers trying to get food and other assistance to residents were fired on as well. According to one villager,
“The American snipers don’t make any distinctions between civilians or fighters, anything that moves, he shoots immediately… They are killing lots of civilians who are not fighters.”
Such testimony, unfortunately, will have little effect on the American movie-going public, who can’t seem to imagine that the humanity of the Iraqi people is every bit as important and authentic as their own. In this way, the people flooding the movie theaters to see American Sniper are much the same as the movie’s champion they so idolize. None of them allow themselves to ask what is fundamentally a very simple question. How would they feel and react if their own country was attacked and invaded by a foreign power which sought to impose its own dominance through occupation and sheer military might? Would they not fight it using each and every method available to them? If Chris Kyle ever had any such thoughts, he kept them extremely well hidden. When asked before his death if he had any regrets about killing all the people he killed, he responded coolly,
“I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.”
In the end, however, it wasn’t one of these supposed “savages” who took the life of Chris Kyle. It was another American soldier.
* This is not to say that U.S. soldiers are not victims of the imperialist wars that they fight in as well. The sad truth is that they are mainly unknowing pawns in a game being fought for someone else’s gain which certainly has a huge psychological impact. More U.S. troops are committing suicide than are dying on the battlefield.
- Top War Films Used as Political Propaganda
- American Sniper: How army sharpshooter Chris Kyle’s story became a political battleground
- Hollywood uses ‘American Sniper’ to destroy history & create myth
- “American Sniper”: Hollywood’s Racist Propaganda Promoting Military Aggression Spawns Death Threats Against Arabs, Muslims
- What of Those Sniped Down by ‘America’s Most Lethal Sniper’?