Monday, January 26, 2015

"American Sniper": Whitewashing the War in Iraq

Divorced from historic context, "American Sniper," directed by Clint Eastwood, is an intense, gritty movie about modern urban warfare, based on the memoir of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the Navy SEAL sharpshooter with 160 confirmed kills. It also empathetically depicts the effects of PTSD on a veteran and his family. The problem with the movie is that it does indeed attempt to divorce itself from history. The rationales for the war in Iraq have by now been thoroughly discredited. Yet "American Sniper" presents a false view of the war that continues to be peddled by Dick Cheney.

Kyle joins the military following the al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. We view his and his wife Taya's (Sienna Miller) outraged reactions to 9/11. Right afterwards, Kyle is in Iraq; by framing the two locales so close together, the director conflates a connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq. In Iraq, Kyle is fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group whose emergence in the country actually came as a result of the U.S. invasion. Kyle's views of the conflict and the Iraqi people are simplistic. He tells a fellow SEAL that the U.S. is fighting so that the Iraqi militants won't invade San Diego and repeatedly tells Taya that he's fighting to keep her safe. The Iraqis themselves, whose complex sectarian divisions were uncovered as a result of the American invasion and occupation, are repeatedly referred to simply as "savages." When Kyle and his wife attend the funeral of a fellow SEAL, a family member reads a letter written by the deceased that reflects doubt about the war. According to Kyle, that doubt is what killed him. While he may have a point that doubt could lead to a loss of morale and resolve, the letter doesn't prompt him to reconsider the rationale of the war. His lack of doubt reflects the perspective of "American Sniper," whose omissions and simplifications ultimately result in a whitewash of the war in Iraq.

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