There's something I don't understand here:
In spite of the vitriol spewed toward the movie “American Sniper,” Americans flocked to see the Clint Eastwood biopic of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in record numbers.
The previous record for a movie opening on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend was set last year by “Ride Along,” which opened with $41 million. “American Sniper” is estimated to have more than doubled that, bringing in an astounding $90.2 million.
Many in Hollywood and the media have express their dislike of the film, claiming it glorifies war. One member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the governing body that awards the Oscars, said Kyle “seems like he may be a sociopath.” That voter admitted he hadn’t seen the movie, only read an article in The New Republic about it.
Another Hollywood elitist, director and Oscar winner Michael Moore, called Kyle a “coward,” Seth Rogen compared the movie to fake Nazi propaganda, and the UK paper The Guardian asked, “The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?”
No, not the patriotism-bashing bile spewing from Hollywood. That was so predictable as to be utterly unremarkable. The surprising part is how many people are flooding in to see what is a pretty dark, intense and, at times, grim film. I understand that many Americans are more worried than usual about terrorism in the wake of Europe's convulsions, but I don't think there is quite the wave of patriotic fervor that was evident right after 9/11. Could it possibly be that people are getting tired of fart-joke comedies and hunger for a complex, thought-provoking movie-going experience?
Nah, who am I kidding?
About that patriotism stuff, if I may, and I'll try not to be too simplistic about it. It seems to me that calling Kyle a "coward," a "sociopath" and a "hate-filled killer" is the reactive, unthinking, one-dimensional position. The sort of people who complain about a work of art "glorifying war," I suspect, are the sort who go around saying "give peace a chance" as if there is nothing worth fighting for and violence is always wrong no matter what good you are trying to protect from what evil.
There is a profound moral question here that neither knee-jerk pacifism nor simple-minded patriotism addresses: What makes one life more valuable than another? It is undisputed that Kyle, the deadliest sniper we've ever had, killed a lot of people and that the people he killed would have killed a lot more people -- in other words, Kyle saved more people than he killed. Is that justified because the people he killed were our enemies and the ones he saved Americans or their allies? What makes them more expendable? The mere fact that they want to kill us the way we want to kill them? The fact their self-proclaimed ideology rejects our values? How far can we go in stopping them without becoming like them?
That's the debate that sprang up in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when we instantly obliterated thousands of unsuspecting civilians with the justification that it would save many thousands more lives. But that's almost too big to get our heads around. We can see the issue a little more starkly when we bring it down to individual terms. And it's a valid comparison, I think, since dropping a bomb and shooting from hiding are both examples of playing unfairly by stacking the deck in our favor. The number of targets is just different. Kyle is shooting that kid who has a grenade to stop him from using it against us. Is Kyle on firm moral ground to want to save those people? How about the guy who is zeroing in on Kyle to save the life of that child? Or the guy zeroing in on the guy . . . we can keep adding to that list all day long, until we get right to the mind of God.
My point is that war makes us think about the relative worth of individual lives in ways that we don't ordinarily. And it requires us to search for justifications and rationalizations for acts we know deep down are morally questionable. And once the war is over we are left with (or should be) an uneasy feeling that we have diminished ourselves in the process. I suspect that is at least a part of some of the PTSD experienced by some combat veterans.
I don't know that I'd call Kyle a hero, or even a patriot. He was a soldier who did his duty. And as long there are people out there who want to kill me just because of who I am, I'd rather have people like Kyle watching my back than sitting in some bar agonizing about the fultility of war with a bunch of Hollywood nitwits. Hey, how'd you like to have Seth Rogen or Michael Moore watching your back?
Clint Eastwood has been exploring this territory for a long time, in subtle and nuanced ways nobody could have predicted in his "Fistful of Dollars" and "Dirty Harry" days. "Unforgiven" was as profound a movie about the unleashing of violence as you'll ever see. Keep at it, old man, you're running rings around all the hotshot geniuses less than half yur age.