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Hedges on 'Am. Sniper': Sentimentalizing Violence & Fascism

Chris Hedges in “Killing Ragheads for Jesus: On Watching 'American Sniper'” writes:

The culture of war banishes the capacity for pity. It glorifies self-sacrifice and death. It sees pain, ritual humiliation and violence as part of an initiation into manhood. Brutal hazing, as Kyle noted in his book, was an integral part of becoming a Navy SEAL. New SEALs would be held down and choked by senior members of the platoon until they passed out.

The culture of war idealizes only the warrior. It belittles those who do not exhibit the warrior’s “manly” virtues. It places a premium on obedience and loyalty. It punishes those who engage in independent thought and demands total conformity. It elevates cruelty and killing to a virtue. This culture, once it infects wider society, destroys all that makes the heights of human civilization and democracy possible.

The capacity for empathy, the cultivation of wisdom and understanding, the tolerance and respect for difference and even love are ruthlessly crushed. The innate barbarity that war and violence breed is justified by a saccharine sentimentality about the nation, the flag and a perverted Christianity that blesses its armed crusaders.

This sentimentality, as Baldwin wrote, masks a terrifying numbness. It fosters an unchecked narcissism. Facts and historical truths, when they do not fit into the mythic vision of the nation and the tribe, are discarded. Dissent becomes treason. All opponents are godless and subhuman.

“American Sniper” caters to a deep sickness rippling through our society. It holds up the dangerous belief that we can recover our equilibrium and our lost glory by embracing an American fascism.

Hedges views America as composed too much of lovers and apologists for PATRIARCHY!

This is reflected in the American GUN culture. The glamorization and sentimentalization of the DUTY-HERALDED BROTHERHOOD CRONYISM of the military with its HYPER-MASCULINITY. A CHRISTIAN EXCEPTIONALISM that accepts or ignores our tax dollars going to institutionalized mass murderers who in our names get to EXTERMINATE DEMONIZED OTHERS.

Hedges sees the Clint Eastwood movie as “venerating” "RIGID, MILITARY CONTROL."

Hedges asserts that many Americans, especially white ones, economically suffering and exploited by a dysfunctional political system yearn for collective narcissism-enabling delusions about America. They are willing to celebrate US war-making and the numbed out hyper-masculinized killing machine troops doomed for death, maiming, addiction, depression, domestic violence, suicide, homicide and/or PTSD as dear folk heroes.

Ignorance apparently not only leads to bliss, but a sense of sentimental ennoblement among these troops AND their citizen enablers and cheerleaders.

Hedges:

There is no shortage of simpletons whose minds are warped by this belief system. We elected one of them, George W. Bush, as president. They populate the armed forces and the Christian right. They watch Fox News and believe it. They have little understanding or curiosity about the world outside their insular communities. They are proud of their ignorance and anti-intellectualism. They prefer drinking beer and watching football to reading a book. And when they get into power—they already control the Congress, the corporate world, most of the media and the war machine—their binary vision of good and evil and their myopic self-adulation cause severe trouble for their country.

“American Sniper,” like the big-budget feature films pumped out in Germany during the Nazi era to exalt deformed values of militarism, racial self-glorification and state violence, is a piece of propaganda, a tawdry commercial for the crimes of empire. That it made a record-breaking $105.3 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday long weekend is a symptom of the United States’ dark malaise.

Hedges reached out to Mikey Weinsten, a former Air Force officer who once had worked in the Reagan White House, for his take on the movie. Weinstein now heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group which challenges ever-growing Christian fundamentalism within the US military, growing particularly among elite squads such as the SEALS and the Army Special Forces. They embrace, according to Weinstein, an extreme right-wing Christian chauvinism, also called Dominionism. Weinstein:

The movie never asks the seminal question as to why the people of Iraq are fighting back against us in the very first place, ... It made me physically ill with its twisted, totally one-sided distortions of wartime combat ethics and justice woven into the fabric of Chris Kyle’s personal and primal justification mantra of ‘God-Country-Family.’ It is nothing less than an odious homage, indeed a literal horrific hagiography to wholesale slaughter.

Early on in the movie Kyle, pre-war, tells Taya, his future wife, “I’d lay down my life for my country ... Because it’s the greatest country on earth and I’d do everything I can to protect it.”

When later he watches with her the horrors of 9/11 on tv he vows vengeance. So what if Iraqis were not responsible for 9-11. Reality and knowledge of history and current events is not a priority. He makes a passionate emotional commitment to kill Muslims because they are ALL EVILDOERS or, his favored name for them, SAVAGES.

Conveniently and maybe to help foster empathy with our hero, it seems all the Muslims shown in this Eastwood movie are, according to Hedges, “devoid of human qualities.”

Hedges does admit that Kyle’s memoir is even more “disturbing” than Eastwood's film:

... In the film Kyle is a reluctant warrior, one forced to do his duty. In the book he relishes killing and war. He is consumed by hatred of all Iraqis. He is intoxicated by violence. He is credited with 160 confirmed kills, but he notes that to be confirmed a kill had to be witnessed, “so if I shot someone in the stomach and he managed to crawl around where we couldn’t see him before he bled out he didn’t count.”

Kyle insisted that every person he shot deserved to die. His inability to be self-reflective allowed him to deny the fact that during the U.S. occupation many, many innocent Iraqis were killed, including some shot by snipers. Snipers are used primarily to sow terror and fear among enemy combatants.

And in his denial of reality, something former slaveholders and former Nazis perfected to an art after overseeing their own atrocities, Kyle was able to cling to childish myth rather than examine the darkness of his own soul and his contribution to the war crimes we carried out in Iraq. He justified his killing with a cloying sentimentality about his family, his Christian faith, his fellow SEALs and his nation.

But sentimentality is not love. It is not empathy. It is, at its core, about self-pity and self-adulation. That the film, like the book, swings between cruelty and sentimentality is not accidental. 

“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel,” James Baldwin reminded us. “The wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.”

snip

Kyle was given the nickname “Legend.” He got a tattoo of a Crusader cross on his arm. “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,” he wrote. “I always will.”

Following a day of sniping, after killing perhaps as many as six people, he would go back to his barracks to spent his time smoking Cuban Romeo y Julieta No. 3 cigars and “playing video games, watching porn and working out.” On leave, something omitted in the movie, he was frequently arrested for drunken bar fights. He dismissed politicians, hated the press and disdained superior officers, exalting only the comradeship of warriors. His memoir glorifies white, “Christian” supremacy and war. It is an angry tirade directed against anyone who questions the military’s elite, professional killers.

“For some reason, a lot of people back home—not all people—didn’t accept that we were at war,” he wrote. “They didn’t accept that war means death, violent death, most times. A lot of people, not just politicians, wanted to impose ridiculous fantasies on us, hold us to some standard of behavior that no human being could maintain.”

And these fantasies projected onto the troops to whitewash America's murderous bloodbaths and its citizens' own consciences, no doubt, continue on, alive and well.

Chris Kyle, such a useful poster boy for PATRIARCHY and for a COLLECTIVE, SENTIMENTALIZING EMBRACE OF FASCISM by reality- and empathy-challenged, easily propagandized American movie-goers.

[cross-posted on open salon]

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Submitted by lambert on

Guardian:

What’s clear from audience analysis is that distributor Warner Brothers hit a target-demographic bullseye - one that has proved largely resistant to Iraq-war material thus far. Red-state America has been lapping up American Sniper, with eight out of the 10 top markets for the film in the south or midwest, like San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston and Nashville – an unusual state of affairs for the average studio film. Fifty-seven per cent of the weekend’s audience was male, 63% was over 25. Specialist marketing lionising Chris Kyle, “the most lethal sniper in American military history”, drummed up appetite for the subject matter via outlets like Fox News, military blogs and Soldier of Fortune magazine.

To me, and I know this is too crudely drawn, it looks like the Slave Power won the Civil War. American Sniper's values are not my values. In fact, I don't even see them as American values, and my family's been in the country since the 1600s.