American Sniper: Killer or Hero?

american-sniper-chris-kyleThe long awaited Clint Eastwood movie “American Sniper” was released last Friday and managed to pull in a cool $105 million over the weekend making it the highest grossing movie ever about the Iraq War. There have been dozens of Iraq War, themed films released over the last ten years, movies like “The Hurt Locker,” “Jarhead,” “Generation Kill,” “The Messenger,” “Green Zone” and “In the Valley of Elah” to name a few, but not one of these films managed to generate the buzz or earn the kind of money as “American Sniper.” Even the critically acclaimed  film “The Hurt Locker” which won the academy award for best picture in 2010, has, to date, only managed to generate $50 million worldwide, making it the lowest grossing film ever to win the best picture nod from the academy.

So what the big deal about “American Sniper?”  It’s not only pulling in the big bucks, but was also nominated for  6 academy awards including best picture. Why has this film succeeded where other Iraq war films have failed? Could it have been an incredibly written screenplay?  A well planned marketing strategy? A killer trailer? The lead actor Bradley Cooper? Or could it simply be a matter of timing?  It’s been a few years now since our involvement in Iraq officially ended, maybe Americans are finally ready for a film dealing with the unpopular war or perhaps Clint Eastwood has once again managed to hit on a topic that thoroughly fascinates us – snipers. The movie is based on real life, American sniper Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who, with 160 confirmed kills, is said to be the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history.

So why the sudden fascination with military snipers. As part of the military strategy the sniper plays an integral role. Unlike regular infantrymen these specially trained gunmen make up a very small percentage of America’s soldiers. They do not simply aim and fire in the direction of the enemy as most combat soldiers do and are not on the front lines or war zone engaging in combat with the enemy. No, these killing specialists are well hidden and blend into their surroundings hundreds of yards from their intended targets. Using specially designed weapons equipped with high powered scopes they surveil their victims until the ideal kill shot is obtained and the ‘go’ order is given. They aim to kill, and do.

For decades snipers have had a bad reputation and were often viewed as homicidal maniacs or psychopathic killing machines, who took great pleasure in taking out the lives of unsuspecting humans.In addition some people continue to believe that the notion of taking out targets by surprise violate the rules of fair military play. Although the methods they employ may be interpreted as cold-blooded and ruthless, they do get results, and in time of war their efficient killing skills are a necessary evil.

It has only been in the last 15 – 20 years that sniper’s have been seen in a more heroic light. Some researchers claim that the nations growing acceptance of the crucial role played by the sniper in wartime has more to do with the desensitizing of the American Psyche than a growing appreciation of a sniper’s killing skills.  Our over-exposure to gun violence, mass shootings, bombings, torture, war, etc., both real and imitated in movies and on TV  has had a numbing effect on our emotional response system to the point that we seem to accept the violence we see and hear about each and every day and accepted it as just a part of life. We simply go on about our business as usual. Do we actually care less? It would appear so as this is an extremely dangerous pattern affecting the lives of countless Americans. Think about it, do images or video footage on TV of war, shootings and other violence have the same affect on us that they had forty years ago even twenty years ago? I think not. Clearly we have become desensitized.

Now we have “American Sniper,” a movie that portrays a sniper as a trained professional soldier who carried out his killing with pride,  a man who actually enjoyed his job and thought killing was fun. Can this really be a true war hero?  I have no idea whether it is right or wrong to glorify a sniper used in time of war.  I believe that to end a war we must sometimes rely on drastic measures. A sniper is one tool or weapon in our arsenal to be used when needed, a means to an end. The whole point of using a sniper is to minimize the greater threat to our soldiers and  expedite the end of the war.  And that my friends is a very worthwhile purpose. But a war hero? Well, you’ll have to decide that for yourselves.

Just a Thought…

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