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American Sniper Feeds America's Hero Complex, and It Isn't the Truth About War

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Alex Horton, The Guardian

Real life is not like the movies. So why does Hollywood keep trying to make us believe that elite commandos can do anything, and save anyone, all the time?

Like most people, I could only imagine what war was like before I got there myself. At one point, I was outside of the less than 1% of Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, where a minuscule fraction of that population would see ground or aerial combat. The average person has likely never met a modern combat veteran.

So as my deployment to Iraq got closer and I imagined what this war would look and feel like, I thought about America’s favorite storytelling medium: the movies. I pictured Baghdad as Black Hawk Down’s Mogadishu, all claustrophobic and high-contrast gun battles with desperate men in dark alleys, and mostly I heard Ride of the Valkyries, that grim killing opus in Apocalypse Now, retrofitted for our urban assaults and nighttime raids.

But the stories I came back with don’t really look like anything in the new breed of Hollywood war films, where central truths about war have all but vanished, even though they’re mostly based on real life. Now tales of elite troops are reshaping the public perception of war, even though war is still a tragic grind far more complex than any film of this era has shown.

American Sniper is the latest movie to capitalize on our insatiable hunger for stories about unstoppable commandos. Lone Survivor, the highest grossing war film of this era, portrays Navy Seals so adept at killing the Taliban that it seems their only weakness is mercy on goat-herders. In Zero Dark Thirty and Captain Phillips, Seal teams emerge only at the climax, with the long tail of logistical support from conventional aviation, infantry and intelligence units obscured by the shadow of the elite.

In American Sniper, Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle, famously credited as the most lethal sniper in US history. Marines and Army infantrymen, who took back Fallujah in brutal house-to-house fighting during Kyle’s deployment in 2004, are …read more


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