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“American Sniper’s” Sinister Philosophy: Pro-war Propaganda Wrapped in Moral Truth

February 8, 2015 in Blogs

By Robert Gordon, Salon.com

Make no mistake—Clint Eastwood's film is a myth-building tale, not a human interest story.

“American Sniper” is a difficult movie to criticize, partly because of the pro-war jingoism that’s long been a staple of post-9/11 society and partly because the movie itself is competently made, but mostly because of the dogmatic belief among supporters that “American Sniper” is a “human story” and not a political one. And that’s exactly the problem. Taking a conflict in which there are deep historical, economic, social and political roots, and then atomizing it as a single man’s story, robs the conflict of context, and this is a political act in itself. The act of de-politicization serves to obscure the ideological framework within which the story operates, coating it with a human face. In studying this “face” however, the experiences of sniper Chris Kyle that constitute the film, we can see how beneath the obviously “human” story is a troubling philosophical thesis that speaks to the rise of neoconservatism among the U.S. political and military elite.

This intersection of the personal and political can be seen as early as the first scene, where the titular sniper aims at a man described as a “military-aged male” (borrowing from the language of drone strike casualties) on a cell phone. Of course he is reporting the troop movements below, and from the house he stands atop emerge a woman and her son, who attempts to throw an RPG at the oncoming soldiers. When we return to this scene after a flashback, Chris Kyle shoots both.

What are we supposed to take from this? We’re meant to see the “horrors of war” that the protagonist must commit out of a sense of duty — it is a “necessary evil” and Chris is deeply affected by the experience. What distinguishes Chris Kyle from a simple child-killer is that he holds the moral upper hand above the jihadis, who slaughter children to advance their political agenda.

But let’s take a second to look at that moral upper hand Chris holds, and the moral theory it operates under, …read more


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