“American Sniper’s” Political Misconstruction

“American Sniper” was released in theaters across the nation recently. This movie follows the military escapades of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who has the dubious honor of being the most lethal sniper in American history.  This is your typical American war film. It shows Kyle going to war, killing people, losing friends and ruminating about everything.  However, “American Sniper” has broken the mold for typical American war films and has incited the ire of the general public.

Before jumping over to the topic of why people are upset, it’s important to first explain the dichotomy between the movie and the book it’s based on.  The book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” despite its ambiguous title, is an autobiography about Kyle’s life in the military and his various lifetime accomplishments.  The tone is overall relatively nonchalant. While it’s written in a way that practically screams of eagles and star-spangled banners (there’s an entire section dedicated solely to Kyle’s life as a cowboy), Kyle tends not to embellish too much on the gory war-related details.

However, the movie itself takes its testosterone-filled, super-patriotic status in stride.  The movie immediately begins with a young Kyle learning how to hunt then jumps forward to a Kyle that is suddenly looking like Bradley Cooper, joining the military. The plot continues with Kyle proclaiming America, “the greatest country on Earth,” him wooing girls at the bar solely with his love of the United States (no, really), Kyle reacting with horror to 9/11 and of course, Kyle killing a mother and her grenade-toting child somewhere in Iraq.  Note that all of the above happens within the first half-hour.

One might wonder then how a movie that is so quintessentially American (to an almost comedic degree) might then lead to such rancorous public outcry.  After all, it’s just a simple story about a Southern man following his dreams of becoming a soldier, serving his country and loving his family. Nothing overtly wrong with that, right?

Sure, except for the fact that both the book and its movie counterpart are intensely Islamophobic.

The most egregious offenses are Kyle’s numerous instances of calling the people he killed “savages,” both in the book and the movie. There are only dehumanizing depictions of Iraqis in the film, with Kyle simply sniping a bunch of nondescript men, women and children with no real characterization beyond their skin color somehow implicitly making them evil. He actually says that in the book, by the way; his moral explanation for his killing of an Iraqi woman at the beginning of the book is simply that she was “too blinded by evil” and that she had a “twisted soul.” Did he intimately know this woman before making those statements? No, but she was a woman in Iraq during the “War on Terror,” so she was evil by default. Obviously.

And, of course, there was an immediate reaction from the US’s lovely band of bigots, rushing onto Twitter and Facebook in a bid to use every single phrase from the big book of racist pejoratives they could find. An unsettling number of them have additionally been vocal about wanting to kill Arabs and Muslims after watching the film, which, putting it lightly, is absolutely disgusting.

Some have gone as far as to defend the movie, claiming that it’s a relatively harmless celebration of Chris Kyle’s life and that people should stop trying to assign a political agenda to it. But when the man you’re trying to celebrate said in his autobiography that “(he’d) like to (shoot people with Korans),” racist undertones are inevitably going to bleed into the rest of the film.

On the topic of politics, there’s also the fact that the film attempts to subtly slide in the idea that the men killed in Iraq somehow had some connection to 9/11. The autobiography cautiously skirts around the subject, mentioning it only a handful of times, but the movie makes a spectacle of it, showing footage of the World Trade Center going down and then implying that the Iraq War was a direct consequence of the attack. It’s unsurprising given the fact that the director was Clint Eastwood, an outspoken Republican, but it’s still a relatively silly piece of information to try to include.

In summation, while “American Sniper” may seem like an innocuous war movie at a glance, it’s actually a relatively racist film about a racist that is, in turn, loved by racists. It’s disappointing that the movie has given steam to bigots given the fact that Arabs and Muslims already deal with their fair share of discrimination in this country.  If anything, through its gunshots and glory, the movie at least serves as a good example of how entry-level propaganda affects our society as a whole.

 

Evan Siegel is a first-year literary journalism major.  He can be reached at ejsiegel@uci.edu.