American Sniper: for those who have returned
March 7, 2015 Leave a comment
|Even the deadliest sniper in the US…was human…|
Whilst I have not gone looking for reviews—other than a quick skim of what’s on Rotten Tomatoes—it’s probably fair to say that American Sniper is a rather controversial film at the moment. As I write, US troops continue to fight in Iraq against the Islamic State; and whilst the war in Afghanistan has formally ended, you can be sure that US forces of some kind are still in the country. Furthermore, proven and suspected evidence of torture and unlawful killings add more blemishes to a presence that was already controversial due to the way the war began as well as the way in which it was fought. This is not an atmosphere for the celebration of a man who painted ‘the enemy’ in such a black and white manner, and who seemed unable to leave the bravado attached to his legend behind when he returned.
Honestly speaking, I feel that those commentators are missing the point, deliberately or otherwise. This is not the place for me to make a political statement about my own thoughts on the conflicts that seems so endemic to our world today: it will come out when I look at fictional stories of war, if it hasn’t already. A two-and-a-half hour movie is limited in what it can focus on, and here, Director Clint Eastwood has chosen to highlight something all too many people prefer to brush under the rug: the veterans who have come home, and who have to adapt to civilian life again. Whether or not we agree with their choice of enlisting—for reasons as varied as ‘wanting to protect my fellow soldiers and the people back home’ to actually enjoying the adrenaline rush—it’s important that the people around them try to understand what they are going through. And I don’t mean the expectations that the media cultivates. Talk to them, listen to them, find out how they really feel about their experience. More than anything, I feel that American Sniper really brings out this disjunct between the main signal I picked up from Chris Kyle as portrayed in the film—a soldier’s feeling that ‘there is more that I can do, there are more people I can bring home’—and the tendency of many to focus other things we might assume about veterans. But first of all, you really need to find out how to talk with them.
American Sniper doesn’t explicitly provide the answers to the question of how to reintegrate veterans, nor can it, for even if some things are the same, the experience of each person is going to be different. But no matter how you feel about war and the part of the US and the West in the conflicts that currently dominate our headlines, I argue that, at the very least, American Sniper should be applauded for highlighting the challenges that face veterans when they return home. Perhaps this is easier for me to say, since I live in a country with far fewer people that have served…but nevertheless, now, the challenge that faces the rest of us is how to respond.