I waited for Oscar’s night this year with a peculiar interest. As a historian, I was curious to see how the movie ‘American Sniper’ would fare in the “Best Movie” category. I have read and watched quietly these past few weeks with sometimes amused and sometimes concerned observations to the remarks and news articles surrounding the hullabulloo of the movie: ” It was a great movie. Kyle is a hero. Kyle is a psycho. it was a terrible movie. ” Since its not exactly historically accurate, I was fine with it’s loss. There were, however, many who saw it as an affront to patriotism somehow - as if the Oscar loss was a personal assault on the entire armed forces. The discussions leading up to the Oscar’s and the aftermath are missing a couple of points in this thinker’s opinion.
A couple of observations about Kyle himself: Number one, our armed forces are well versed in brainwashing our soldiers, sailors, and pilots in order for them to perform the acts of war they are asked to perform. Author and psychologist David Grossman in his compelling book ‘On Killing’ delves into the process our military instituted after it was noticed that men were naturally psychologically averted to looking a fellow human being in the eye and killing him (there were some exceptions, but that is point number two). In other words, we found out during earlier world wars that homo sapiens avoided intentional harming of one another and began an all out program of rewiring the brains of our young men and women in order to overcome this instinct. For example, during shooting practice, they were no longer shooting at other men, or even the enemy, instead they were coolly and objectionably shooting at ‘targets’. As a sailor, especially as a sniper, Kyle would have undergone this brainwashing. My guess however, is that Kyle didn’t need much help to overcome any reserves he had about looking at a human through a scope and ending it’s life which brings me to point number two as promised. In the same book, Grossman mentions an important detail that is possibly applicable to Kyle: there are exceptions to rule. Approximately two percent of us humans are naturally psychotic – that is, to take someone’s life has no impact on the conscious of a psychotic. For these few outliers, sniping is a perfect career.
So while I witnessed that Kyle was being glorified by the movie as a war hero, I was absolutely in agreement with those who spoke out against the idea that this is a normal human and should be placed on a pedestal. The reality is much more grim, in fact it is positively mournful that some of us have the ability to harm others of us without remorse. Chris Kyle is not the same person when seen from this perspective.
On an entirely different level, I noticed that underpinning the positive comments is a roiling, boiling mass of misplaced patriotism that is quite frankly scary and something worth our time to consider. What I really mean by the diplomatic term ‘misplaced patriotism’ is jingoism. See, I’m not so sure we understand that there’s a fine line between loving one’s nation (patriotism) and possessing a self-righteous superiority in one’s nation to the point that it is infallible (jingoism). It’s really okay to love my country and the values it presumably exemplifies, it’s also really okay not to love the things my country has sometimes done in the name of those values. And it’s really okay to speak out against our perceived pristine image, we should be grown up enough to recognize our shortcomings – how else can we address them to become a better nation? On the other hand, embracing a jingoistic, ‘our way is the only way’ atmosphere allows us to become the very monster we purport to defeat. I mean, is there really much difference from a “Bomb ‘em all and let god sort ‘em out” mentality and a “Bomb ‘em all because they’re not muslim” mentality?
So it was with relief that I woke up this morning to find that something called ‘Birdman’ won the award and not ‘American Sniper’. I was concerned that a win might endorse this skewed presentation because it sorely misses a couple of disconcerting details which would behoove us to consider a bit more as a nation.
And here’s to Grand Budapest Hotel….because that flick was fecking hilarious!
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