Brock McIntosh, Army National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009. He applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged in May 2014. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and co-founded IVAW’s Afghanistan Veterans Against the War Committee. Brock McIntosh
Well, Clint Eastwood and Jason Hall are good storytellers, and it’s pretty engaging and well-done.
Walking out of the theater, the dilemma I faced was how to interpret it. How is it as a work of art? And how is it as a culture industry vehicle that many audience members will use to inform their beliefs, values, and worldviews, or to reinforce those ideas?
First, as a work of art, great story, symbolism throughout, cinematography, all that jazz. Digging a little deeper, the screenwriter, Jason Hall, argued the movie is a character story. The point is not to present the world as it is but how Chris Kyle saw it
I think that’s fair. I think if you have that mindset going in, then you take something different from the movie. ‘Oh, interesting, this is actually how so many servicemembers saw the war.’ And this is the truth. Many of them did see the war this way. But why? Number one, because they were lied to by people they trusted. Number two, because when you genuinely want to both ACT and BE a moral person, many veterans cling to justifications that comfort them.
I don’t care about the lies that Chris Kyle may or may not have told. They don’t matter. I care about the lies that Chris Kyle believed. The lie that Iraq was culpable for September 11. The lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The lie that people do evil things because they are evil. The lie that when you kill people, there is an afterlife. The lie that the only being who matters in your moral calculations is God and not the people who are impacted by your decisions.
In order to see the world through Kyle’s eyes, it means you have to remember it differently, which is I think is something many veterans actually do. So if you see the movie as a character story, it means linking 9/11 to Iraq and portraying every Iraqi as an evil insurgent is permissible since that’s how Kyle actually viewed it. But there was something else the screenwriter made up that violated the reality of both the world-as-it-is and Kyle’s world, which I found egregious: Marc Lee’s story. Kyle and Lee did indeed serve together in real life, and Lee was the first Navy SEAL to die in Iraq. SPOILER ALERT!
But here’s how the movie portrays him. Lee is the only veteran who becomes progressively skeptical of the war and its justification. Later in the movie, another SEAL, Ryan Job is shot in the face. Kyle is distraught by it, and decides he should lead a group of SEALs to go back out and avenge Job, which is portrayed as the heroic thing to do. While he and Kyle are clearing a building, a sniper shoots Lee in the head. They take us to Lee’s funeral, where his mother is reading a letter that Lee sent expressing his skepticism of the war. On the road home, Kyle’s wife asks him what he thought about the letter. Kyle says, “That letter killed Marc. He let go, and he paid the price for it.” What makes Kyle a hero, according to the film, as that he’s a “sheepdog.” It starts with his father lecturing him about how there are only three types of people in the world: sheep, who believe “evil doesn’t exist”; wolves, who prey on the sheep; and sheepdogs, who are “blessed with aggression” and protect the sheep. In this world, in Kyle’s world, Lee then stops being a sheepdog when he questions his actions in Iraq. He becomes a sheep, “and he paid the price for it” with a bullet from a wolf.
Here’s the real story. On the day that Ryan Job was shot, Marc Lee stepped into the line of fire twice to try to save Job’s life, which apparently was either not “sheepdog” enough to portray accurately in the movie or would have deterred from Kyle’s heroism. You can’t have people believe that critical soldier’s are actually not sheep, can you? And as it turns out, Kyle never said those things about Lee’s letter and never blamed Lee for his own death for being critical and skeptical of the war.
Here is Marc Lee’s actual letter in full. While it may not be a full-blown “this war is fucked” reflection, as most IVAW members can attest to, our critical perspectives were more evolutionary than sudden, and it’s pretty clear what direction he was evolving. http://americasmightywarriors.org/_a/marcs-last-letter-home/
Glory is something that some men chase and others find themselves stumbling upon, not expecting it to find them. Either way it is a noble gesture that one finds bestowed upon them. My question is when does glory fade away and become a wrongful crusade, or an unjustified means by which consumes one…
On the other hand, like most pieces of art, it will be lost on most people (and I’m honestly skeptical that this even was strictly a character story, particularly because of the whole Marc Lee incident). For most people, this movie will have an impact on how they see the world, and they will see it more like how Kyle saw it, which was built on the lies that he naively bought into.
The movie hammers home over and over the idea that there is just good and just evil in the world, and thank god there are people who aren’t too weak to kill those people who are just innately evil.
In the movie, Kyle joins after seeing the 1998 US embassy bombings. Why did those bombings happen? Without explanation, the default is the theme that the movie starts with. Some people are just evil and prey on others.
Why did 9/11 happen? Just evil people doing evil things.
Why did we go into Iraq? Because of 9/11. Over and over Kyle explains that the point of the war is to protect Americans, and the American servicemembers in Iraq. When Marc Lee first questions Kyle about the justification of the war, Kyle says one thing. “Do you want them to attack San Diego or New York?” And with that one line, Lee is satisfied and ready to kill again. When Kyle’s wife asks him why he keeps going back over and over, he says, “To protect you.” And throughout the movie, Kyle is never wrong.
Amazingly, the war seems to have absolutely nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. It also seems to have absolutely nothing to do with helping Iraq. Instead, every Iraqi in the movie–the two Iraqi women, the two kids, and all the men–are either evil insurgents or collaborators. Except for the Iraqi interpreters. The sense is there isn’t a single innocent Iraqi and they all would have killed Americans in San Diego and New York, if the US military hadn’t stopped them.
And contrary to public claims, at no point does Kyle appear to have any ambivalence whatsoever about killing. There was a single moment when he seemed affected by the idea of killing and that was the time when he almost killed a child for a second time. Other than that, nothing. The only thing that “haunts” him is that he couldn’t save more military lives by killing more Iraqis. He would’ve spent the rest of his life killing in Iraq if the war never ended and his wife didn’t stop him. When he is training in sniper school, he performs poorly shooting paper targets, then shoots a small, camouflaged snake and long range and hits it square. He turns to his instructor and says, “I’m better when it’s breathin'” No sane sharpshooter is better at shooting smaller, camouflaged, moving targets. The only thing that would make him better at killing breathing things is a deep crave to kill. And after the war, when he takes his son hunting for the first time, he says to him, “It’s a heck of a thing to stop a beating heart. That’s why we’re gonna do it for your first time.” It’s just a heck of a thing that kids should learn. That’s it.
There is no ambiguity in the movie. Kyle likes killing and has no regrets. And there is no ambiguity in the book. He says when he was a kid, he wondered what it would be like to kill, and as a sniper learned that it’s “no big deal.” Most of the reviews of the movie are from dishonest people who are too chickenshit about maybe, possibly offending someone’s patriotic sensibilities.