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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Hollywood Sniper

In a measure of the silliness of the times in which we live, a movie about a psychopath is standing in as the symbol of truth, justice and the American way. The movie, American Sniper, was directed by movie violence grand master Clint Eastwood, who ignored the real-life sniper Chris Kyle's pathological attitude towards people he saw as "other," his inflated stories about his extracurricular killing, and his unambiguous support for our country's misadventures in the Mideast.

At least that's what various commenters have said about the movie. I haven't seen it, and likely won't, unless it comes around to the cheapie theater. I don't think it's necessary to see the movie to muse about it's meaning and impact as a cultural phenomenon. I'm not a movie critic, though I commented a couple of times with my feet. I walked out on The Money Pit and Fatal Attraction - both in the 1980s. I turn off movies on TV on a regular basis.

I don't plan on giving American Sniper to opportunity to be walked-out-on. Even at $2.50 at the cheapie theater, it would just be a Hollywood story about a guy who shoots people from a great distance. If "Americans" are flocking to theaters to see ANY movie, it is because of cheap thrills. There could be sequels. I offered a few possibilities to the PBS NewsHour:

Maybe someone will make a movie from another perspective, "Iraqi Sniper." Or "Afghan Sniper (alt: Taliban Sniper)." How about "ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State Sniper?" "Israeli Sniper?" Or, for the privatizers among us, "Blackwater Sniper?" "Halliburton Sniper?" Is there a unique story to be told from the sniper's point of view? We could broaden the perspective to other forms of premeditated killing. "IED Planter." "American Drone Pilot." "American President Who Lies the Country Into War." Or "American President Who Looked the Other Way When the Country Was Being Attacked." The possibilities are endless. Clint Eastwood could be busy for decades.

I followed up with this:
I have a couple more. "Saudi Flogger" and "Saudi Beheader." Or the other famed beheader.

This is a funny juxtaposition. A psychopath sniper's self-inflated story mixes with a Hollywood legend, and both mix with the need of "Americans" to feel powerful, good, better than everyone else, and above all, victorious. What better choice to make such a movie than Clint Eastwood, who has spent most of his life starring in, directing and producing some of the most violent movies in the history of cinema?

It's a sad end for Clint Eastwood, our masculine archetype. I enjoyed some of his movies, like "Pink Cadillac," the orangutan movies, and "Pale Rider" is one of my all-time favorites. In pondering what to write about "American Sniper" it occurred to me that it is really just a retread of "Pale Rider," with its lone hero who saves the community from the evil oppressor, except for one thing. "Iraq" is not the old West, and its citizens are not automatically part of our self-defined evil. We had no business invading them either of the two times we did it, and neither president George Bush was an "American" masculine archetype. The archetype is a fantasy, and no Clint Eastwood movie can make it real.

There is another "American" sniper story that appeared yesterday in Salon, from another veteran who served in "Iraq." The author, Garett Reppenhagen, served as an Army sniper in Diyala Province in "Iraq" in 2004. His account of his experience is more nuanced and ambiguous, and thus not good material for a movie. At least not for a Clint Eastwood movie. He didn't see the "Iraqis" as savages, respected their culture, and didn't hate them. Because of this he chose his sniper targets very carefully, and of course didn't become the most lethal soldier in "U.S." history. His own words are the perfect blasphemy against the Hollywood dream machine:
Unlike Chris Kyle, who claimed his PTSD came from the inability to save more service members, most of the damage to my mental health was what I call “moral injury,” which is becoming a popular term in many veteran circles.

As a sniper I was not usually the victim of a traumatic event, but the perpetrator of violence and death. My actions in combat would have been more acceptable to me if I could cloak myself in the belief that the whole mission was for a greater good. Instead, I watched as the purpose of the mission slowly unraveled.

I served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. During that time, we started to realize there were no weapons of mass destruction, the 9/11 commission report determined that Iraq was not involved in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, false sovereignty was given to Iraq by Paul Bremer, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were exposed, and the Battle of Fallujah was waged.

The destruction I took part in suddenly intersected with news that our reasons for waging war were untrue. The despicable conduct of those at Abu Ghraib was made more unforgivable by the honorable interactions I had with Iraqi civilians, and, together, it fueled the post-traumatic stress I struggle with today.

My war was completely different than Chris Kyle’s war. That doesn’t mean his war is wrong, and mine was right. But it does mean that no one experience is definitive.

The movie depicts compounded action scenes with very little political and regional context. It was a conscious decision by Clint Eastwood, apparently, to leave out the cause of the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. It was a conscious decision, apparently, for multiple characters to describe the Iraqis as “savages” and never show any alternative. When I heard of the bigoted reaction some Americans had after watching the film, I was disgusted, but not surprised. Audience members are mistaking Chris Kyle’s view of the war as "the" story about the war. No wonder someone tweeted that the movie made them "want to go kill some ragheads." It’s sad that such a nearsighted portrayal of Iraqis has caused more people to fear Arabs and glorify violence against them.
This story makes too much sense for most "Americans," who want easy answers and easy kills. "American Sniper" gives them both, and is setting box office records. It might even inspire our "leaders" or "leader" wanna-bes to gin-up another war. So many countries, so little time.
________________________________________

I posted this comment to Reppenhagen's story.

Here's another myth about the lone hero who fights the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the "American" way.

WBUR radio station in Boston compiled this list of references about moral injury.

Here's a list of characteristics of a sociopath.

For an explanation of the practice of beheading in "Saudi Arabia," click here.

I wrote about masculinity in a previous post. In another post I explored the topic of becoming more masculine. In still another post I wrote about men shooting other men.

In an ironic twist, I received an email yesterday from Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), inviting me to attend a screening of "American Sniper" with "others like you." I donated a little money to the group in its infancy, and receive emails from time-to-time. The invitation starts with this:

American Sniper is getting a lot of attention, earning over $200 million at the box office so far. It might even win an Oscar. As the number one film in America for weeks now, this movie could very well shape the public's opinion of our service for years to come.

It's important that our community get out to see this movie. If you haven't seen it, we recommend you go with other vets. I, for one, was glad to be in a theater with fellow veterans--who could understand the film like I do. If you have seen it, maybe you'd like to see it again with other vets.
I declined, saying that there aren't any others like me, and that when a movie is made of Garett Reppenhagen's story I would go see it. It turns out that Paul Rieckhoff may have some ulterior motives at work. Here's one view. Here's a review of IAVA.

This calls for a song. And another. One more for good measure. What the heck, one more.

This works. 

Larry Wilmore reminds us that the actual theater of war is very different than watching a film about war in a theater.

I have an idea for a new Clint Eastwood movie: "American Projector Repairman."

Here's Matt Taibbi's take on American Sniper in Rolling Stone.

Noam Chomsky also.

For an "Arab" perspective, click here.

Update, February 4: Today's Salon has a great report of an interview with Garett Reppenhagen.

Update, February 5: This too.

Update, February 7: Another veteran has challenged the truthfulness of "American Sniper."

Update, February 10: I forgot to include this earlier.

I forgot to add this too, a comment I made to a recent Salon article:

...As for Bradley Cooper, he was on the Charlie Rose gravitas show in December talking about American Sniper and his current play on Broadway, where he played "Elephant Man" John Merrick. In describing how everyone who was anyone was coming to see the show he blurted out "...and there in the front row was David Gregory." Low standards, it would seem, are, if nothing else, consistent.
Here's another view, from Alternet.

Update, February 12: Though we shouldn't go around the planet willy-nilly invading people, we should not put the burden on those who serve. I wrote an article for a local newspaper last year about the scandal over waiting lists at VA hospitals.

Now Wisconsin has its own VA scandal, involving overprescribing of opiates, resulting in deaths of at leas two veterans. I wrote an analysis of the overall context of the VA health care system, with a recommendation for preventing similar things happening in the future.

Update, February 13: Voila!

Update, February 14: Here's another opportunity for a Clint Eastwood movie. This would make a good movie.

Update, February 19: I didn't know about this article on Chris Kyle in the New Yorker until today. I found out about it from this Salon article.

Bradley Cooper gets partial redemption for this.


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