American Sniper’s Socio-Cultural War


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by Sundar J.M. Brown

I recently enjoyed (mostly, because Hedges is a talented writer) reading through Chris Hedges’ piece on the popular film, American Sniper , and I do recognize, and favor, the peace-building posture Hedges is both writing from and working towards. As someone who is no stranger to hostile regions, my first-hand experience living within their borders reveals the rather ironic credence of much of Hedges’ writing. That is to say, while it is certainly not appropriate to attribute these descriptions to anyone and everyone carte blanche, Hedges could not have been more accurate and precise in describing a fair representation of insurgent populations as, “…boy[s] who [are] handed an anti-tank grenade by a young woman…”, as, “[women] who [express] no emotion over [such] boy’s death[s]” and as persons who, “[pick] up the grenade after the boy is shot and [move] toward U.S. Marines on patrol.”

It is absolutely the case that regions acculturated in violent anti-U.S sentiment are frenetically abuzz with actors who, “[identify] U.S. positions to insurgents on their cellphones, [hide] weapons under trapdoors in their floors, [plant] improvised explosive devices in roads or [strap] explosives onto themselves in order to be suicide bombers.” And, it is also absolutely the case that those same individuals are revered as both heroes and martyrs by the portions of society who champion them, albeit a statistically small, but powerful and cohesive, number of supporters. These are the people who are being portrayed in American Sniper‘s most controversial scenes (although, for many who have been to war, there is nothing controversial about those scenes at all). Malicious perpetrators are malicious perpetrators, despite their population, race, religion, or socioeconomic status of origin, and, it is a grossly miscalculated leap to suggest that the film’s representations of such anti-American aggressors must somehow magically expand to include all the citizens of Iraq or all the practitioners of Islam. The ubiquity with which many modern intellectuals attempt to map boilerplate post-colonial theory onto their readings of any and all Western media representations, political actions, religious movements, et alia is, at best, a logical fallacy and, at worst, rooted in the plainly nonfactual.

Many of the events portrayed in American Sniper, however, are factual or have only slight modifications applied, including the, “Kyle’s First Kill” scene to which Hedges’ disparagingly refers. While Hedges writes to make the point that the film wrongly attributes the above-described characteristics to Iraqi and/or Muslim society at large, American and allied troops, intelligence officials and humanitarian workers who have been fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to have been “in-country” and have witnessed, and often been victims of, these debased behaviors first-hand are the first to tell us of the many good persons to be found within those chaotic societies. The reader may refer to former-SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor, in which Luttrell describes being rescued and extensively sheltered from enemy forces by a village of local Afghans, as but one example of many such appreciations.

And yet, prima facie truth be told, there are many persons who, under the brainwashed sway of radical jihadist ideology, behave as if they are, “Mothers and sisters… [who] don’t love their sons or their brothers”, and believe that their function as, “…women [is to] breed to make little suicide bombers.” And there is certainly no dearth of juvenile sycophants who, in the name of fundamental Islam, enshrine the demonic personality of Osama bin Laden as a god amongst men (something quite contrary, by the way, to the theological tenets of Islam) and who imagine themselves as, “miniature Osama bin Ladens.” This severely callous approach to life– an approach which could be understood as, “devoid of human qualities”– does relegate those persons to a status which makes it easy for someone who is witnessing, or victimized by, the atrocities they commit (beheadings, stonings, throwing acid in the faces of young girls at or on their way to or from school, honor killings, etc.) to qualify them as “beasts.” They would not be wrong in their assessment.

None of this, of course, dismisses the pertinent question, still on the minds of many, namely, “Why were we there in the first place?”, (note that “there” could be anywhere and is not restricted to any one war experience or conflicted locale) a question which, for some of us, has been reasonably answered and, for others, demands a much more robust explication before settling on a satisfactory response. It is safe to say this much: No reasonable, rational and dignified person would think of everyone and anyone who is Iraqi and/or Muslim as a ‘raghead’, as a ‘terrorist’ or as sub-human any more than they would imagine that the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism is a uniquely Christian mission which possesses a level of religious justification that miraculously trumps the religious justifications being made by terrorists professing Islam.  It is just as unreasonable, irrational and undignified, though, to excuse or downplay the heinous events perpetrated by the insurgents in the film– events, the likes of which, happen in real life– by draping them with the veil of justification-via-necessary-response-to-imperialism or suggesting that portraying them is somehow misleading or indicative of religious and racial persecution. Imperialism and colonialism and racial and religious persecution happen within the context of war; they are not the only reasons for war. War happens because people are bound to disagree and even more intensely bound to reject compromise.

War is inseparable from the existentiality of multi-human engagement. This suggests war’s necessity in facilitating a restorative sociological balance, particularly in matters of national security or the protection of the severely indefensible and disadvantaged. Knowing this, great thinkers, people whom we revere in the “Western Christianized world”, such as St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, wrote extensively on the need to understand and propagate only Just Wars. War, though, being intrinsically bound to the human condition, is unavoidable and will remain so long as humanity is extant.

If war is part of being human, and if humans are, by their very nature, all encapsulated by the relative “sameness” of the human condition, it helps if we have someone or something more powerful on our side. This is at least one fairly assessed explanation for why humanity is so eager to drag God into its battles. But, for all the parties staking a claim that, “God is on our side”, God may be on no one’s side; it is becoming more reasonable, as of late, to imagine that God would like to wash His or Her hands of the whole debacle and let the fools and ruffians settle it amongst themselves. Even a cursory examination of the thousands of years of violent conflict characterizing the Middle Eastern/Western Asian region epitomizes that this settling will never happen– it goes far beyond the ignorance of naïveté to imagine that it will.

And, so, war happens. There are times when war is a recourse for the preservation and protection of the human rights of the citizens of an Empire, of a Union, of a “____” (fill in your nation-state/political/economic ideology here). Political scientists and historians can provide us with evidentiary proofs which establish war’s positive correlative and causative effects on the rights and freedoms we enjoy as contemporary Americans, particularly in cases where war is used as a tool in preserving U.S. securities. Such operations may be necessary but they they are never pleasant. Along the way, direct participation in the acts of war makes monsters of many a human.

War is always Hell, for everyone involved. Death, destruction, chaos, inexplicable suffering, colonialism and exploitation are always guaranteed, both during war’s performance and in its’ wake. Those assurances of war, alone, are the best reasons to seek alternatives to it. We may also rest assured that war will never be entirely unavoidable.

In the meantime, ask yourself what support you can offer to those veterans of wars– people like Chris Kyle– who went forward on behalf of The(ir) Republic in good faith, and with an earnest belief that their personal sacrifice would bring protection, justice and preservation to the people (like us) whom they were sworn to protect. If we have not been called to war, do we still have a sacrifice to make on behalf of principle, by way of offering that same protection, justice and preservation to ourselves, to our families, and to one another?

War is unavoidable. War entails sacrifice. In consideration of those certainties, I suggest that we ask ourselves two pertinent questions. First,  “What is my war?”. Second, “What is my sacrifice?”. The answers to one, or to both, of these questions, will surely help us begin to make sense of war’s inherent complexities, even as we understand war for what it fundamentally is-  a series of “justifiable” and “sacrificial” horrors from which none of us ever fully escapes.

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About Sundar JM Brown

A University of Pennsylvania-trained South Asianist, Seminary-educated Theologian, and Intelligence Community Professional, Sundar J.M. Brown specializes in analysis of Theoterrorism, Counterterrorism and HUMINT Operations. His regional focuses include terror groups/acts in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Middle East and Africa. His primary expertise is Theoterrorism, the intersection of Terrorism and Theology. His present research focuses on apocalyptic themes in terrorist ideologies and on the theological components informing the radicalization and deradicalization of Violent Religious Extremists and Militants. He is the Founder and Director of the IntelliGen Conference on Religion & Violence. *Sundar's Twiter: @SundarJMBrown *Sundar's YouTube Channel: www.YouTube.com/SundarJMBrown *Sundar's Blog: www.SJMB.wordpress.com
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