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Worldview Watch

periodic commentary and analysis on news items from a worldview perspective

 previous issue                                               issue #42  posted 1 /29 / 2015                                           archive of all  issues

American SniperHero, Yes or No?

in the news: The movie American Sniper, set in war torn Iraq and based on Chris Kyle's autobiographical 2012 book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, was released on Christmas Day, 2014. After five weeks of generally enthusiastic reaction from right leaning viewers, left leaning commentators are now weighing in with a decidedly negative critique. This extends to indicting the "deep sickness" in American society, a phrase Abby Zimet uses in the title of her "Sniper As Hero: Our Deep Sickness" article posted yesterday on the Common Dreams website. There she identifies the "darkest chapter" in Kyle's story as "America's eagerness to embrace and lionize a guy who unthinkingly viewed his hundreds of victims as "savages," “confirmed kills,” "despicable," "evil," and "terrorists," not human beings facing an invading army; who repeatedly dismissed those victims using racist and anti-Islamic slurs in the name of "defending" his country; who represented the most mindless, jingoistic aspects of the wars this country persists in fighting around the world..." Many Americans would cite the tragic killing of Kyle at a Texas gun range, by a psychologically disturbed Iraqi war veteran he was trying to help, as that darkest chapter. And, as Richard Falk puts it in his "What Too Many Americans Don't See When They Watch American Sniper" analysis, most Americans see "Chris Kyle as war hero who deserves the thankful praise of the country."  

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, project Worldview, The stark divide in American society is illustrated by the chart below, which (probably rather simplistically!) attempts to identify the worldview themes valued by those Americans for whom Chris Kyle is a hero, and those for whom he is most definitely not. 

Note that two of the worldview themes, #44A  Sanctity & Dignity of Life and #29A The Self Restrained Person which appear in each of the chart's columns, might conceivably be valued by both groups. How so?  Consider sanctity of life first. Many right leaning Americans who view Kyle as a hero are fierce defenders of the lives of the unborn (i.e. anti-abortion) and fully support American military or government policies that seek to minimize unnecessary loss of American lives in combat or related missions.  Those on the left who value this theme would extend it to human life in general--as evidenced by their opposition to capital punishment and their wanting to minimize all loss of lives (not just American) in violent conflict.  And whereas those patriotic folks (valuing Proud Identification) for whom Kyle is a hero very strongly see themselves as Americans, many of those who don't may see themselves first as global citizens and second as Americans.  

As for self restraint, clearly those who succeed in the military (and value the Militarism theme) do so by respecting the need to strictly abide by rules, and by respecting the need for discipline, the command structure, etc. Undoubtedly most continually exercise a great of both self-discipline / self restraint in general. However, many of those on the left who disapprove of Kyle's behavior in Iraq would argue that he failed to show adequate restraint in crucial areas. To them many of his statements indicate extreme lack of respect for not just the (Islamic or whatever) beliefs of combatants he faced, but for their human rights, and more critically, for the value of their (non-American) lives. They charge he was unable to empathize with Iraqi fighters, i.e. "How would you feel if a foreign power invaded for land for no good reason?"{ Of course extending empathy to others is a key part of the Golden Rule. Just as an ethnocentric orientation--feeling superior to those in a foreign land where you're supposedly there to help--is a key part of Imperialism.  

Those who see Kyle as a hero undoubtedly feel his death was tragic.  Those who see him as a monster created partly by an American military that, at least in the Iraqi 2003-2009  war era, was too often seen by foreigners as a violent bully throwing its technological weight around in an imperialistic fashion that failed to respect the human rights of others, may view his fate in terms of karma (as in "bad comes back to bite") 

It could be that under other circumstances (meaning if he had been a sniper in World War II or a more popular, justifiable war) Kyle would not be so vehemently attacked by writers like Zimet and Falk, but one must realize that the full fury of many in blasting the (some would say criminal, many would say short sighted and stupid) invasion of Iraq has yet to be vented. Rather than the technological "shock and awe" that characterized the unilateral American invasion of Iraq, they preferred a multi-lateral diplomatic / attitudinal type fix to problems posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime. To underscore my feeling that the above analysis is probably too simplistic, I should mention that American Sniper film director Clint Eastwood claims he too opposed the US military intervention in Iraq! 

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