by John Grant, 1/26/15
The following is the concluding paragraph of Chris Hedges’ essay on the Clint Eastwood film, American Sniper, which has become a cultural item of conflict. The essay is called “Killing Ragheads for Jesus: On Watching ‘American Sniper’” and it very thoroughly dissects the film in a way that serves as a public service. Hedges never pulls his punches, and he goes deep in a spiritual manner. Those (like Sarah Palin) who would disagree with Hedges tend to respond with a simple-minded, patriotic defense that reinforces the propagandistic line Hedges is writing about; they never address the meat of such a cultural critique because it’s written in the realm of unpleasant truths. I’ve been in the US Army in Vietnam and I’ve been to Iraq twice as a journalist — and I’ve seen the movie. What Hedges writes about this successful Hollywood film and why it is so insidious is actually important. Please read the whole essay and see why he arrives at this troubling conclusion. – John Grant
The culture of war banishes the capacity for pity. It glorifies self-sacrifice and death. It sees pain, ritual humiliation and violence as part of an initiation into manhood. Brutal hazing, as Kyle noted in his book, was an integral part of becoming a Navy SEAL. New SEALs would be held down and choked by senior members of the platoon until they passed out. The culture of war idealizes only the warrior. It belittles those who do not exhibit the warrior’s “manly” virtues. It places a premium on obedience and loyalty. It punishes those who engage in independent thought and demands total conformity. It elevates cruelty and killing to a virtue. This culture, once it infects wider society, destroys all that makes the heights of human civilization and democracy possible. The capacity for empathy, the cultivation of wisdom and understanding, the tolerance and respect for difference and even love are ruthlessly crushed. The innate barbarity that war and violence breed is justified by a saccharine sentimentality about the nation, the flag and a perverted Christianity that blesses its armed crusaders. This sentimentality, as Baldwin wrote, masks a terrifying numbness. It fosters an unchecked narcissism. Facts and historical truths, when they do not fit into the mythic vision of the nation and the tribe, are discarded. Dissent becomes treason. All opponents are godless and subhuman. “American Sniper” caters to a deep sickness rippling through our society. It holds up the dangerous belief that we can recover our equilibrium and our lost glory by embracing an American fascism.
The Hedges essay is located at “Killing Ragheads for Jesus: On Watching ‘American Sniper’“