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Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “American Sniper.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

A Conflicted Pacifist’s Review of American Sniper

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By Eric Blauer

After reading Michael Moore’s tweet: ”My uncle [was] killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards …” and the outrage that descended by pro-military folks, I knew I had to see the film.

There’s no doubt Chris Kyle was a soldier of uncanny skill, valor and resiliency.

“He was the deadliest sniper in American history. He had at least 160 confirmed kills by the Pentagon’s count, but by his own count—and the accounts of his Navy SEAL teammates—the number was closer to twice that. In his four tours of duty in Iraq, Kyle earned two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor. He survived six IED attacks, three gunshot wounds, two helicopter crashes, and more surgeries than he could remember. He was known among his SEAL brethren as The Legend and to his enemies as al-Shaitan, “the devil.”
As a conflicted and committed follower of Jesus, I have been open about my evolving understanding and practice of nonviolence. Going to view a movie that revolves around hunting of the “Butcher of Baghdad’ who used a drill to murder and torture those who assisted the US Coalition sounded challenging. I attended the movie with a group of men, three of whom were veterans and I was surrounded by other vets in the theater. I felt out of place seeing such a film with men who have ‘been there and done that’ but as a pastor who works and walks with men and women who have returned from war, compassion requires that I seek to understand them and the issues the best I can.

In a recent RNS article they reference the faith of Kyle, an aspect of his life that was lightly touched on in a few places in the film. Faith issues were mentioned but nothing that would give me the impression that the life and teaching of Jesus were the guiding compass of his thoughts about how to confront and defeat evil.

The article quotes him as writing:
“I’m not the kind of person who makes a big show out of religion… believe, but I don’t necessarily get down on my knees or sing real loud in church. But I find some comfort in faith, and I found it in those days after my friends had been shot up. Ever since I had gone through BUD/S (SEAL training), I’d carried a Bible with me. I hadn’t read it all that much, but it had always been with me. Now I opened it and read some of the passages. I skipped around, read a bit, skipped around some more. With all hell breaking loose around me, it felt better to know I was part of something bigger.”
And:
“I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting…I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying f**k about them.”
In a scathing critique of the film Rollingstone magazine touched on a point about how ‘war movies’ like ones about Vietnam, seem to mythologize wars in ways that often hinder us from the hard thinking about why we got into or continue in these wars.
“But making entertainment out of their dilemmas helped Americans turn their eyes from their political choices. The movies used the struggles of soldiers as a kind of human shield protecting us from thinking too much about what we’d done in places like Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos.”
by Matt Taibbi.
After watching the movie, I didn’t feel like I could challenge the wars without sounding like I was condemning the warriors. Films like these make it difficult to examine the validity of political  policy and the industrial war complex and it’s violence without ending up sounding like you oppose the men and women of valor. There’s a forced duality that wants to dress people up in black or white instead of facing the realities of innumerable complexities and culpabilities in these world event.

I think the film maker did a disservice to the service of soldiers when they made the viewer frame the moral complexity of the conflict with a sniper choosing between shooting a child and his mother or watching them kill American soldiers.

How can you debate anything on the edge of such a brutal moment of battle necessity?

The ‘fog of war’ is a numbing, moral ambiguity that I think is often whirling around in the darkness of PTSD and these type of films don’t add clarity in my estimation. They tell stories that need to be told, but don’t provide answers that help us find different conclusions to these life shaping and ending conflicts.

I think our soldiers and their stories need better apologists and theologians.

About Eric Blauer

I am Frederick Christian Blauer IV, but I go by Eric, it sounds less like a megalomaniac but still hints at my Scandinavian destiny of coastal conquest and ultimate rule. I have accumulated a fair number of titles: son, brother, husband, father, pastor, writer, artist and a few other more colorful titles by my fanged fans. I am a lover of story be it heard, read or watched in all beauty, gory or glory. I write and speak as an exorcist or poltergeist, splashing holy water, spilling wine and breaking bread between the apocalypse and a sleeping baby. I am possessed by too many words and they get driven out like wild pigs and into the waters of my blog at www.fcb4.tumblr.com. I work as a pastor at Jacob's Well Church (www.jacobswellspokane.com) across the tracks on 'that' side of town. I follow Christ in East Central Spokane among saints, sinners, angels, demons, crime, condoms, chaos, beauty, goodness and powerful weakness. I have more questions than answers, grey hairs than brown, fat than muscle, fire than fireplace and experience more love from my wife, family and friends than a man should be blessed with in one lifetime.

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4 comments

  1. The first thing to remember is a movie, any movie is entertainment to be judged on how well it tells a story. We can’t even base serious opinions on documentaries because most of them are created with a particular outcome in mind and/or an individuals own filters.

    Until human kind comes up with a way of solving problems without violence war will be inevitable. I personally think the old men that come up with the reasons for war should meet on a field and do it themselves. The easy work is to vote to send someone else to thier death or at least often the moral equivalent of death.

  2. These days it seems the call is to meet ISIS’s brutality with violence because nothing else will work. Sometimes WWII and Hitler are brought up to suggest that violence is at times the only effective solution. I understand that if a person were threatening my loved ones with violence my inclination would be to stop that person, if necessary with violence. It can be difficult to reconcile such ideas with pacifism. Most people seem to regard pacifism as a way of being that requires a few exceptions for self-defense, defense of family, etc.

  3. “I think the film maker did a disservice to the service of soldiers when
    they made the viewer frame the moral complexity of the conflict with a
    sniper choosing between shooting a child and his mother or watching them
    kill American soldiers.”

    Help me understand how that is a disservice?

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