American Sniper is an attempt to portray an ideology of homogenization and imperialism through the ‘othering’ of the Iraqi people. The main character in the movie, Chris Kyle, was unable to escape the ideological framework of his childhood, thereby ignoring any context that sits outside of his community’s core beliefs. American sniper ignores history and firmly implants the idea of the ‘civilized’ versus the ‘savage’.
From the moment the movie starts there is a continual ‘us versus them’ mentality. At the beginning of the movie we peek into Chris Kyle’s childhood, in particular his relationship with his father, Wayne. Their relationship is one of a traditional mid west family where the man hunts, the woman cooks, and the family goes to church together. This is not necessarily problematic in itself, but it lays the groundwork for how Chris’ conservative ideology was shaped, and how his environment came to be racially and religiously homogenized. While at school, Chris’ younger brother gets into a fight and is beaten up pretty badly by another boy. Chris steps in to defend his brother and fights off the bully. Later that night while Chris is at the dinner table with his family his father starts to lecture the boys about the fight in the schoolyard. He says:
“There are three types of people in the world sheep, wolves and Sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves… those are the sheep. Then you got predators who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. Then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression and an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed that live to confront the wolf– They are the sheepdog. Now we’re not raising any sheep in this family and I will whoop your ass if you turn into a wolf. But we take care of our own. And if someone picks a fight with you or bullies your brother, you have my permission to finish it.”
This is a defining moment in Chris’ life, and his father’s words stick with him into his adult years.
For Chris “God, country, family” are his core values. Unfortunately, he is unable to see past the dinner table with his father, who has instilled in him the notion of ‘the other’; that which is evil and darkness. The problem with this framework is the fact that one fails to see outside of their own ideology. There is no context given or even needed to understand ‘the other’ because everything other must be evil. This leads Chris to eventually enlist in the United States Navy as a Special Forces sniper. On August 7, 1998, two East African Embassies of the United States were attacked in coordinated bombings and hundreds of Americans died. Chris is watching this on the news when the reporter goes on to say that 80 people are confirmed dead and that “someone’s at war with the United States.” Chris is stunned, he stares blankly at the TV screen as the images of horror flash before his eyes. He says quietly to himself “Look what they did.” This scenario is repeated again later as Chris and his wife watch the second plane crash into the world trade center on September 11th, 2001.
The Film suggests the Iraq war was in response to 9/11 when the truth of the matter is that the war in Iraq was nothing more than a land grab; an appropriation of resources from a dictator that was not willing to do business as usual with the United States. Ideology is what fueled the conflict with Iraq, not the events on September 11th, 2001. At no point in the movie is the question asked as to why they are fighting. This context is not only overlooked it is intensified by the dehumanization of the people of Iraq.
George Bush’s war on terror constructed individual interests and a threat to the community as a whole. Everyone 25 years of age and older remembers what they were doing and where they were at the moment the news broke about the planes hitting the world trade center. We were all touched by this tragedy, and it is through this shared experience we set ourselves apart from ‘the other’; through constructed individual interests, and a common bond of sorrow and social values. The attacks on September 11th, 2001 constructed a narrative that furthered a neoliberal ideology controlled by the United States Government and its western allies, referred to as the ‘Coalition Of The Willing’. There were no weapons of mass destruction, the United States and its allies created a domestic threat, or as Chris’s dad would say, the wolf, which required action from the sheepdog, in this case, Chris.
American Sniper takes a step further from creating ‘the other’, it outright dehumanizes the Iraqi people referring to them only as savages. Chris’ wife asks him about the conflict as she feels he has been quiet and withdrawn, saying “You’re not protecting me by not talking about it.” Chris’ reply to her was “They’re fuckin savages.” This is not the only time the Iraqi people are portrayed this way in the film. This term is the only definition given for the Iraqi people and its given five times throughout the movie.
There is so much more that could be said about this film, and it will undoubtedly go down in history as America’s premier piece of propaganda. It is a tribute to the war on terror and, much like the Nazi film Triumph of the Will made by Leni Riefenstahl in 1934 that chronicles the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, nationalism and pride are explicit themes. What sets this film apart from Riefenstahl’s 1934 film however is the distinct creation of ‘the other’, the dehumanization of the people it stands against, and the way in which the colonial notion of the civilized versus the savages, the us versus them mentality, is portrayed.
The main character Chris Kyle attitude towards the Iraqi people was largely due to his homogenized and conservative environment. Chris is everything that America stands for in the eyes of traditional Christian Americans. While “God, country, family” are not necessarily bad things, it is when we regard everyone else that falls outside this description as evil.
‘Othering’ is used to enforce ideological control as seen in this movie it can be done by heads of state as well as the head of a family. Combine the idea of ‘the other’ with the inability to question authority and you have a recipe for dogmatic nationalistic authoritarianism much like Communist Russia or Nazi Germany.
American sniper is the best film to teach people about not only war propaganda, but also good old-fashioned right-wing American values. To think director Clint Eastwood would make a film counter to this would be just silly, after all didn’t he conquer the wild west? With guns a blazing?
Using terror as a systemic way of influencing the masses is in itself a form of terrorism.
By Mike Roy
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Hall, Jason, and Chris Kyle. “American Sniper.” (n.d.): n. pag. Warner Brothers. Http://warnerbros.com, 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://pdl.warnerbros.com/wbmovies/awards2014/pdf/as.pdf>.
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Lewis, Charles, and Mark R. Smith. “False Pretenses.” Center for Public Integrity. The Center For Public Integrity, 23 Jan. 2008. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <http://www.publicintegrity.org/2008/01/23/5641/false-pretenses>.
Triumph Des Willens Triumph of the Will. Dir. Leni Riefenstahl. Perf. Adolf Hitler. Phoenix Films, 1935. Web.