Taking Shots At ‘American Sniper’

An American sniper with M24 SWS rifle and his spotter U.S. ARMY RANGERS PHOTO

An American sniper with M24 SWS rifle and his spotter

I can’t quite get my mind around all that sniping about the movie American Sniper, up for best picture/best actor in Sunday’s Oscar competition.

Filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that “We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes.”

Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi wrote of sniper Chris Kyle “shooting women and children” in Iraq.

Others say Kyle enjoyed killing Iraqis. He did call them “savages” in his book. He did kill one armed woman; no children.

I read one sensible view in the London Guardian newspaper:

“He was a sniper; they kill people. That’s their job, and it’s one that government recruits and pays them to do. Kyle was a Navy SEAL — he didn’t enlist in the Peace Corps. What do civilians think combat soldiers do? Hand out flowers? Hold peaceful protests against the armed enemy?”

My sense is that Chris Kyle was a not-overly-philosophical, rural Texas kid who found a home in the military and had a talent for shooting.

Our armed forces have people with talents for scuba diving, airplane piloting, ship management and battle tactics.

Their objective is skilled killing in wartime.

Did you expect Kyle to say, “No, sir, I ain’t killing people from a rooftop, no way”?

The silliest review was by Amanda Taub at the news site Vox, who called the film “a fight of Good Americans against Bad Terrorists, led by Chris Kyle, the Good-est American of them all.”

Maybe the problem is that the film was not the book and you don’t get the full measure of Kyle. You see some family life, him killing people and yearning to be kicking in doors with the ground-pounders rather than perched on a rooftop.

If you, like Michael Moore, have a problem with snipers, you mainly have a problem with warfare. Is shooting one enemy from hiding worse than killing a half dozen with a long-distance artillery shell?

Is the sniper worse than the bomber pilot? Or the person in command who orders up any one of those to do the deed?

Maybe Americans have seen too many Westerns and expect a fastest-draw gun-fight on the count of three on the town main drag.

NBC anchor Brian Williams said he was in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by ground fire.

But it was another chopper, not even near him, that was hit. Now he says: “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

My Vietnam photographer-colleague Dick Swanson summed it up perfectly on Facebook:

“One always remembers every bullet that missed you, or somebody else, forever.”

You don’t misremember. The late Marine Brig. Gen. Donald “Buck” Schmuck regularly told his Outrigger Canoe Club bar pals (and the old Star-Bulletin) about leading a battle unit during the 1968 Tet offensive in Hue, Vietnam.

But he’d retired in 1960.