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Saturday, May 2, 2015

American Sniper

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

So many are going back and forth about the movie, American Sniper. I admit that I haven't yet seen the movie, but I am looking forward to it. I know that it is based on an actual human being. I know that the movie has stirred a lot of debate which is overly simplistic and often overreaching on both sides. Peace, at present, is not an option. So condemning those who fight in this war isn't productive or fair. Conversely, war isn't cool. Violence isn't cool. Every action by every soldier in every situation isn't justified. Soldiers are human beings, and thus, fallible. Looking for a rational middle I repeatedly have one revelation: I don't get to judge soldiers. I have never been to war.

Many soldiers signed up when they saw America attacked on 9/11. It is profound to acknowledge that we actually had a front row seat to this horror in our living rooms and break rooms. All of America, together, witnessed an unbelievable declaration of war. Everyone had their own visceral reaction. I am a peace loving person who always wants a shot at diplomacy. On 9/11? Nope. I knew what happened when the first tower was hit. I looked at Jennifer Cobb, the workmate who will always remain in my memory because of this moment, and went numb. She told me about the first plane. I didn't question if it was an accident, I told her "I know it's Osama bin Laden." I wasn't sure that I was pronouncing his name properly, but that would soon change. No one would live without that name permanently ingrained in the forefront of their minds. That day I wanted war. That day I was glad we had a righty in the White House because I only wanted a hawk in leadership. Any other day, that revelation would be a horror to me. On 9/11? I bore no shame. When the towers fell I told my co-workers, "I hope they use the remaining metal and glass from the towers as shrapnel to blow them up." I knew the name bin Laden. But I knew so little about the Middle East that I thought he led a country. Of course, no country attacked us. We were attacked by a misplaced ideology. Initially we had no understanding of the magnificent, yet simplistic plot or how difficult it would be to find those who had concocted it. As we couldn't go after another country, or their military, we were in a whole new realm of war.

I don't get to judge the soldiers who enlisted in reaction to a genuine driving need to avenge 9/11. They wanted to retaliate for our unprovoked tragedy and protect America. I do, however, get to judge the leaders who exploited the emotional pulse of America and started a war with a country who had absolutely nothing to do with that attack. They used those men and women to battle and die for a cause they didn't sign up for. They invited millionaires to become billionaires by arming our military and rallying Americans behind going to war, any war. It is not the soldiers decision where they go to fight. They signed up under the false assumption that they would be protecting us. Only the leadership could know they were really just making the target on the backs of all Americans larger.

Sadly, a sniper is a very necessary position in today's military, especially considering the groups that attack us. They aren't even countries, let alone bound by the rules of the Geneva Convention. They don't play fair. They don't wear camouflage or have distinctive stripes on their arms. They blend in to their own environment wearing the similar garb of their countrymen. Is it better to have a sniper take out an individual than have a bomb take out an entire neighborhood to get a target? Yes? Then we need snipers. Their targets are hateful, yet creative, motherfuckers who see all Americans (not only soldiers) as targets.

Once in combat the snipers have dangerous people as targets. People talk as if the they are sitting on rooftops taking out all passersby. Of course, that's a pretty dramatic and ignorant assumption. They have very specific targets and objectives. Last night Larry Wilmore had a guest, Sgt. Nicholas Irving, who is a retired sniper. As he talked it occurred to me that it would have to take a very specific mindset to be a sniper. He reiterated the feelings (or lack of) that were attributed to Chris Kyle. He matter-of-factly said that killing is his job and the human being becomes only a target. He didn't regret killing anyone but he regretted not being able to save the comrade who had saved his life. It doesn't make him a monster to say that. It would have to be the perspective of a sniper, right? As a sniper is ultimately a human being with a soul, how else would you have him look at it? Any other perspective would make him crazy. He can't spend time on right vs. wrong, questioning, "How will the targets mother feel? Who will provide for the targets family? Would he carry out his mission if I can't carry out mine?" He can't ask those questions. He has to disassociate to maintain sanity. If he humanized the target he wouldn't be able to do his job.

Snipers have to come back home eventually, right? I can't imagine returning to families and friends and a country who spend so much of their time focusing on first world problems after having seen what they'd seen and done what they'd done. I imagine it's a lot easier to live with themselves and the things they had to do when they are stationed exclusively with people who were living the same experience. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to come home as a hardened soldier who experiences PTSD and be unwilling or unable to talk about the horrors they'd seen with people who are discussing deflated footballs over a BBQ pit.

I can go on for hours about the things I could only imagine about being a sniper or a soldier. That's pretty much my point. I can only imagine. Likewise, any who have watched a movie can only imagine. We can point our fingers at the people who demand that our soldiers fight in places they had no business being or fighting for causes they had no business defending. We can not judge those who were sent and followed orders. I hate that war exists. Period. I fucking hate it.

I hate knowing that it is the fault of our leadership for decades that has made my country and its citizens targets. I hope we never get another reminder of that truth. But we get reminders every week, don't we? We hear about cells that are broken up, attacks in an ally country or even, for fucks sake, Americans who have been brainwashed into joining these movements. Hating war, however, doesn't give me the right to talk shit about the men and women who fight on our behalf. It doesn't escape my consciousness that I watch war from my couch. I don't want to sign up. Do you? No? Then stop bitching. Go out of your way to promote peace and diplomatic politicians. But realize that until we stop being a target, we need our soldiers to be fighting and protecting us. And we will need snipers who have the ability to compartmentalize their thoughts and emotions to enable them to kill people who have vowed to kill you. You. All Americans. You. Your friends. Your family.

I have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. I have a big mouth and will gladly and joyfully debate the issues of the day. This topic is beyond my understanding, though. This topic is beyond any layperson's understanding. People need to be really thoughtful about where they point their contempt. If you have never had to learn to take another life and lived with the emotional aftermath, then you really need to step back, have thoughtful reflection and consider who you're mad at before you talk shit to or about a soldier.

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