Saturday, February 07, 2015

Body Counts

 You can't kill your way out of an insurgency
--General David Petraeus 

For days and nights they battled
the Bantu to their knees
They killed to earn their living
and to help out the Congolese 
--Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, 
Warren Zevon

'T ain't what you bring
it's the way that you bring it
'T ain't what you sing
  it's the way that you sing it 
--Taint What You Do, 
Ella Fitzgerald

In our continuing series of running jumps off of the much-lauded film, American Sniper:

The dark subtext to this erstwhile patriotic film is, "In lieu of a successful hearts and minds counterinsurgency (COIN) operation [something which has never been and probably never will be], we are left to celebrate the prodigious human husks left in the wake of a patriotic sniping machine (= Mr. Kyle), our views confined to those seen through the cross hairs of his sniper rifle scope."

Whiz kid Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense through much of the last United States' COIN operation in Vietnam, was fond of "body counts" as a metric for measuring success in that endeavor. It was a failed concept then, and it remains a failure today, yet good Americans get whooped up over the story of Mr. Kyle, the "killingest sniper ever."

Of course, body counts can be inflated, and even had he killed twice his 160 supposedly "confirmed kills" [who ARE these "kill confirmers", anyway?] that would not turn the tide of war. The Islamic State has garnered far more success with their brute, time-intensive Middle Age-style staged killings than Kyle could with his high-tech sniper rifle.

But from this tiny diameter of the sniper scope on celluloid, it's all good. From here, FLOTUS Obama can praise the film and its subject, a stone cold killer who admittedly also shot underage persons. Meanwhile her husband the President holds forth about the injustice of killing young black men in the U.S. by uniformed officers in the line of duty. Decrying the killing of our own underage youths without understanding the reciprocity abroad, the U.S. shows its callow and bigoted nature once again.

RAW the art critic asks: "Should not great art and film take the viewer to a transcendent place and help elevate his soul?" We could say that a great war should do the same, and so should a movie about such a war. Some examples are Sergeant York, Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front and Flags of Our Fathers.

These movies show men who grew in the execution of their duties, unlike Kyle, who shrinks as a person. Where does American Sniper take us? How are we elevated and what do we take when we leave the theater? In the absence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or linkage of Iraq to the the U.S. events of 9-11-01, what makes this movie a work of art versus simple "war porn"?

Invading countries cause the indigenous people to resist the invading forces, so why would we celebrate killing Iraqis at all?

Through a rifle scope at 100 yards you have an 80 feet field of vision. General Petraeus, on the other hand, saw the entire spectrum of the conflict and for him, killing was not the metric of success.

The U.S. took an entire country and turned it into a rifle range sans safety officers. That is not very uplifting.

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Blogger BadTux said...

The way he died was perhaps fitting. Not in that it was deserved, but, rather, in that it reflected the same fumbling attempts to make his life meaningful that inspired him to join the Navy in the first place. He never did, alas, find that meaning that he so desired. And now he is dead.

As for these patriotic films, bah, humbug. All you see is manly glory, a vainglorious exaltation of war that leads to more war, more horror, more death, more sorrow. As General William Tecumseh Sherman said in 1880, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell. You can bear this warning to generations yet to come.” It is a warning that these film-makers seem oddly unwilling to contemplate, in their rush to glorify war. But Sherman was right. War is hell. Even for the winners.

Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 8:58:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim hruska said...

it's hard for me to believe that there are any winners in war.

Monday, February 9, 2015 at 11:42:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger BadTux said...

Well, the Japanese and Germans in 1945 might disagree with the "there are no winners in war" bit. Given that they were starving and living (and dying of exposure) in rubble while the average American was not. But the problem is the glorification of that, which makes it all too likely that we will go to war again for a reason less than national survival. War has terrible costs and movies by and large make no attempt to depict that, as if it could be fully depicted on a two-dimensional screen in the first place but there is no attempt.

Monday, February 9, 2015 at 12:13:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Blakenator said...

I haven't seen the movie and I won't see the movie but I did read that Eastwood claimed it was "anti-war." If that is the case, the sad part of that is you, RAW, get it, but the point seems to have flown right over the heads of most of the USofA.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at 5:53:00 PM GMT-5  

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