RANGER AGAINST WAR: Inside the Crosshairs <

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Inside the Crosshairs

 It's just murder. All God's creatures do it.
You look in the forests and you see species
killing other species, our species killing all species
 including the forests,
and we just call it industry, not murder 
--Natural Born Killers (1994) 

Will ye not cease from this harsh-sounding slaughter?
Do you not see that you are devouring one another
in the thoughtlesness of your minds?

There is no hunting like the hunting of man,
and those who have hunted armed men
long enough and liked it
never care for anything else thereafter
--Ernest Hemingway (Esquire) 

Since snipers are having their day in the sun, Ranger decided to re-visit the book, Inside the Crosshairs: Snipers in Vietnam by military historian Lee Lanning.

Since today's sniper darling Chris Kyle fairly loathed his targets, here is a representative passage from this book contradicting the idea that hatred is a military value and that snipers are stone cold killers. Lanning quotes Captain Jim Land, who formed the first Marine Division sniper school, explaining the qualities a sniper must possess:

"Honor on the battlefield is the sniper's ethic. he shows it by the standards and discipline with which he lives life in combat. By the decency he shows his comrades. And by the rules he adheres to when meeting the enemy.

"The sniper does not hate the enemy," Land continued, "he respects him or her as a quarry. Psychologically, the only motives that will sustain the sniper is the knowledge that he is doing a necessary job and the confidence that he is the best person to do it. On the battlefield, hate will destroy any man -- and a sniper quicker than most."

An implied sub-story in the movie "American Sniper" suggested there was a bounty offered for the killing of snipers, a sort of head-hunting among their kind, in particular between Kyle and his Iraqi nemesis. In Vietnam also there were urban myths that the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong offered bounties on snipers, but Lanning says there is no hard evidence to prove this claim.

The overlay is a romantic notion of mano-a-mano combat which is not the truth of today's institutionalized warfare. Perhaps it was also an attempt to re-humanize Kyle as someone being hunted down personally, and fighting for his life. The director Eastwood may have had in mind a more metaphorical flight for Kyle, but if so this was never expounded upon, and the audience received yet  another uni-dimensional warrior stereotype.

(As an aside, Lanning and Ranger were classmates in Infantry Officer Basic Course (IOBC) in 1968, and last crossed paths in the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh RVN in April 1970. Lee was headed back to the United States while I was an incoming replacement; we were both 1st Lieutenants at the time.)

Inside the Crosshairs is an interesting and dispassionate study of the efficacy of U.S. snipers in Vietnam by considering both their materiel and how they integrated the traditions of centuries of expert shooters that came before them.

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Anonymous Michael Lee Lanning said...

It is always encouraging when someone reads and really "gets" your book. Ranger does so in his review of my Inside the Crosshairs. I am not surprised, he has the background and experience to understand war and warriors far beyond the gray bearded professor or the lounge chair sitting "wantabee." Well done Ranger!
Michael Lee Lanning (LTC, USA, Ret)

Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 10:15:00 AM GMT-5  

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