RANGER AGAINST WAR: February 2015 <

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Primer Therapy

 ~We gotta play with more bullets
~How many more bullets?
~Three. That means we gotta play each other 
--The Deerhunter (1978)

 Some day you'll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms 
--Brothers in Arms,
Dire Straights 

 She went to Berkeley, did primal therapy
She wrote the music for a series on the TV
She studied Rumi and Ibn'Arabi
She meditated every summer in a teepee
--The Girl's Got no Confidence,
 Gerry Rafferty

So that we would feel good about the protagonist of the film American Sniper, Chris Kyle's killing back home by a brother in arms on the shooting range was omitted from Eastwood's film. However, Kyle's killing is perhaps the most poignant part of his story.

At Eddie Ray Routh's trial last week, his father testified that he had smoked dope with his son earlier in the day of the killing; it seems that the participants in Kyle's non-profit veterans program were not observing good range etiquette. Perhaps the only requirements for participation were having worn BDU's and knowing how to fire a weapon, and having some vague need for rehabilitation.

And what was Kyle's qualification to run this wounded warrior non-profit? Why are there so many shooting therapies for returning veterans? It seems like every town has one. Some are run by well-meaning people while others are strictly cash cows, but what does putting a gun into the hands of a traumatized soldier do for him aside from validating his skill in the killing arts?

Ranger can guarantee you there was no shooting therapy for him and his fellow Vietnam veterans. The American public did not seem to think that would have been a great idea.

The questions is simple: If shooting caused the trauma, why would shooting be a fix? Yes, it will reinforce a sense of expertise, but in a destructive skill. Going a step further, shooting is a skill which was exploited by and for governments, leaving the soldier to cope with the trauma earned via his expertise.

The zeitgeist of the time affects public attitude. In the late 1960's, National Guard riflemen opened fire on United States citizens who were exercising their 1st Amendment Rights, and the public distrusted the image of the returning drug-addled, alienated Vietnam vet. Even the most highly-decorated ones might go Rambo on them (the character "Rambo" was a Vietnam veteran Medal of Honor recipient.)

Then, the threat for the average American was not the small yellow people oceans away. When the U.S. left, they did not follow in vendetta. The Vietnamese who did come to the United States hoped to relocate peaceably here.

Today, the threat is vague, ambiguous, terrifying and omnipresent, and the media is complicit in forefronting it. In a commonly held view, when the U.S. failed to retaliate for the 1979 Iranian Embassy takeover a cascade of various Islamic extremist attack scenarios against the United States and its citizens followed, culminating in the second attacks on the World Trade Center (2001). The threat came to get us, having been heartened by their success against a nation which seemed to have lost its heart for the fight.

Post 9-11-01, the U.S. is more sensitive to acts of Islamic violence worldwide. Despite the fact that our society has grown more violent in terms of random indigenous shooting events, arming the "right" citizens does not seem as scary as it once did. Our society seems to be growing more tolerant of even open carry laws, presuming that the licensed gun bearer is not the source of mayhem and his vigilance might provide a mayhem deterrent quotient.

"Shooting therapy" makes sense in such a climate. Of course, the gun will not protect us from the threat, which is random acts of terrorism.

Today's veterans seem a more known quantity as they are self-selected and presumably do not hold the grudges of the draftees. Enter Mr. Routh -- the troubled combat vet on trial now for Kyle's killing. Routh said he shot Kyle because he felt he was not being listened to and felt marginalized, perhaps exploited yet again, this time as just another screwed up vet being used by a non-profit to justify its existence.

All the facts will not be known as the two witnesses are now dead, but if Routh felt as though he was not being listened to, perhaps a different sort of therapy might have been more appropriate. Why not something like "Non Violent Communication" (NVC), which fosters empathetic listening and communication skills?

Now Ranger loves guns and shooting, but shooting guns is not the therapy of choice for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, it is not until the PTSD is resolved that any of the former pleasures can be enjoyed again with the proper gusto. Ranger has some training in counseling education and never encountered vocational rehabilitation for combat trauma that involved rifle range activities.

What qualified Kyle to counsel troubled veterans with the tool of the gun? Was anyone involved with his non-profit credentialed to provide counseling services?

We should be wary of how we counsel fragile and fractured vets. Putting them on the firing line is counter-intuitive; why resurrect traumatic memories to no useful purpose? While there is a modality of therapy which involves re-creating the traumatic scenario in the safety of the of the counseling room, that is a safe re-creation, sans live rounds.

A soldier is more than a shooting automaton. We need to reach the troubled soldier on a level deeper than recognition of his skill with a weapon.

While Kyle might have been a killing machine in the military, he was also just another damaged soul looking to turn a profit trading on his "warrior" title. We are not ancient Greece, Rome or Japan and our society does not support a cadre of full-time warriors on the home front. Effective counseling involves integrating the returning soldier back into his human incarnation.

But none of this translates well into two hours of a red-white-and-blue Hollywood honorarium.

--Jim and Lisa

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Duke of Death

 People seldom go to the trouble of
the surface of things to find the inner truth 
--The Shop Around the Corner (1941)

Informers inform, burglars burgle,
murderers murder, lovers love 
--Breathless (1960)

The way your head works
is God's own private mystery 
--Wild at Heart (1990)

[We said we were done with American Sniper; never say "never".]

Pity that American Sniper director Clint Eastwood took the advice of Kyle's widow to omit the sniper's killing at the hands of a fellow soldier on the gun range. It would have been a Hollywood-perfect wrap and would have provided far more nuance than the final cut allowed, but Mrs. Kyle wanted the happy, if not correct ending ("This is going to be how my children remember their father, so I want you to get it right.") Presumably, she will leave out the means of Kyle's demise from her family lore, as well.

Eastwood has long explored the ideas of revenge and reconciliation. His most recent films chasten the  braggarts and he is not kind to the too-proud gunman-for-hire, the Chris Kyle's of the world.

His first foray into complexity began with The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). The protagonist Wales must reckon with his enemies, lest his life become one of relentless murder ("...the war is over. I reckon we all lost a little bit in that damn war.") A life of revenge is supplanted by one of necessary reconciliation. It was a message to a war-weary nation which did not win in another war.

In Unforgiven (1992), Eastwood's gunman William Munny returns to killing to avenge the knifing of a prostitute. The past always creeps up, and Munny cannot holster his guns for long. Despite the aging gunman's desire to leave his murderous ways, the film ends in an orgy of violence.

Instead of a simple matter of avenging one wrong, he becomes caught in a spider web requiring the final revenge killings for the killing of his friend. The viewer is left to wonder if the best that can be hoped for in this Old Testament eye for an eye world is that someone might avenge Munny's death one day.

An interesting side story in Unforgiven is that of Richard Harris's English Bob ("The Duke of Death"). He is a foreigner of vague British background who repurposes himself in the American West after writing a book embellishing his prowess in the art of killing. His bragging earns him a serious whipping by the town's sheriff (Gene Hackman), as Bob must be taken down a notch for his braggadocio.

The Duke does not realize his hypocrisy:  "A plague on you. A plague on the whole stinking lot of ya, without morals or laws. And all you whores got no laws. You got no honor. It's no wonder you all emigrated to America, because they wouldn't have you in England. You're a lot of savages, that's what you all are. A bunch of bloody savages." The irony is that English Bob is the same as "the savages", though he imagines himself otherwise.

In Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Eastwood follows the stories of the men who raised the flag at Mt. Surabatchi on Iwo Jima in World War II. The character singled out for censure is the money-grubbing Rene Gagnon, who attempts to exploit his chance appearance in Joe Rosenthal's iconic photo to raise his social and economic position . 

Eastwood's sympathy is reserved for Ira Hayes, who was unable to surmount his combat trauma and could not reckon that with the celebrity thrust upon him. Hayes died drunk in a ditch of water some years after the war and his exploitation as a U.S. Bond salesman.

His treatment of gun fighters Josey Wales, William Munny, English Bob and Gene Gagnon differ from that of Chris Kyle. Kyle is every bit the self-promoter as English Bob or Gene Gagnon, but there is no repercussion that accrues to him because of Eastwood's restricted ending.

If Eastwood had shown the death of Kyle at the hands of another soldier, he would have been consistent in his message -- the past catches up with you. Unfortunately, in his decision to omit the story's end he delivers a film lacking in his previous gravitas.

After Seal team member Robert O'Neill decided to go public about his killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (following Matt Bissonette's firsthand account of the operation in his book, "No Easy Day"), Rear Admiral Brian Losey, head of the Naval Special Warfare Command, condemned the pair's decision. He warned serving members of special operations forces that Navy leaders "will not abide willful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety and financial gain."

Director Eastwood has detracted from his oeuvre's message that braggadocio in killing is neither noble nor an action without consequence. Had he hewed to the actual storyline, he would have maintained his consistent and solid position.

--Jim and Lisa

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Shooting Protection

 He was a most peculiar man
He lived all alone within a house
Within a room, within himself 
--A Most Peculiar Man,
Simon and Garfunkel 

They seek him here, they seek him there
In Regent Street and Leicester Square
Everywhere the Carnabetian army marches on
Each one a dedicated follower of fashion 
--Dedicated Follower of Fashion,
The Kinks

He didn’t say boo in confession
He wasn’t the least judgmental
If you didn’t kill your ma or your da
He could be exceedingly gentle 
--Uncle Jim, Black 47
Ranger's last observation from the film American Sniper, by way of the t.v. series, "Justified":

Hollywood depictions of violence do not usually parallel those events in real life. Take the case of breaking a 2 x 4 over the back of federal agent Givens by his opponent in a fist fight. In Hollywood, the Good Guy victim rolls over and gets up to fight another day. In real life, that would probably have been a killing blow.

In a now-iconic scene from American Sniper, Kyle is shown poised to make a kill with his sniper rifle which shoots high intensity cartridges and has considerable muzzle blast, yet he is wearing neither ear protection nor protective glasses. He is wearing the iconic American baseball cap with bill turned backwards -- the primary accoutrement of the American man-child -- steely eyes not of a killer but of a patriot doing his duty, sans lust and with a bissel of sadness, or perhaps isolation. The soldier next to him is wearing a helmet.

People viewing the film may think this is how a professional shoots, but that is not correct. One's hearing and eyesight are valuable assets not to be squandered, even in the service of killing Iraqis, but a helmet and goggles would have prevented a close-up on Kyle's inscrutable eyes.

We are exposed daily to noises below that of a rifle blast that can damage hearing. But sixty million Americans own firearms, and many people do not use appropriate hearing protection devices.

Power tools, leaf blowers and even the volume in movie theaters can exceed 85 decibels, the level at which hearing is damaged. So not only does the film perpetrate a scene not true-to-life, but the very act of sitting in the theater viewing the scene may damage the viewer's ears -- the supreme irony.

Rangers suffers tinnitus from blast damage, as do many soldiers. The damage is permanent and the consequences are incessant buzzing and ringing. According to Shands/UF Medical School, the second most common combat injury is ear damage. Coming home healthy is more important than confirmed kills.

We understand that Clint can't come out and deliver a Smoky the Bear public service announcement so Ranger is doing it for him: only you can prevent damage to your ears and eyes.

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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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Thursday, February 05, 2015

Calling the Shots

Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling.
There are rules 
--The Big Lebowski (1998)

The essential American soul is
hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.
It has never yet melted
--D. H. Lawrence  

What right have you to be morose?
You're rich enough 
--A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

The recent film American Sniper brings Ranger to the idea that the entire Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©)  has been about "chasing a zero" -- a losing proposition if one is aiming to be an effective sniper and make one's shot.

Some background: in Army rile marksmanship training, soldiers learn to "call their shots". Calling one's shots is essential in order to zero one's rifle. Zeroing one's rifle is what allows for the shooter to hit his mark with accuracy and consistency. When shooting at the range, it allows the shooter to achieve a tight shot grouping.

If one does not achieve a zero one fires "scattershot", which implies throwing everything you have downrange and hoping that something will hit the target. It shows a lack of discipline and skill.

Riflemen used to be taught to record and thence learn from every shot. For example, after firing the round and before the primer would send the round on its way, Ranger would note mentally: "seven ring, three o'clock." After practice noting where the trigger breaks and where the shot impacts, the shooter can then put a zero on his rifle's sights. The gun and its shooter are then well-adjusted and in accord. A zero is an adjustment which compensates for any peculiarities of the weapon.

If one fails to zero one's rifle one will be forever "chasing a zero", meaning that the rounds hit the target in an unpredictable fashion -- helter-skelter, like the efforts in the War on Terror. If one cannot call one's shots one cannot hit the center of the target with any surety, and such willy-nilly placement does not make for effective sniping.

Today soldiers use expensive sights with fancy range finders, but if one cannot zero without a scope, one cannot zero with a scope. A scope on one's rifle does not a rifleman make. Only training and experience will produce riflemen, and riflemen grow up to be snipers.

Like a rifleman unable to zero his rifle, the United States is fighting wars that cannot be accurately zeroed. Even if you inadvertently hit something not aimed at, you cannot count that an intentional hit on the range. Likewise, you cannot call the occasional winging of the target a foreign policy on the national level.

If you cannot zero your rifle, you will be an ineffective shooter. Likewise, if you can't zero your foreign policy -- whether because you lack absolute control of your weapons of state or the target keeps moving -- it, too, will be ineffective.

Instead of calling the shots the U.S. has been chasing a zero in its War on Terror.

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