The War on American Sniper

American Sniper strives to give justice to the life of one of the most lethal snipers in American history, Chris Kyle. In so doing, the film reveals some of the most distasteful and violent aspects of a war that a good percentage of the American public has voiced concern over. However admirable Kyle is portrayed in the film, his position as a sniper calls into question just how commendable a man can be within a war that much of the public looks upon without admiration. In one of the more uncomfortable scenes, Kyle grapples with whether or not to fire on a young boy in possession of a pipe bomb that would cause casualties and destroy weapons of the American convoy passing through. Scenes like this can certainly evoke emotions on the situational killing with which snipers are presented. In depicting one war, Sniper created another on the home front, a war fueled by audiences who use social media as powerful ammunition.

One of the first to address the film, and thus provoke the social media war that ensued, was the liberal documentarian Michael Moore, who on January 18 took to Twitter to state his displeasure with snipers in general. Moore maintained that snipers could be considered “cowards” and were responsible for the death of his uncle. Later on, he praised anyone who defends a nation from foreign invaders as a hero, leaving us to pose a question: what means do Americans wish to see in order to preserve the rights that they so boldly exercise (including freedom of speech) every day?

From the right-wing side of the debate, Sarah Palin condemned what she considers to be criticisms defaming the name of “freedom fighters who allow you to do what you do.” Moore and Palin were not the only ones to voice their opinions on the film. New York Times reporter Cara Buckley provides extensive coverage of the wide assortment of figures participating in the Internet debate. Hoping to silence the negative response that the film received from individuals possessing extreme discontent with Kyle’s legacy, Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera tweeted that “as they kill-snipers save lives by limiting civilian casualties,” arguing that deaths at the hands of snipers are rectified by the many more lives that would otherwise be endangered. The most startling, and perhaps the most bizarre, comment made about the film via Twitter emerged from the keyboard of actor Seth Rogen when he compared the film to “the movie that’s showing in the third act of Inglorious Basterds,” a scene depicting a German World War II marksman who fires on his numerous enemies.

Many were confounded with Sniper’s apparent comparison to Nazi propaganda, which made for an alarming allusion that carries connotations of evil and murder. As for reviews, The Washington Post’s verdict notes that the film’s “different interpretations [attest] to a movie that never hews to obvious ideological lines.” The film has provoked an array of responses that has exposed what some may see as a startling truth within the United States: not only are there negative opinions of war but also increasingly critical and negative opinions of those who serve for their country. Regardless of one’s position on the Iraq War, this assault on the character of soldiers like Kyle is a newfound criticism, one that needs to be analyzed in the face of what is to come.

The war on American Sniper is not simply one that exists within a stream of Internet feeds, but one that has quickly made its way into partisan politics. The film has driven an already existing wedge between Republicans and Democrats over issues of the Iraq War and gun control. Republicans, who for the most part have long been in favor of remaining involved in the War on Terror, are rigid in their position against Democrats, who are more doubtful when it comes to war and much more in favor of gun control than Republicans. The film represents strikingly different themes when viewed through each party’s lens. While many conservatives praise it as a film of heroism, sacrifice and American pride, many liberals question the character of Kyle and the usefulness of guns in situations, such as those depicted in the film where they are unable to protect soldiers.

Regardless of all of the controversy, American Sniper is nominated for six Oscars and has accumulated over $200 million at the box office. The debates surrounding the film have undoubtedly increased its popularity. Still, the question remains: has this controversy emerged as an example of the “inherent anti-military bias in Hollywood,” as a friend of Chris Kyle’s has put it, or is it indicative of a much larger partisan issue within the American electorate? Whatever the answer may be, the film has certainly unearthed the fact that both the Iraq War and gun control have been, and continue to be, steadfastly partisan topics.