“American Sniper” Leaves out the Iraq War


When I went to see “Selma,” the whole theater erupted in applause by the end of the movie. At the end of “American Sniper,” there was an awkward silence, followed by a few claps here and there. It was as if people were asking themselves, what am I applauding for?

The film at the center of controversy has been a springboard for heated discussion about Chris Kyle, the role of the sniper, the Iraq War and war in general. In other words, while Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” certainly introduces all of these themes, the movie itself seems primarily concerned with portraying the psychological effects of war.

The film is more pro-Chris Kyle than it is pro-war or even pro-U.S.A. The biggest visual representation of this is near the end of the film, when the tanks are not emblazoned with the flag, but with the marking of a skull, the logo for the defense training services that Kyle started.

The movie is based off the memoir of the Navy SEAL, who, over his four tours in Iraq, has earned the reputation as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. For those who see Kyle as a trigger-happy “psychopath patriot,” as Bill Maher put it, the film glorifies him as a war hero.

“American Sniper” is more preoccupied with depicting Kyle as a conflicted veteran than it is with showing him off as a hero. In the book, Kyle outlines his priorities as “God, Country, Family,” the latter two of which, he said, are in close competition with each other. The film builds itself on this conflict of priority—Bradley Cooper, who plays Kyle in the film, is shown as someone unable to be mentally present in his daily life at home when the war isn’t over.

Also present is a critique on the role of snipers in general. Filmmaker Michael Moore, whose uncle was killed by a sniper in WWII, tweeted that “Snipers aren’t heroes. Only a coward will shoot someone who can’t shoot back.”

Ironically, very little of the film was dedicated to portraying his role as a sniper; the Kyle in the film spends a lot of time knocking down doors and interrogating witnesses. In fact, one could argue that the film pitted Kyle against other snipers. In one scene, Cooper is unable to stand by when the rest of the troops are invading houses. When he asks the other guy, presumably another sniper, to abandon post and join the troops on the ground with him, the guys scoff that he didn’t sign up to be “knocking on doors.” It’s as if Eastwood’s saying, “Let’s be clear; there’s the sniper who likes to pick people off from a safe distance, and there’s Kyle. Let’s not confuse the two.”

Overall, “American Sniper” sympathizes with Kyle’s character as “morally conflicted” more so than Kyle ever did with himself. In multiple interviews, he made it clear that it did not bother him to kill so many “savages” in Iraq, men or women. “None of my problems come from the people I killed,” he said. These were the enemies, plain and simple. In the film, Kyle is fighting against the people responsible for the attack on 9/11, which may not be far off in the case of real-life Kyle. The film Kyle, however,  is much more conflicted about the people he’s killed. “American Sniper”does more than to show Chris Kyle as a patriot; it also shows him as a sufferer of PTSD.

New Republic’s Dennis Jett said, “More fundamentally, treating Kyle as a patriot and ignoring any other possibility allows Americans to ignore the consequences of invading a country that had no weapons of mass destruction, had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no meaningful ties to al Qaeda (our invasion, of course, changed that).”

Additionally, by making Kyle into the poster boy of the Iraq War, we risk disregarding the thousands of others who were ready to give their lives to protect their country—who were 100 percent for the war.

The criticism towards Chris Kyle and the polarization of the film reveals the heart of what is the controversy: the Iraq War. In driving its own narrative about a veteran struggling with life outside of war, “American Sniper” fails to properly address an integral, if not defining part of its storytelling.