I know I’m way behind the curve on this, but I feel impelled to comment on American Sniper which I’ve only recently seen and is a film directed by Clint Eastwood. It deals with the experiences of a relatively ordinary American who becomes a hero in the Second Iraq War.
There’s a lot to be said about British and American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the best I’ve read about at least the latter is in this article by James Meek:
In terms of the way in which the ill-advised engagements in the Middle East have both diminished the belligerents (principally the UK and the US) and how rather than alleviate the very real threat from Muslim extremists these obscenely expensive adventures have made things rather worse, I really have nothing to add.
Though what I was most aware of at the screening was how the movie in a real sense ‘worked’. The audience of extremely ordinary people (rather like the American protagonists) were moved by the film and probably took due note of what the film had to say.
But what makes great art doesn’t necessarily make moral truth.
A recent article about Birth of a Nation in the Guardian illustrates that what makes a great and affecting movie doesn’t necessarily make the world a better place. There were many admirers of Griffith’s epic movie and few who are now feted for their humanity and moral goodness.
So, is this the case with American Sniper? Is it really a propaganda victory for a US-centric view of the world where the good guys who are patriotic and selfless in the name of Truth, Justice and the American Way must triumph against the bad guys with their un-American ways and their faith in Islam?
Despite Clint Eastwood’s support for the people who in America I would characterise as a real force for evil, as promulgated by Fox News, the Koch Empire and the GOP, I’m not sure he really is a modern-day DW Griffith: at least not as far as racism is concerned. However, is he nevertheless still an apologist for American adventurism?
This is difficult to answer. Since I despise the American right-wing and the very great harm it is doing the rest of the world, it would be easy for me to say that the tendency in the movie to focus on good guys vs. bad guys and its faith in the essential goodness of America necessarily makes this movie, at least, something which should be condemned. On the other hand, Clint Eastwood, despite being a card-carrying chair-talking Republican and undeniably a Conservative, is too much of an artist to be so one-dimensional and propagandist to present an un-ambivalent message.
The movie’s focus is not on the politics and causes of war, but rather on how a patriotic response leads to a moral crusade that, whether right or wrong, becomes an us against them conflict which doesn’t reflect well at all on the motives behind it but does also highlight individual heroism and sacrifice. It is possible to see this film not as a recruitment film for American exceptionalism but more a parable of how war creeps up on a man, shapes his life and then, when free from its distraction and excitement, leaves a man deflated, perhaps even defeated, and possibly no longer without purpose.
And where now the Middle East?
Well, instead of two bad guys (Sadam Hussein and the Taliban) we now have many more bad guys of which the Islamic Republic, currently top of the list, didn’t exist and could have existed twelve years ago, After huge costs both in monetary (over a trillion dollars) and human terms, we are now in a worse place than we were in before. A battle of good against bad, played as if in some weird computer game or super-hero blockbuster movie, has not ended at all but continues as a blight on all humanity but especially those who think the world really is as simple and easy to understand as do the Muslim fundamentalists and their absolutely essential partners the American right wing.