“My lord duke,” said one of his attendants, “Is your grace not weary of exposing his dear life unneedfully? Why tarry we here?”
“Catesby,” returned the duke, “Here is the battle, not elsewhere. The rest are but feigned onslaughts. Here must we vanquish.”
The burning thighs that moguls create. The incomparable views of unending snow-covered ranges. The smell of chilled mountain air. The ticklish feel of snow flakes as they land on the back of my exposed neck. These memories sustained me while I was deployed in Iraq, now some ten years ago.
I hit the slopes once a year these days. I find more time to answer the Rocky Mountain’s call during the summer months.
“Anything to make sure these MOTHERFUCKERS don’t ruin OUR mountains!” I’d console myself, during the more searching moments of combat.
You civilians will never understand. You won’t. You’ll try and you’ll claim you’ve tried, but you won’t. The best you can do to show you’re listening is get over yourself. You didn’t fight, you didn’t sacrifice, so your words will never be as powerful. Deal with it.
We veterans, we made an investment when we raised our hand. That’s the best way I can try to explain to you why this whole gun control debate has me so fired up; why everything has me so fired up. Third bathroom, women on top, godless churches, only-teleprompter-reading presidents followed by incapable-of-reading presidents, Mohammedanism in the West, and every other thing making headlines these days.
I invested eight years of my life in the Constitution of the United States of America. I didn’t invest in my family. I didn’t invest in my country. I didn’t invest in my friends. I didn’t invest in my government. I certainly didn’t invest in some mortal leader. I invested in the highest principles of law, short of divine law, we occupants of earth have ever created. (To be clear, if you disagree with my lofty assessment of the document, it doesn’t mean your lesser assessment stands a chance of being right–it means you’re not listening. SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN!)
If you want to picture a crying baby in the midst of selfish temper-tantrum upon discovering someone took his ball, you probably wouldn’t be that far off from how I feel. Except there is no baby. There is no missing ball. And there are no tears.
Instead, there is one man–perhaps standing among millions–and the reality that baby boomers are so tough and so full of righteous indignation that they are backing scared high school students against the Constitution of the United States of America, giving these mourning teenagers the microphone and encouraging them to piss on everything that I fought for, everything–in fact the only thing–for which I invested eight years of my life.
And now you stop, you stop the conversation? When you run into someone who disagrees? Give me a break. You’re on the way out. At least you could admit that you left your trash.
“My lord duke,” said one of his attendants, “Is your grace not weary of exposing his dear life unneedfully? Why tarry we here?”
“Catesby,” returned the duke, “Here is the battle, not elsewhere. The rest are but feigned onslaughts. Here must we vanquish.”
I don’t fantasize anymore. When I was younger, I loved the way movies elicited some fantasy or other. After Sandlot I could almost see my foot aligned with the mound’s rubber at Wrigley. After Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves I could think of nothing but splitting an arrow with an arrow. And after Top Gun, well, I went on to become a military officer and pilot.
Fantasy no more.
Over the last two nights I finally watched Black Panther and also gave in to the hope that 12 Strong might get it right. These movies are both fantasy action films. They both include a healthy admixture of current events and fiction. And they both elate and inspire their fans. But, by my thinking, they, the resounding box office success of Black Panther especially, beg the question, “Can inspiration be dangerous?”
Black Panther‘s make-believe portion is what I struggle to understand. I do not identify with, neither am I inspired by, the notion that, “all along my people actually were capable and smart and possessed the technology to change the world for the better.” In fact, I find it troubling. More troubling is I think I’m alone in this because I am afraid to even type it.
Naturally, there are millions of reasons why the idea doesn’t inspire me, but I only want to highlight the one reason why it shouldn’t inspire anyone at all: unlike every other superhero movie, it is entirely based on pernicious historical revision. And given that truth depends on the events of history, we might consider the implications behind using historical revision as inspiration.
This takes us to 12 Strong. With 12 Strong we have a different type of fantasy, a different type of revision. The film begins by unnecessarily reminding the viewer of the, not just one, but many attacks that Bin Laden and friends perpetrated on the United States, the last of which being 9/11. Unlike Black Panther’s bright-color-clothed, ancestor worshiping character’s, this movie’s characters achieve depth only if in a kiddie pool. And while Thor’s men certainly declare that they are inspired by him, his greatest strength seems to be undecided. Is it that he can both speak Russian and ride a horse? Or that he got really–and I mean really, really–mad when he saw the news that fateful morning? (So mad that he kicked over his desk!)
Unlike Black Panther, 12 Strong does not actually revise history. It’s too cowardly to even attempt that. It surely is bad history, but Wakandan-like revision is nowhere in sight. For example, there is no discovery that the terrorists actually love the United States. Nor does some soldier wander into a mountain cave and discover that the United States’ actual forefathers (you know, the ones secretly sabotaging all the Taliban’s bad seed’s biggest plans) have kept alive an underground resistance within the same cave system wherein the bad tribes hid from shame all these centuries.
Nope. You won’t find any of that. Instead, 12 Strong merely works very hard to make sure that no one can say the military response to 9/11 was unjustified. (There’s even a scene where some Taliban leader shoots a burka-wearing woman who had been teaching little girls how to read–something which he believed Allah forbids. Yeah, that’s it. It was their illiteracy that we were pissed about.) By the way, the fact that any American thinks additional explanation for military response to 9/11 is necessary at all speaks louder than any graphic representation of barbaric beliefs ever could about whose side they’re on.
In the end, I guess I do fantasize. I fantasize about the day that we admit that our way of life is under attack every moment, from every angle. I fantasize about the day when we admit that it’s okay–in fact good–to have power and use it. I fantasize about the day when any one of us defends the Founding Fathers of the United States of America as champions of freedom. Do you hear me? I fantasize about these things.
The following is something I have not shared with very many people. But it has been on my mind of late and I just want to put it down on paper, so to speak.
Lately, as I spend more and more time with African-Americans, I have come to see that everyone hates them. With Denver having a booming African population, it has become clear that even, and sometimes especially, Africans hate them. Naturally, this triggers my desire to defend them. But why?
Why do I love African-Americans so much? They aren’t my culture. We have very different lifestyles. There are some similarities in worldview, but once we leave the Gospel and Word of God, there is often a terrific break. My daughter loves the church and her friends there, but as she gets older, it’s going to be more and more difficult for her to live in both the white and black worlds. Yet I persist. Why? Why? Why? Why?
I’ll tell you.
So there I was. Balad, Iraq, ca. 2008 AD. It was my third of three deployments. My squadron–the aircrew at least–was exclusively male. The lone life support troop was often female. Can you imagine it? She’s half-way around the world, all by herself. Not all by herself, of course. She’s surrounded by men in their most primal environment. At this point in my story, you can probably guess that she was African-American. And she was Christian. I noticed this right away. The LORD was her rock.
One evening, she was with us at our dinner table. She ate quietly. The conversation was loose and the jokes were filthy. One of the more senior officers couldn’t seem to avoid vulgarities. Some might say he was in rare form with this woman present. It was like he was a fly and dick jokes were the light. He’d tell a story, and then the next would be worse. I kept looking towards her and I could tell she was not happy. I just wanted him to give it a rest. He didn’t.
When we returned from dinner, this woman went back to where she worked. There, for at least ninety nights, with no days off, she diligently cleaned and prepared all of our helmets, survival radios, vests, and most importantly the night vision goggles. She was the definition of mission-essential. She did this all by herself–save for when one of us would grace her with some attempted pleasantry.
Something inside me would not let the dinner scene go unaddressed. So I got off the couch and took a moment to walk over to where she worked and struck up a conversation. I said, fully expecting an explosion of gratitude, “If I was more of a man, I would have put a stop to the conversation you just had to listen to at dinner.”
I remember her stony eyes more vividly than her words, but I do remember that with great resolve, she said, “Would you have?” Then she repeated it, “Would you have?”
What about you, reader? Do you possess enough penetration to see my mistake?
She didn’t want some empathetic friend. She didn’t want some “we’re all in this together” moment. She wanted righteousness. And the fact that I admitted that I knew it was wrong, made me more guilty, more unrighteous, than my boss.
This young woman had something most of us don’t recognize and are unable to do anything more than talk about if we do see. It’s something only got by experience. It’s something that’s forgettable–but that would be a tragedy.
The more you hate on her, the more you kill it. And for what?
I don’t know. Maybe that might help you understand why I love African-Americans and think you should too.
I couldn’t help but perk up when I heard my pastor mention “London” as he led us in prayer this morning. My folks are in London vacationing. I just figured he misspoke, but then he also mentioned Manchester. Having not checked the news since early yesterday, I inquired of my pew-mate. Then I cried. My parents are fine. But this scene from Cooper’s classic came to mind.
So long as their enemy and his victim continued in sight, the multitude remained motionless as beings charmed to the place by some power that was friendly to the Huron; but, the instant he disappeared, it became tossed and agitated by fierce and powerful passion. Uncas maintained his elevated stand, keeping his eyes on the form of Cora, until the colors of her dress were blended with the foliage of the forest; when he descended, and, moving silently through the throng, he disappeared in that lodge from which he had so recently issued. A few of the graver and more attentive warriors, who caught the gleams of anger that shot from the eyes of the young chief in passing, followed him to the place he had selected for his meditations. After which, Tamenund and Alice were removed, and the women and children were ordered to disperse. During the momentous hour that succeeded, the encampment resembled a hive of troubled bees, who only awaited the appearance and example of their leader to take some distant and momentous flight.
A young warrior at length issued from the lodge of Uncas; and, moving deliberately, with a sort of grave march, toward a dwarf pine that grew in the crevices of the rocky terrace, he tore the bark from its body, and then turned whence he came without speaking. He was soon followed by another, who stripped the sapling of its branches, leaving it a naked and blazed trunk. A third colored the post with stripes of a dark red paint; all which indications of a hostile design in the leaders of the nation were received by the men without in a gloomy and ominous silence. Finally, the Mohican himself reappeared, divested of all his attire, except his girdle and leggings, and with one–half of his fine features hid under a cloud of threatening black.
A tree which has been partially or entirely stripped of its bark is said, in the language of the country, to be “blazed.” The term is strictly English, for a horse is said to be blazed when it has a white mark.
Uncas moved with a slow and dignified tread toward the post, which he immediately commenced encircling with a measured step, not unlike an ancient dance, raising his voice, at the same time, in the wild and irregular chant of his war song. The notes were in the extremes of human sounds; being sometimes melancholy and exquisitely plaintive, even rivaling the melody of birds––and then, by sudden and startling transitions, causing the auditors to tremble by their depth and energy. The words were few and often repeated, proceeding gradually from a sort of invocation, or hymn, to the Deity, to an intimation of the warrior’s object, and terminating as they commenced with an acknowledgment of his own dependence on the Great Spirit. If it were possible to translate the comprehensive and melodious language in which he spoke, the ode might read something like the following: “Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! Thou art great, thou art good, thou art wise: Manitou! Manitou! Thou art just. “In the heavens, in the clouds, oh, I see Many spots––many dark, many red: In the heavens, oh, I see Many clouds. “In the woods, in the air, oh, I hear The whoop, the long yell, and the cry: In the woods, oh, I hear The loud whoop! “Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! I am weak––thou art strong; I am slow; Manitou! Manitou! Give me aid.”
At the end of what might be called each verse he made a pause, by raising a note louder and longer than common, that was peculiarly suited to the sentiment just expressed. The first close was solemn, and intended to convey the idea of veneration; the second descriptive, bordering on the alarming; and the third was the well–known and terrific war– whoop, which burst from the lips of the young warrior, like a combination of all the frightful sounds of battle. The last was like the first, humble and imploring. Three times did he repeat this song, and as often did he encircle the post in his dance.
At the close of the first turn, a grave and highly esteemed chief of the Lenape followed his example, singing words of his own, however, to music of a similar character. Warrior after warrior enlisted in the dance, until all of any renown and authority were numbered in its mazes. The spectacle now became wildly terrific; the fierce–looking and menacing visages of the chiefs receiving additional power from the appalling strains in which they mingled their guttural tones. Just then Uncas struck his tomahawk deep into the post, and raised his voice in a shout, which might be termed his own battle cry.
And these scriptures.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Pray for mercy. Preach Christ.
“That’s it. That’s my dream,” Ryan concluded. “What do you think it means?”
“So before your walk-off, World Series winning, grand slam home run landed on the other side of the wall, the baseball hit a naked Scarlett Johansson in the vagina?”
“I think it’s pretty clear that you want to have sex with Scarlett Johansson.”
Ryan chuckled and sheepishly added, “You’re probably right.”
“Here’s one for you. This dream is the most vivid dream I’ve ever dreamt. To me, that makes it the most important as well.”
“I’m all ears.”
“The setting was right out of the latest Rambo movie–the one in Burma. Do you remember it?”
“Well there was a part where the bad guys were torturing the civilians. They made them walk across this ankle-deep rice paddy pool of muddy water in the jungle. Picture a square pond thingy. The bad guys had thrown in a bunch of landmines and then were forcing the folks to cross it at gunpoint. It was kind of a variation of Russian roulette. The bad guys were all betting in the background.”
“I think I’m with ya.”
“Okay. So in my dream, the water was deeper, but only like thigh-deep, and roped off in lanes like a lap pool would be. There were no good guys or bad guys, just people. And there were bleachers on the sides, where everyone sat waiting for their turn. It was some sort of military training thing-”
“Wait. Did you have this dream while you were still in?”
“-No. This was after I got out. But not too much after.”
“Back to the pool. In my dream, there were no landmines. Instead, there were anacondas or boa constrictors or something. Whatever their name, they were huge snakes that wrap around their prey to kill it. What the people who were running the training wanted us to do was feel what it was like to be wrapped up by the snakes. But obviously they didn’t want us dead, so they would kill the snake before the snake killed us.”
“No thank you.”
“Right? Anyhow, what was supposed to happen was we would climb into a lane and start wading across to the other side. Then the snake attacks, and then, not a moment too soon, the staff jumps in to cut us free.”
“Well, here’s the kicker. A buddy from work was in the dream. He was also a veteran. He was sitting beside me on the bleacher, towel-drying off. He had already done it. I was waffling back and forth unable to decide whether I wanted to or not. I knew it would be probably the coolest man-card hole-punch ever to be able to say that I was wrapped up by a thirty foot long killer snake, but I’m not terribly fond of snakes as it is, nor did I really want to trust my life to the hope that other men would time their rescue just right. So I was trying to tell him that I didn’t want to do it. He began to kid me about being afraid and I got angry and serious and began to tell him how I was done with all this “prove myself” nonsense. But then, right as I was sure I was leaving, I began to think about the glory and nearly decided to just do it.”
“So what’d you do?”
“I don’t know. I woke up before I had made up my mind.”
You know that a movie is no good when it’s available for free in high definition on the internet one month before it is in theaters. I actually have a theory about these things. You can’t tell me that all the big movies, like Furious 7, have some special agreement within their production team to not leak a copy early to the internet and that the lesser movies aren’t able to form this sort of solidarity. So my theory is that certain movies, even ones with A-list-ers, are purposefully leaked so the studio or powers that be can get a feel, or more properly, brace themselves for the box office flop that they already fear they’ve produced. Niccol’s flick Good Kill starring Ethan Hawke is just such a movie.
If you haven’t heard of the film that isn’t due in theaters until May 15th, it’s essentially American Sniper, except that it’s about an USAF drone pilot instead of a Navy SEAL sniper. But all the familiar themes are there–estranged wife, alcohol abuse, PTSD, questioning the war, suspected adultery on all sides.
Naturally, I watched the film because it’s about something very close to home. When I worked shifts in the operations center overseas, I watched “predator-vision,” as they called it, and saw little black missiles zip from the top left of the screen onto the astonishingly unsuspecting bad guy. I heard knuckleheads cheer in a way that made me uncomfortable, though I was never certain which of us was expressing the proper sentiment after witnessing such things.
I’ll tell you what my favorite part of the movie was, the movie that no one should watch (it really is terrible and boring and filled with an agenda that is not hidden anywhere close to well enough to be powerful), my favorite part of the movie were the scenes where the camera lingered–perhaps unintentionally–on shots of the six or seven trailers that were essentially the cockpits of the unmanned aircraft. There was just something about the idea that in the middle of the desert in an unknown location, Air Force personnel are sitting inside tan double-wides and sniping terrorists seven thousand miles away. It’s difficult to articulate my feelings about it, but especially if the director lingered on purpose, I think those scenes are the “a picture’s worth a thousand words” that define the issue (or whatever we’re calling it.)
In the end, I don’t know why I watch these movies and I’m probably going to call it quits soon. Hollywood’s proven they can get insider information and make a realistic movie, but Good Kill is just another example that despite this access they have nothing valuable to say on the matter.
I am a very fortunate man–more than fortunate. Though I can’t assess that it is random luck. I attempt to live honestly and not just honestly, but nobly. And the historical record proves that that behavior tends to be noticed and supported. I wouldn’t change anything about how I live. Until today.
I’d like to point out that I think I told at least one reader that I didn’t want to watch this movie. I mean, I wanted to, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to watch it because I didn’t like how I felt after watching The Hurt Locker. I didn’t want to watch it because I knew he was going to open the door to the adjoining hotel room in Flight. I didn’t want to watch it because I have known for a long time that like Eastwood’s portrayal of Chris Kyle while he talks to his wife on the phone from the bar in America rather than in person upon arrival back in the US because he “needed a minute”, that like Kyle, when I got back I needed a minute. Unlike Kyle, I have never admitted it. Well, today I’m admitting it. I needed a minute. More than a minute, I needed a week it seems, and honestly, I guess I needed nearly eight years.
I don’t know if I experienced enough trauma to conclude that I have PTSD. And frankly, I don’t see how applying the word disorder to myself could be viewed as anything other than immature white whine. Also, I’m not sure what practical steps follow such an admission. But that’s just me.
I do know that I drink too much. I also know that “too much” sounds less harsh than to say I have a problem with alcohol, so let me try again. I have a problem with alcohol. I know because of how I defend my drinking habit if it’s called into question. I know because any story/movie that remotely comes close to pointing out how alcohol destroys some people makes me think I should probably cut back. I know because I feel like a liar that is about to get caught. I feel like this for too much of too many days as I press on in my new life and start to meet both ugly and beautiful smiling people that I do want to spend time with.
I know because when I saw Eastwood’s lazy film American Sniper I knew exactly how I would have made it better and in doing so made it speak to me. And if I know how to make a movie about coming-to-Jesus moments speak to me more clearly, it’s because I know I needed to be spoken to.
So I’m done drinking. And as I am forging ahead in my new life as a writer, it seemed appropriate to announce my decision via the blog. More because of the cold H- transferred to me than anything else, I haven’t had a drink since the uninspiring visit to the empty dance floor two weeks ago, and so I’m calling that the day I stopped. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do about this practically, but I am pretty sure the first step in problem solving is to recognize the problem. Done. I guess that leads me to a second mention of step two for the week: gather the data. Sounds fun.
In the end, I guess I need to thank Mr. Eastwood’s lazy-good-for-nothing-too-old-and-too-tired-to-make-a-good-movie guiding hand for pushing me to my breaking point. He’s just the best, no?
This isn’t going to be talked about much on here after today, but I mention it here because at the end of the day, the inescapable truth is a blog is for its writer, just like this commitment is for me.
Have a great weekend.
But, then, what do I know? I don’t have PTSD.
I don’t think I have PTSD. I just don’t. I didn’t see any crazy shit. I didn’t really hear any crazy shit. I just woke up, briefed, flew, debriefed, and went back to sleep. Honestly, that was it. Don’t ever go thinking you’re reading the words of a man who was in the mix. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any threat of danger, but no, I didn’t do or see anything that qualifies as traumatic.
But say after learning the ins-and-outs of what I did in Iraq you’ve convinced me otherwise. Say you brought in some nerdy looking dude with pleated khaki’s and unbreakable eye-contact. Say he pointed out that my life has kinda turned into a wreck since deploying. Say he pointed out that since leaving the military three years ago I have had and quit five jobs (I have a hard time dealing with what I perceive as disrespect), got divorced (totally unrelated to anything), am currently unemployed (though wrote and self-published a book and am half-way through my third and am not in debt, mom) and probably drink more than I should or, hell, just more than I ever did before deploying (but have only ever really regretted one decision I made while drinking). Say that he’s broken me down and we’re getting misty-eyed together. I’ll tell you what will dry my eyes real quick. Putting beautiful smiling people at the end of the tunnel. If all he can tell me is that by the time I find myself outside of the tunnel, by the time I have removed my hand from between the bright light and my now-adjusted eyes, if all he can tell me is that all along it was beautiful smiling people that make up the light, then I’ll open the door and kindly show him the way out. If there are any people who I’m confident do not have a clue about happiness, it’s beautiful smiling people.
You know what I want at the end of the tunnel? I want people to stop believing that anything on a screen–whether a laptop, a phone, a tablet, a movie screen, or the goddamn television set–has any value whatsoever in aiding veterans with PTSD. Want to know what does have value? Humans. Those real, fleshy people who have all the opportunity in the world to make every other decision than offer their help. Men like Diarmuid, Robert, and Ron. Real people who took real chances on a veteran, a veteran who doesn’t have PTSD.
Tomorrow – Or do I?
The movie ends with what appears to be the real footage of Chris Kyle’s funeral procession. Hundreds, if not thousands of well-wishers lined the highways. American flags almost outnumbered people, and a few cranes were even used to hang an enormous flag high against the skyline. I’d be lying if I said I cried because honestly, while I remember crying during the movie, I can’t remember if I cried at that specific moment. What I do know is that I was very, very sad–no different from you I’d guess.
But now it’s Wednesday and the immediate effects have worn off. So how do I feel about that funeral procession now, today? A little anecdote is necessary to explain it.
Judging by the fact that the show was cancelled after a single season, I’m pretty sure no one will remember an HBO show called John From Cincinnati. It came out after Deadwood ended and it had the same writer. Well I thought the show was just fantastic. One thing I learned from it was how to feel about the familiar, black POW/MIA flag. Up until that tv series I never wanted to look at the flag or think about it or even acknowledge its existence. I had no context for it. For whatever reason, I felt that I should be sad when I thought on it and its meaning, but I honestly didn’t feel sad or really anything when I saw it. And that embarrassed me. But then in that goofy little show there was a character who was a Vietnam veteran who showed me the way. The dude was pissed. Anger was his idea of the proper emotion to associate with the POW/MIA flag. The gist of his sentiment and why he proudly sported the flag was, “Our motherfucking government took these boys outta their home and lost them. That’s not right and needs to be fixed.”
With that in mind, how do I feel now about the procession, now after the emotions that the film stirred have calmed? I feel like only I understand what all those well-wishers wanted to communicate that day. I feel like no one else gets it. I feel like everyone who has seen Sniper and loves it, all they saw was some level of patriotism and/or patriotic support. But I know the truth. The truth that I know is that all those people who took time out of their day to line the highways did so because they wanted to communicate a solidarity that it wasn’t right for the government to put a man through what Kyle went through. Why would his leadership do that to him? Did they think it was fun? Did they like that their ‘boy’ was racking up their numbers? Did they want to be able to have a bullet on their performance report that said “rubbed shoulders with most lethal sniper in US military history?” Why would they keep sending him in? If there is one fact that I am certain of, and that I would like to believe people who are leaders are certain of, it’s that motivated individuals will drive themselves into the ground if left to their own devices. I learned this about myself through the most embarrassing experience of my life. Only a handful of people even know this prior to now. Want to know how lost I became as my wife and I sat alone in our town home for nearly three weeks after my first deployment, me being either drunk or hungover for the duration? I arrived at a place where I heard a nice sounding legal assistant on the other end of a phone hurriedly whisper, “You can’t ask that. You can’t ask what the punishment will be for going AWOL if you haven’t left.” A lifetime of leadership and decision making training was being put to use to gather all the data (step 2) so I could make an informed decision that going to prison would be better than going back.
I ramble a bit here to illustrate that while I was sad as I watched that scene of the movie Saturday night, today when I think about that scene I am angry.
Thursday – But, then, what do I know? I don’t have PTSD.
Friday – Or do I?
It’s no secret that we love people that are the best at something. We also respect military members tremendously, rightly so. So, as movie watchers, when we see that someone has made a movie about a military member who is the best at his craft, it is difficult to not be interested. (Anyone remember Top Gun?) My question is: Was Chris Kyle’s status as most lethal sniper in US military history relevant to the story Eastwood tells in American Sniper?
The story, remember, is about PTSD. Part of the reason I am taking an entire week to review this film is because some subject matter only ever has one reason to be put into a story. PTSD is one such topic. A movie about PTSD is made for only one reason. It is not made to enjoy watching, though if done well it might be enjoyable. It is not made to give non-veterans a glimpse of what veterans may or may not be going through after they return from deployed locations and/or combat, though if done well it might, in fact, provide a glimpse that they might not have otherwise gotten regarding why a loved one’s behaviors might be different than before. The reason someone tells a story about PTSD, especially in 2015 America, is because they want to help the surely tremendous number of military men and women who suffer, alone and quietly, as a result of their voluntary service.
So was his status relevant to the PTSD-centered story? The answer is yes and no.
Yes, I could admit that it was relevant if Eastwood’s angle was to show that “Look even the top sniper admitted he had PTSD and was able to find some peace after admitting it.” Yes, if Eastwood wanted to show that therefore there is hope for all because Kyle was able to begin to recover from it, then I can see his intentions were pure and he just didn’t manifest them very well.
But no, his status as top sniper was not relevant if he wanted to tell a story that would really help veterans. And here’s why. PTSD has a negative stigma. Hell, the word disorder is the D. Nobody wants to admit they have a disorder. What knucklehead academic even thought they were doing a good thing by terming a difficulty acquired from attempting to do good in the world a disorder? And of course everyone knows that the men and women who are actually around killing and death have experienced trauma (the T). But there are only a select few military members who are actually pulling triggers and having to duck on a regular basis. What about everyone else? What if they still experienced something that is causing their transition back to civilian life to be difficult? How anxious will they be to come forward when some Navy SEALs still might not be ready to admit they are having a hard time after they come home? How about pilots of the new remotely controlled aircraft that are pulling the trigger from half-way around the world and only seeing a black and white television image of a body going limp? Do you think they, when they think long and hard on it, actually believe they have anything in common with the macho dudes kicking in doors? Do you think they want to raise their hand when help is offered?
Here’s the truth that veterans don’t think to share with the world. We learn first-hand that every military member is capable of amazing feats. We know this because as we signed up we stereotyped and guessed who would do what when. But during our time in service someone proved our infinite wisdom wrong. Moreover, plenty of people never get the opportunity to demonstrate/discover what they hoped combat/service-before-self would teach them about themselves. By way of example, Chuck Yeager became an ace combat pilot in one day at age twenty-one. I didn’t even go to Iraq until I was twenty-five. And no enemy aircraft ever approached the slow helicopter I flew. Suffice it to say, I never did get my five aerial victories. (But I did log more combat NVG time than Yeager, which I am sure he loses sleep over.)
I have to believe that Chris Kyle admitted to someone at some time that he was just doing his job and while the status his circumstances bestowed up him was neat, he wouldn’t have cared if his tally put him last on some list. And I’ll even go one level further. If he really did care about helping vets like the story goes, (which I fully believe), I bet he’d trade every confirmed kill to help just one veteran.
In the end, we’re talking about telling a story to an audience who is short on hope. Seeing a finally smiling Bradley Cooper give a ride to the man who kills him, another afflicted veteran, just doesn’t turn the light on for me.
Wednesday – Never mind how I felt while I watched the funeral procession, how do I feel now?
Thursday – But, then, what do I know? I don’t have PTSD.
Friday – Or do I?