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American Sniper unflinchingly explores the unintended consequences of our complicated international entanglements

Bradley Cooper stars in ‘American Sniper,’ which has led Jim Kempton to look at ways Americans might handle an incursion onto native soil. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
Bradley Cooper stars in ‘American Sniper,’ which has led Jim Kempton to look at ways Americans might handle an incursion onto native soil. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

By Jim Kempton

Like many Americans, this month I attended our local theater to see American Sniper.

The splendid screenplay and acting aside, the film verifies the superb capability of America’s armed services personnel. From novice corporals, to knightly SEALS to outstanding officers, there may never have been a more magnificent military than ours.

Wavelengths by Jim Kempton
Wavelengths by Jim Kempton

Unmatched in might, superior in strategy, and overwhelming in firepower, the skill, courage and teamwork of our men in uniform is as impressively effective as the film itself. Eschewing jingoism, Eastwood’s tense, incisive direction relies on wrenching vignettes while resisting rigid characterizations.

Barbed with editorial ambivalence, Eastwood constructs a multitude of moral angles as if scanning a combat zone for targets. Similar to his two previous cinematic companion pieces about Iwo Jima, he offers nuanced observations on the thorny dilemmas of American warriors and their Iraqi counterparts. From the outset, the crisis confronting the characters in Sniper are focused and magnified like a telescopic rifle sight—sharp and unsparingly accurate. Within the first battle scene—horrific and indelible—a chilling possibility occurs: what if the roles were reversed?

A foreign army invading California and occupying southern Orange County may seem far-fetched but imagine the scenario: Foreign military vehicles control the roads. Enemy tanks rumble down the streets. Electricity has been cut off. Water supply is restricted to four hours a day. A spirited resistance from the tri-city citizenry has resulted in the enemy’s retaliatory destruction of all societal institutions, from the harbor to the pier. To curtail civilian defiance and the occupying army has seized homes for safe-house quarters, confiscated all weapons, and restricted any group assemblies. Apprehensive attempts to increase security beget constant home invasions often conducted in the middle of the night. Across the city, heavily armed troops move stealthily from house to house, breaking down front doors, yelling commands in a foreign language, and neutralizing anyone who makes an active attempt to physically resist. Inside our homes, men are thrown on the floor and strip-searched and personal belongings are torn apart as terrified women and children cry, cowering at gunpoint.

But Americans are a plucky and determined bunch. One day, as the dreaded Humvees and tanks clank down the street, one of the strong, unbowed California women tucks a loaded explosive into her Macy’s satchel and, with her 10-year-old son in toe, walks calmly out to face the uniformed foe. Nearing the patrol, she hands the device to her son who attempts to throw it at the soldiers. But before he can, a foreign sniper blows his head off. Mad with grief and hatred for these invaders of her home and her street, her city, the mother lunges forward grasping the ordinance herself as horrified neighbors gape, trembling from their windows. In mid-release, a second sniper salvo shatters her spine.

Who would we in America see as the heroes of this scenario—the San Clemente child and mother mowed down in their attempt to resist occupation—or the men with helmets and lethal weaponry? Would we explain to our own children that these superbly trained shooters were just doing their job—saving their brave comrades from being killed by our own irrational resistance and blind bitterness? Would we tell our wives that the slain mother was attempting an act of terror and should expect no less from the valiant visitors who wish only to bring peace and security to our city?

Seeking culpability, the fault cannot be pawned off on our combat troops. Caught in the crosshairs of constant peril, facing daily do or die decisions, our armed forces have acquitted themselves with all the dignity available given the task ordered.

Yet imagining the specter of that young boy and his mother standing defiantly before foreign tanks at Mission San Juan Capistrano or Park Semper Fi—would we Americans assign them to the axis of evil or place them in our pantheon of patriots? And would their memory inspire millions more of us to fight by any means necessary to defeat these invaders? It is a haunting question pugilistic politicians should seriously contemplate before sending our matchless heroes on a fool’s errand again.

Jim Kempton grew up on military bases in Guam, Okinawa, Japan and the Philippines, and believes our own history should be our guide. Redcoats in Boston, Mexicans at the Alamo and Confederates at Gettysburg encountered a Yankee citizenry, ferociously unwilling to submit to military invasion.


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About The Author Dana Point Times

comments (1)

  • Chris Kyle is a hero! Let me repeat, Chris Kyle is a hero. Perhaps it is necessary to remind the author of the above article that Chris Kyle was protecting OUR sons and daughters, that Americans are alive today because of the heroic deeds Chris Kyle performed. I find the author’s suggestion of moral equivalency in his depiction of a role reversal repugnant, and it is ironic because it is the very heroic efforts of men like Chris Kyle that make such a suggestion less likely.

    Islamic terrorists invading California wouldn’t need snipers because they would, as they do in Iraq and Syria, just massacre the people. Snipers like Chris minimize collateral damage with precise shooting but the terrorists not only don’t mind this damage, they inflict as much as they can. An American mother would NOT send her son out to die as portrayed in the movie. That, is NOT our culture, that is NOT western culture.

    People may legitimately question our reason for being in Afghanistan and Iraq, but once there, we must win and do so with the least amount of casualties to OUR soldiers. All this non-sense imagining we were the ones being invaded (we are being invaded, but instead of experiencing terrorist acts, our invaders get driver’s licenses) and trying to understand those who are the targets of our snipers, is a load of chicken hearted flap doodle. The only understanding of our enemy necessary is that which enhances our capacity to either kill or capture them.

    The rules of engagement (ROE) our troops must follow put them at an increased risk. Indeed, the largest single loss of life of Navy Seals, the loss of Deception 17, was because of the restrictions imposed by the ROE. Needless to say, our enemies are under no such rules nor would they be here in America should they gain the opportunity to invade us. Imagining our troops as the bad guys or attributing some notion of moral equivalency to the enemy may make the author feel righteous, but it makes me feel nauseous.

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