Rough Men Stand Ready
In 1970 my dad had an unlucky number. His unlucky number was pulled and the government made him go to the other side of the world to fight in a war. When he got back he was hated for doing something he’d never wanted to do in the first place. In the photo albums my dad is impossibly skinny and wears dark green shirts. When I was little he’d let me wear his war medals on my pretend army clothes and never minded if I lost one. That was how much my dad cared for his war.
My dad is one of those rare birds who gets more liberal with age. When he travels with his much younger work crew to do the physical labor of inspecting bridges he refuses to eat in restaurants that show Fox News because in his words “it’s all bullshit” and my dad has no time for bullshit. The younger men know this and they respect the strength of his convictions if not the convictions themselves. I give them credit for that. There are fake-patriots everywhere who would call him anti-American if they heard his views on George Bush and the Iraq War and lately, Chris Kyle. Their respect for my dad as a combat veteran does not impress them in this age of big-screen war lust.
Because right now Chris Kyle is our requisite American Hero, and heroism does not tolerate nuance. So we overlook the obvious lies: That he didn’t really join the military after the embassy bombings in 1998. That he didn’t really punch out Jesse Ventura for slandering a Navy Seal. That he never personally found chemical weapons. Lies sell way better because if you tell the truth about things people have to think harder. And people don't want to think harder.
I see posts all over Facebook that are almost Christ-like in their reverence of Chris Kyle, like he died for our sins as Americans. He didn't. He sadly died like thousands of regular Americans do every year, by a bullet fired from a gun that should never have been in the hands of a mentally unstable man. But to think about that would mean thinking about other things like gun control and the mentally ill, things that jingoistic patriots don't really like to think about.
You can be grateful for the service of those who put on the uniform and also be disgusted by the admitted racism of this man, his use of the word "savage" to describe both the Iraqis he was in combat against and the Iraqis he was there to "save." Maybe that sort of compartmentalization of hatred is necessary to do the specific job of killing strangers from really far away. I do not know. Whether it is true or not though I do not think it is something that must be celebrated. The fact of it is enough.
We live in a curious time where the most loudly patriotic are the same people who hate our president most. Where a decade of horrible foreign policy decisions can be instantly overwritten by People’s Sexiest Man Alive playing a live-action Call of Duty hero. 4,486 American soldiers died in Iraq and the lives of many thousands more were irrevocably altered. The real danger of a movie like American Sniper is that we’ll forget the truth. That we won’t take seriously what it means to send people off to war whether they volunteer for it or their number is called. Our desperate embrace of this new narrative is deeply disquieting. My dad would just call it bullshit.