American Sniper, Groupthink, and Freedom From the Tribe

I remember when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ came out and there was a lot of controversy.  I felt like I had to see it, because it was a big part of the conversation of the country at the time.  I also didn’t want anyone to make up my mind for me. I wanted to be able to decide for myself if it was good or not.  When something takes off there is usually some kind of hive mind that takes over the better senses of a lot of people.  I didn’t like it.  Not because of the violence.  Mel Gibson’s equally violent Apocalypto is one of my favorite films.  I didn’t feel the film was anti-Semitic, as I felt like Gibson was using the crowd, although Jewish in the film, as a wider judgment of people in general.  I also didn’t mind seeing a religious film, even though I’m not religious.  I felt like in dwelling on the death of Jesus and how horribly he was tortured, the general message of Jesus, to love one another, was lost.  There is probably some poor soul in a third world shithole right now this minute that is being barbarized. There is nothing ennobling or unique about cruelty.

Right now American Sniper is taking off in box offices around the country.  The film could be great or it could be terrible.  I have no idea, not having seen it.  I remember there were many on the left, and my politics are left, that were up in arms about Zero Dark Thirty.  I wanted to see it to understand its place in the conversation and to see if there was validity to the claim that it was a pro-torture film.  Maybe I need to see it again, but I didn’t view that movie as pro-torture for reasons that would be too long to go into here.  (And I am one that definitely thinks that it was a disgrace that we tortured people and that torture is a warcrime.)

At some point I’ll see American Sniper and make up my own mind about it.  Even though I know Clint Eastwood is a moderate Republican, I also know that the movies he directs usually have a degree of complexity to them.  He doesn’t strike me as a propagandist.  If I have any problem with what is going on, which isn’t with the movie itself having not seen it, it is the idea that one can’t be critical of soldiers.  Soldiers are just people, same as all of us, and are capable of good and evil and everything in between.  Just because someone signs up for the armed forces doesn’t make them immune to criticism until the end of time.  This sounds like common sense to me, but reading certain comments in the press makes me think that is not so for everyone.  That being said soldiers should be judged differently.  In civilian life killing someone would be murder.  In war, it is part of the job description.  Therefore, what matters is not the act, but the manner and way in which those killings were carried out.  Were innocent people killed?  If so, was it on purpose or a legitimate accident in the fog of war?  Anyone that has read the slightest amount of history or seen any number of war movies knows this.  I would bet any amount of money that most soldiers would tell you the same thing.  So why is it that so many view a criticism of one soldier as an attack on all soldiers?  It’s a tribal thing.  And if freedom means anything it means freedom from the tribe.  Freedom from the kind of group think that is common in more primitive societies.


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