An Iraq War Veteran Explains How He Views 'American Sniper'

Bradley cooper american sniperKeith Bernstein/Warner Bros.Bradley Cooper in American Sniper.

Much has been written about the new war epic “American Sniper,” but many of the most talked-about perspectives have come from actors, politicians, and film critics who have an outsider’s perspective on war.

Iraq war veteran Paul Rieckhoff wrote about the controversy surrounding the film in Variety, explaining his views on the movie and how it reconciles with what he saw himself when he was an an infantry platoon leader in Baghdad.

Some critics have said the film overly glorifies Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, a man who claims to have 255 kills under his belt from his time in Iraq and wrote in his autobiography that he wishes he could have killed more people.

But Rieckhoff argues that the movie shows a “real and important perspective that must be explored and showcased in order to truly understand the broader American experience of the Iraq War.”

Bradley Cooper, who plays Kyle in the movie, has said something similar, telling the press that “American Sniper” is meant to be a character study, not a political statement on war.

This paragraph from Rieckhoff’s Variety column sums up his point best:

“American Sniper” does not, however, much address the overall complexity of the larger political issues surrounding the war — or the complexity of the Iraqi side of the experience. And that’s OK. Kyle, much like many I served with, and our president himself during most of the Iraq War, held a very black-and-white view of the conflict. We were right, they were wrong. That’s how they saw things. Eastwood and Cooper have both commented extensively that they looked to classic Hollywood Westerns to inspire this film. And they succeeded. In “American Sniper,” like in Chris Kyle and George Bush’s Iraq War, American troops wore the white hats, and Iraqi fighters wore the black ones. That was their war. That was their truth.

Indeed, Kyle wrote in his autobiography that he has a “strong sense of justice” and noted that he doesn’t “see too much grey.” Critics have argued that the grey areas are an important part of the conversation about the film and the war in general, but regardless, those grey areas didn’t seem to be a part of how Kyle saw the war in Iraq.

Rieckhoff also points out that not every Iraq veteran shares this viewpoint, noting that many people he served with saw a war “overflowing with spectrums of grey.”

“American Sniper” had a huge opening weekend at the box office and has been nominated for six Oscars, including best picture.

Kyle died in 2013 after being shot by a former Marine who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Cooper got Kyle’s blessing to make the movie shortly before he died.

Read Rieckhoff’s full column in Variety >

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