Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blood Simple

 Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more
--John Prine 

But what I know about is Texas,
an' down here... you're on your own 
--Blood Simple (1983) 

There are few things more fundamentally encouraging and stimulating
than seeing someone else die 
--Paths of Glory (1957)

Why our current fascination with snipers?
2013 brought us Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor" (which grossed three times its budget), and 2015 brings Clint Eastwood's film based on Chris Kyle's "American Sniper" released earlier this month (which has already outearned "Lone Survivor" in its first month of release.)

Since the inception of the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) the SEALs have undertaken a tremendous public relations campaign aimed at propagandizing the U.S. taxpayer into thinking their dollars have been well-spent. For sure, one group of capitalists did benefit handsomely from the propaganda spawned by Luttrell's Lone Survivor, Matt Bissonnette's No Easy Day and Kyle's American Sniper: the video gaming industry. It is unlikely these men considered if or how their missions were relevant to the concept of fighting terror, but their stories are being bled for all they are worth.

Does the impulse to view such films arise from our need to make meaning, or the need to not admit that men's lives are spent often too cavalierly, in the service of projects which reap little if any benefit? Is it an offshoot of the father archetype and the sniper is the Big Daddy who will protect you and keep you safe? Is a tit-for-tat on life's treadmill, an urge to escape the claustrophobic feeling that if they have you in their cross-hairs, at least you have someone on your side whose weapon is trained on them, too? A cosmic Mobius strip of death.

But the recent apotheosis of the sniper belies the fact that no soldier is irreplaceable, nor does any battlefield outcome rest on the scoped rifle of any one participant. Sniping is as old as the U.S. Army. One could even say characters like Robin Hood were snipers, as they were selective marksman. The current sniper movie genre probably began with the 1980's Tom Barringer films featuring modern-day Natty Bumpos -- James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales adopted for Hollywood.

Whether it is Enemy at the Gates or Saving Private Ryan in a theatre Army scenario, or Luttrells' Lone Survivor in a godforsaken valley somewhere in Afghanistan, Hollywood creates the aura that the sniper creates fear and terror in the enemy, but this is not military thinking.

The most common misconception is that a sniper can, by killing the leaders of an enemy unit, destroy the unit's will to resist. But if this were so, why not call in artillery and fire a "battery five" killing them all?

In fact, the Infantry's mission is clear and simple: to close with and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver. Nowhere does our mission entail fear or terror. We either shoot, move or communicate, or we don't. The idea of the mission being to create fear or terror is a myth.

American Sniper's director Clint Eastwood is that rare conservative Hollywood bird whose head space and timing seem to be a few degrees off judging by his surreal performance at the 2012 Republican convention. But that does not keep a patriot in his dotage from turning out a good cowboy film, even if it is in the Arabian desert and the punks are hajjis.

Eastwood cut his teeth on "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Heartbreak Ridge" and "Dirty Harry", finding his groove in romanticizing the unglamorous life of the executioner. Chris Kyle's book does not deviate from this hoo-ah approach. For him, his targets were "savages" and "terrorists" (stating in his book that he would like to kill everyone toting a Koran, a sentiment which Eastwood cannily decided to omit from his film.) Surely Kyle saw himself as an instrument of God's hand, every bit as much as those he shot saw him.

However, as Ranger has discussed before, terrorists do not attack hard targets, an example of which would be the U.S. military. The men Kyle was killing were insurgents, soldiers, militants or guerrillas -- take your pick -- but not terrorists. Of course, since the terrorist menace was the casus belli for the PWOT, the longest U.S. war, it pays to play the term for all it's worth.

Unfortunately, when your film's subject has matters so terribly confused, it is hard to make of him a hero archetype. In Chris Kyle's and Clint Eastwood's world, things are black and white, and do not admit of nuance, and it is he who has the fistful of dollars who calls the tune.

The American Sniper's claim to fame is his 165 confirmed (and possible 225) kills, but how did kills become a metric for achievement? The Vietnam War, despite its hopeful and often inflated body counts, showed that "body count" was a meaningless concept when Saigon fell.

Even had Kyle killed 250 insurgents -- did we win the war? The U.S. is no safer because of the violence men like Kyle visited upon the Iraqi nation, and possibly less so. It could be argued that Islamist State (ISIS/ISIL) is the godchild of the relentless violence wrought by the U.S. military.

Killing without a meaningful military objective is simple murder, whether issuing from Kyle's muzzle of an ISIS executioner's knife. Mr. Eastwood can wrap his movie in a flag and overlay bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace", but the map ain't the territory. 

When Kyle and his actions are apotheosized, it is akin to raising the entire PWOT © to some noble, nation-saving enterprise. Unfortunately, like most of the U.S.'s Counterinsurgency efforts, it was naught more than a bloody game of whack-a-mole. You can put lipstick on a pig ...

Is a film like American Sniper a mass catharsis for the viewing audience eating popcorn and drinking soda? Does it whip up the patriotic fervor that enables a nation to stay in the warfighting game for the long haul? Or is it just another way to shoot two hours of a life being wafted away on the fantasy of some good, clean red-white-and-blue fun?

Hollywood likes to call these fictions "biopics", which is like saying John Tesh's "infotainment" was the news. Viewers leave the theater feeling perhaps proud after the gorefest done in the name of guns, football, hunting, Bibles, beer and cowboys. Eastwood offers us up this heartland bingo and hopes the cards he has throen down will constitute a winning hand.

And in the parlance of the Awards that matter, it probably does. But really, it is just another bad movie based upon a juvenile view of life. The director would have done better to have stopped at his film, The Unforgiven, for that title explains the plight of the gunfighter the best.

America is not about killing people. If it is, then we have morphed into a tawdry version of the Marvel Superhero creation The Avengers.

--Jim and Lisa 

[cross-posted @ Rangeragainstwar.]

( In an interesting aside, American Sniper is poised to out-earn the previous highest-grossing U.S. release, 2012's The Avengers. Chris Kyle stated the he symbolically associated himself with The Avengers.)


  1. "In fact, the Infantry's mission is clear and simple: to close with and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver."

    This kind of BS gets me angry every time.

    I'll better just drop links in order to stay somewhat civil here:


  2. SO,
    i wore crossed rifles on my uniform for most of my service.
    i most assuredly remember the mission as stated by US Army doctrine.

  3. FM 3-21.8 Ch.1 says something similar to your statement, but it's still rubbish and nothing compels you to repeat rubbish, nor to make it the basis for your reasoning.

    You're now retired and allowed to use your own brain instead of trusting doctrinal rubbish.

  4. SO,
    just for the record-i have no idea why you are raggin' on my ass, nor do i have the slightest idea of what you are trying to say.

    1. I think Sven's point is that the that statement we in the U.S. Army often use: "...to close with and destroy the enemy..." isn't really a good description of what infantrymen actually do.

      For one thing, it kind of ignores the roles of the support arms. Infantry doesn't close with squat in open terrain without some sort of indirect fire support. Nor does it destroy anything if caught in the open by armor. The infantry works very differently in forests and jungles than it does in cities, and different in both than it works on broad open lands like steppes or deserts. Infantry in defense is very different than infantry in mobile warfare...and so on.

      So I think he's busting your balls for going with the boilerplate statement from the FM rather than going into the more complicated reality of what the grunts really DO in war and what he's tring to say is that the role of the infantry really IS that much more complicated...

  5. I am conflicted about the role of snipers in todays world.

    Personally, I think snipers are just a currently overused, over glamorized tool that is blown way beyond what it should be.
    Also, snipers were employed in the 17th century to harass and harry cannoneers...cause, lets be honest, a nest of 6lb'ers was far more dangerous to an enemy opponent on the field of battle than a battalion of snipers.
    Sorry, it's just the way it is.
    During WW1 snipers were employed to take out 1) Officers, 2) NCO's, and 3) F'ing Machine-gunner teams (again, lets face it, the f'ing machine guy completely changed the way wars were fought)
    During WWII snipers were employed by both sides to 1) Slow down fast advancing infantry, 2) targets of opportunity, 3) city warfare.

    And again, lets be honest, snipers were pretty dam good in the cities...Stalingrand was sniper central...along with the grenade which was a pretty handy bit of "aww-yeah." Pretty much if there was a city, there were snipers, and counter snipers.

    But what grates my gears, what really.../sigh...sets my teeth on edge, and I'm sorry Jim to be using such language in your thread, but there are too many fucktard American assholes who think war is a fucking game.


    But I personally think the current depiction/fanbois/groupie lovefest for snipers comes with the lone hero...but I like what you pointed out, and alluded to, Jim...no one man ever won a fucking war.

    As for Mr. Eastwood...he's getting what he wanted: Money. I hope he chokes on a roll of ones.


  6. Sheer,
    Sniping in Stalingrad and similar locales is a symptom of the theater army breaking down.
    if the line infy had ASR(available suppy rate) of arty rounds then snipers would be OVE. as you point out simply put arty on the target. This can't be done if you don't have the rounds to put out.
    In our pwot we have 8000$ martar gps fuzes that insure 1st round hits, so why worry about snipers? Just put the mortars on them, or better yet 155's/105's. the use of snipers indicates to me that we have yielded the initiative to the militants.I say this because every time that we are fighting them rifle to rifle , then we are playing a fools game.
    fwiw, i graduated from Benning sniper school in the early 80's.

    1. Calling in fires causes a delay of about one or two minutes till effect, and the target may be gone by then.
      Individuals inside of buildings cannot easily be targeted with indirect support fires.

      Finally, the sniper shot may be the least important thing. The fieldcraft and patience to get into a position of seeing, identifying and reporting without being detected is what's most useful.

      It's a very specialised niche job in ground forces, and I consider the sniper fanboyism and "warrior" talk as a self-delusion about the nature of warfare and as an expression of immaturity.
      The famous book-writing and movie hero snipers of late furthermore appear to have (or had) a serious attitude problem, looking down at civilians instead of recognizing they themselves have been petty and replaceable servants of political masters.

    2. Dunno about the situation in theatre, but when I was still in (up to 2005) we still had dumb joes, meaning that the PER/PED could still be in terms of meters, jim. Those slicky rounds are spendy as hell, and to get permission to shoot them required release from brigade level or above in some cases. Having one of your battalion recon sniper/scout teams in position to provide long-range H&I would seem to be quicker and less hassle.

      And Sven has a good point; snipers are a valuable force multiplier as much because of their greater range and field of view; if they're used right they provide damn useful real-time intel to the maneuver element and fire support element commanders.

      But that's not an "exciting film", so it doesn't get on camera...

  7. Snipers play a role in the current/recent conflicts where infy is doing a less traditional role; coin. Snipers provide overwatch while troops go door to door or interface with the indig.s and where fires are against the ROE due to risk of civilian casualties. Snipers also watch over routes where IED placement occurs. That sort of thing. So, definitely some value there. They may save some lives and turn the tide of a small unit engagement, but they're not going to win a war or anything.

    no one

  8. sheer.
    i must amend a statement.
    i graduated sniper school in the 73/74 time frame. not 80's as i incorrectly noted.

  9. jim

    Back to Prof Andrew Bacevich: "For Americans, war is a spectator sport". Can Joe and Jane identify with a squad, firing battery, platoon or FDC? Better, give them a lone individual, performing exquisite marksmanship and let them have their war porn. It's what the public wants. Not complex engagements that become muddied by the fog of battle. Just simple Lone Ranger exactly as they also fight on their Play Stations. Simplistic approach to war, which is why we got into this fucked up mess to begin with.

    Don't waste your time and emotional energy trying to come to grips with irrational behavior.

    1. The generals used to be the "heroes" since they took over from champions in early Greece.
      I suppose the track record of failure since Vietnam interrupted only by Schwarzkopf and the destruction of Petraeus' constructed image took this personification option away.

      Another "hero" type was typically the fighter pilot, but there haven't been any truly revered fighter pilot heroes after 1945. (Boyd is a special case and didn't play that role ever.)

    2. Sven- There were a fair number of "heroes" in the ranks during WWI and WWII. Alvin York, John Basilone and Audie Murphy quickly come to mind. However, you are correct in stating that heroic or inspiring leaders seem to have been in short supply thereafter. But then, there has also been a paucity of inspiring campaigns. Since WWII, other than Schwarzkopf, what general remained in an assignment long enough to bring it to fruition?

    3. let me correct the above a bit. Korea had some notable leaders.

  10. SO,
    Stormin' Norman sure didn't get the Army C/S position.
    So much for being a hero.
    yep, Sniper is an update of Gladiator.

  11. I think another thing that makes these sniper-fantasy war porn flicks so popular is that it gives the rubes the confirmation that their moron notioms that "war works like its supposed to" are right.

    The sniper is one of the few infantrymen who has a fairly high degree of control over his fight...at least a U.S. sniper whose enemies since CB have no indirect fire or countersniper team capabilities. So the marks...sorry, audience...gets to think that real life war is like their fantasies; rational, controllable, sane. So its really OK if they sit on their dead AES and send other people to kill and die. Because those guys are in control. If they get killed or maimed its just bad luck, or because they're not doing it right.

    The sniper flick lets them avoid the idea that war is usually a chaotic clusterfuck where you can "do it right" and still get killed for some dumbass reason or no reason at all. Which would mean that their credulous ignorance and gratuitous bloodlust are fucked up as a football bat. And nobody's go see THAT flick, right?

  12. Chief, that is what every vet I've ever talked too said, war is one massive clusterfuck. World War Two, massive clusterfuck. Korean War, massive clusterfuck. Vietnam War, massive clusterfuck, First Gulf War, massive clusterfuck, and now, shocking I say, completely shocking and would never have seen it coming, Afghanistan and Iraq, twin clusterfucks in stereo.

    I'm just glad people are coming around and realizing that war isn't a fun little past time to cheer like a football game...it has taken some time to get to this point, but I feel a concerted effort to reel in Governments foreign shenanigans seems to be growing. Now to get it from sentiment to actual letter writing to the congress-critters is the next step.


    1. I wish I was as optimistic as you are, Sheer. I see and hear and read the comments most viewers are making about this flick and they seem as war-porn-y as ever. The Congressional GOP seems to be doing their level best to gin up another fight in the Middle East, whether it's against IS/Daesh or Syria or Iran, and I don't get the sense that the public really gives a rat's ass.

      No, I'm afraid that wars and lechery will always hold fashion...

    2. Dammit, chief, don't take my hope away!
      Let me have this...this...moment!
      My sons are on board, and I even got one of my die-hard Republican friends to actually admit..ADMIT, Chief, he admitted that this whole fiasco was ill thought out.
      Now granted, that isn't the magna carta, and I'll heartily confess that my anecdotal evidence is a far cry from a national movement. But there is at least hope that not everyone who checks the box: Republican is all for more war.

      As for this...movie.../sigh...I haven't watched a modern war movie...in fact, the last one was Saving Private Ryan...and that one left a bad taste in my mouth. Now, I just watch Vikings...just because it tickles me to see how much is actual history, and how much bullshit can be piled into one mound.

      It's fascinating...but I will confess a certain yen for the various Marvell movies...something, something about hero movies...well, okay, and the women are fetching to behold as well.

      Things are going to get better...not so much as to "it's so bad the only left is improvement!" but rather, the lie our government and the two political parties have been living, and feeding us is unsustainable.

      watch, chief, and embrace hope as peace will come, and there will be a pile of justice dished out for a lot of people who are in desperate need of facing.


  13. I am not a fan of Michael Moore’s comment on sniper cowardice. He is probably close to my age and perhaps remembers the war movies of the 40s and 50s where the snipers were always enemy and always sneaky, underhanded and laying in wait. Or was he thinking of high school sniping incidents and our gun culture? In any case his remark is counterproductive as there is a huge backlash. Even the western movies of the 40s and 50s depicted ‘ambush-by-rifle’ as done only by villains, not heroes. I have been out of touch and driving and doing some light hiking in southern Utah where the terrain (slot canyons, hoodoos, hogback ridges) reminded me of those old classic westerns.

    But long before that, sharpshooters were revered in American literature and media. James Fenimore Cooper lionized Hawkeye (aka ’la longue carabine’ by his enemies) in the five Leatherstocking novels. On the non-fiction side Daniel Morgan’s riflemen during our War of Independence got a lot of hero worship for sniping at Brit officers; and so did Sergeant York in WW1 for taking out machine gun nests with his Springfield ‘03. So maybe it will swing the other way in the future.

    I suspect Al is right that theatergoers are looking for ’individual’ heroes.. The movie is breaking box office records all over the country. They won’t get my money. But one good thing may come out of it. Maybe Hollywood will note the big buck returns and give up on the vampire/zombie/supernatural genre. Probably not. That is too much to hope for.

    Kyle’s claimed 150 kills are peanuts compared to the Red Army female snipers in WW-2. The Soviets had 2000 plus female snipers that had well over 8000 kills plus who knows how many Wehrmacht and allies were WIA by these women. Here are a few: mankillers Ludmilla PavlichenkoRoza Shanina – and 17 year old Claudia Kalugina. Hollywood should make a movie of their war. The Soviets believed that physiologically women made better snipers than males. But they used males also: Basil Kvachantiradze must have the all time record with 534 kills and never went to a sniper school.

    1. The problem is that they're Russian, fighting for Russia, and they're women.

      Not very fertile ground for Hollywood which wants their women in the kitchen, kvetching over whether or not her man is cheating on her, all the while making a mediocre sandwich that has the appeal of Moose-turd pie, haunted with memories of her mother tormenting her about how small her hips are for carrying children.

      In short, America likes their hero's tormented between planting a well placed boot in the grill of a baddie while pining over his wife who is worried sick about her overly courageous husband who would throw his body in front of the sickening portrayed Sr. Officer who reminds everyone of a Nazi thug to take the RPG round that destiny had delivered in Hi Def Slow-Mo.

      Anyway, we love our war-porn.


  14. Here is a link to Claudia Kalugina. A memoir published long after the war. Interesting that the girl snipers were also used as stretcher bearers during offensives.

    Roza Shanina has a page on wikipedia.