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Noam Chomsky had some choice words about the popularity of “American Sniper,” its glowing New York Times review, and what the worship of a movie about a cold-blooded killer says about the American people.
It’s not good.
During a Cambridge, Massachusetts event hosted by The Baffler, Chomsky first read the glowing recent review the New York Times gave the movie. That review begins inauspiciously by insulting, “America’s coastal intelligentsia, which has busied itself with chatter over little-seen art dramas while everyday Americans showed up en masse for a patriotic, pro-family picture which broke all attendance records in its opening days.”
So, Chomsky wonders aloud: “What was the patriotic, pro-family film that so entranced everyday Americans? It’s about the most deadly sniper in American history, a guy named Chris Kyle, who claims to have used his skills to have killed several hundred people in Iraq.”
Kyle’s first kill was a woman who apparently walked into the street with a grenade in her hand as the Marines attacked her village. Here’s how Kyle describes killing her with a single shot:
“‘I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting,’” Chomsky said, quoting Kyle. “‘Savage, despicable, evil — that’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy savages. There was really no other way to describe what we encountered there.’”
Chomsky also pointed out that The New Yorker loved the film, saying, “it was great, kept to the cinematic values, said it was well done.” On the other hand, Newsweek’s Jeff Stein, a former US intelligence officer, deferred, calling it appalling. In that review, Chomsky says, Stein remembered a visit he had made to a “clubhouse for snipers, where to quote him, ‘the barroom walls featured white-on-black Nazi SS insignia, and other Wehrmacht regalia. The Marine shooters clearly identified with the marksmen of the world’s most infamous killing machine, rather than regular troops.”
“Getting back to Chris Kyle,” Chomsky said, arriving at his larger point. “He regarded his first kill as a terrorist — this woman who walked in the street — but we can’t really attribute that to the mentality of a psychopathic killer, because we’re all tarred by the same brush insofar as we tolerate or keep silent about official policy.”
“Now, that [sniper] mentality helps explain why it’s so easy to ignore what is most clearly the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern history, if not ever — Obama’s global assassination campaign, the drone campaign, which officially is aimed at murdering people who are suspected of maybe someday planning to harm us.”
Chomsky recommends reading some of the transcripts with drone operators, calling them “harrowing” in their dehumanizing treatment of people who are targeted.
The implication is clear and chilling. Are we all, at least tacitly, American snipers?
Here’s Chomsky via WGBH below.