I finally got around to seeing American Sniper last weekend, and it certainly gave me a lot to think about. First and foremost, it was a grim reminder that since the beginning of recorded history, the most significant and consistent phenomenon about mankind is his penchant for war.
The greatest loss of life in America came in the Civil War, which killed nearly as many soldiers (and, by some accounts, more) than all other U.S. wars combined — between 620,000 and 750,000.
After that, we fought a lot of token wars, but it wasn’t until “the war to end all wars” that we got really serious about state-sponsored death. Unfortunately, World War I proved to be nothing more than a preview of the main attraction coming down the road — World War II, which ended with two atomic bombs being dropped on civilian populations.
Peace at last? Hardly. Construction on middleclass nirvana (commonly referred to as “Leavittown”) in Long Island, New York, had barely begun when North Korea’s organized crime family, led by Kim ll-sung (to be followed by son Kim Jong-Il and grandson Kim Jong-un), started the Korean War by invading South Korea. Today, sixty-five years later, the Kim Thugs are still firmly in control of the world’s largest concentration camp.
Next came Vietnam. I clearly remember that after we hightailed it out of that God-forsaken country, the popular thinking in our modern “civilized” world was that war was passé. That, of course, proved to be nothing more than wishful thinking with the advent of the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, the Iraq War, and, finally, the worldwide Islamic Jihad, not to mention many mini-skirmishes in between, such as Panama and Grenada.
Still, most of us are lucky, because we haven’t had to view war up close and personal. What struck me about American Sniper is that, regardless of one’s ideology, the movie does a superb job of taking you by the nape of the neck and shoving your face into the stench of war. Cliché as it may be, it’s a reality check that everyone this side of Watters’ World desperately needs. General Sherman said it all when he came up with “War is hell.”
That being the case, why in the world do we scurry from one bloody conflict to another? I believe the best explanation of why war is a permanent way of life for humankind is revealed in a couple of lines from American Sniper. In one scene, Chris Kyle says to a fellow combatant, “There’s evil here” (referring to Iraq). To which his comrade responds, “There’s evil everywhere.” Talk about saying a lot in a few words.
The fact is that the world is saturated with evil (whether you define evil in the biblical sense or simply as secular malevolence and wickedness), and that includes America. Most evil, of course, comes from those who control governments, but there are always plenty of Brown Shirts ready to click their heels, salute, and march into the pit of Hell at the behest of politicians who sport well-manicured nails and neatly pressed dress shirts.
Of course, it wouldn’t be possible were it not for the fact that most people shudder at the thought that others might believe they are “unpatriotic.” This weakness of the knees stems from the fact that they have absolutely no clue that patriotism and tyranny are linked at the hip.
As David Hume put it, “The heights of popularity and patriotism are still the beaten road to power and tyranny.” We’ve seen this phenomenon in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Castro’s Cuba, and, at one time or another, pretty much every country on earth.
John Kennedy’s famous “ask not” statement was a classic in this regard. I agree with the first part of JFK’s admonition, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” but freedom would have been better served had he reworded the second half to say something like, “and don’t allow politicians and patriots to intimidate you into believing that you are morally obliged to do anything the power holders in your country ask of you.”
Also, in connection with the constant drumbeat of patriotism, let us not forget that throughout history weapons manufacturers have profited handsomely from warfare, so they are always highly motivated to keep billions of taxpayer dollars flowing into their coffers. When so much money is at stake, lying, stealing, cheating — even murder — are all on the table. There’s a good reason why the aphorism “All is fair in love and war” has been around forever.
For all these reasons and more, American Sniper also brought to mind that all-too-true quote from Black Hawk Down (attributed at various times to Plato, Santayana, and others), “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
Which couples nicely with another somber line from Young Lions, an old war movie in which an idealistic young German officer, Lt. Christian Diestl (played by Marlon Brando), ponders a drunken comrade’s reflection on war, “After all the arms and legs have been blown off, it doesn’t matter, because nothing ever changes.” Again, a lot said in a very few words.
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to see American Sniper. It will remind you that the overriding reason why the living will never see the end of war is because there is, indeed, evil everywhere. It’s not so much that evil triumphs because good men do nothing. It’s the lethal combination of too much evil and too few good men.
On that cheery note, here’s a two-year homework assignment for you: Do you believe that new faces at the top of the Washington food chain in January, 2017 will change things?
- Don’t care
Hint: You won’t find the answer watching The Simpsons, The Apprentice, or The O’Reilly Factor.
Hint No. 2: Read up on history.