American Sniper Movie Review (and my own personal sentiments)

I couldn’t be more proud of all the accomplishments veterans and especially members of the SOF community have made during the past decade, both in and out of uniform. I’ve seen various spats between other vets working their way towards success in the public eye for books, movies, websites, podcasts, etc, and I can’t help but hang my head in shame a bit every time I see that.

As my former Green Beret Brother, close friend and 18D course classmate Klint Janulis (who now has a reality show on the BBC and is working towards his PhD at Oxford) loves to say, “a rising tide lifts all ships,” in respect to those of us who have formed alliances outside of our time in uniform to help each other with our pet projects.

I myself am part of a group called “The Military Media Mafia,” comprised of book publishers, magazine publishers, and a radio network. All of veterans, by veterans, and for, well, anybody who loves veterans and wants to hear what we have to say.

I do everything I can to support other veteran projects, and as such I found myself with a little free time one day last week, so my girlfriend and I decided to take ourselves to see “American Sniper.”

Before I get started I have to admit that I have not read the book, and as a veteran author I know that makes me a bad person! But, in all respect, I’ve just finished writing my second (“The Pact,” available next week through Tactical 16 publishing), and try to stay away from reading other military works while writing my own so as not to subconsciously plagiarize in any way, shape or form.

With that out of the way…I loved this movie. There are people who complain about the fact that the book was written by two ghostwriters, which took it a few steps away from Chris Kyle’s own words, and the screenplay was then written by another non-veteran Hollywood type, taking it another step away from reality. But all in all this movie captured things that no other war movie on the OIF/OEF conflicts ever have.

There are only two movies I’ve seen on our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan which have done those conflicts the justice of reality, and those films are Restrepo (an amazing documentary I suggest everyone see) and now American Sniper.

I loved Restrepo because it showed the reality of warfighters in Afghanistan and the real face of war that visiting politicians, generals, celebrities on USO tours and journalists who hide behind the Green Zone hardly ever see.

Living in the dirt, daily firefights/mortar/rocket attacks, living on whatever food you can scrounge and a shower every month or so. That was my Afghanistan, and while many who spent their time in Kabul, Bagram or Helmand never lived that, I know my Brothers and I sure did.

American Sniper shows another side of war that Restrepo touched on, but took it to a whole new level. Academics have pondered the causes and effects of PTSD since the Vietnam war, and while the books “On Killing” and “On Combat” by LtCol Dave Grossman (a must read for anyone who loves and wants to understand a combat veteran) were the first to address this in an academic sense, American Sniper was the first I’ve seen to truly address it in the public eye.

This movie portrayed the following in such great and vivid detail that I found myself shedding tears throughout the movie; thankfully we were all alone in the Town Center theatre at the matinee showing, and thankfully Natalie knows me well enough that she didn’t have to ask why. It wasn’t a particularly sad part of the movie, but several that were glaringly familiar to my life and experiences in war and at home.

Being in Special Operations, both the SEAL teams that Kyle was a part of and Operational Detachments-Alpha (ODA’s) that I was a part of have the privilege of going after extremely High Value Targets (HVT’s) while we are at war. A thing that separates us from other units is that we don’t just go get the bad guys; we study them, learn their patterns, the bad things they’ve done, and get inside of their heads.

In doing so we see the darkest depths of the human soul, and levels of depravity no man should ever have to know exists in the world. Kyle was criticized in the public eye from many fronts by calling the Iraqi’s “savages” multiple times, but those of us who have been in that community and on those missions know exactly what he was talking about.

Sometimes we get the bad guys, and for us it’s a happy ending. We target, find, locate and kill or capture people that do despicable things to other human beings, and the world is a safer place.

Other times, however, we spend all of that time preparing to get the bad guys, and as American Sniper showcases in his hunt for “the butcher” on his first tour, we return home without the satisfaction of introducing them to a prison cell or their maker.

The toll this takes on your psyche is difficult to describe, and as a parent it keeps you awake at night, knowing that your tour ended before you could get this evil human being, that he’s still out there, and that there is a chance, albeit a small one, that evil could come here to our shores and harm our families and countrymen.

Another aspect of war that is excellently showcased in this movie was that of the time between deployments. Kyle and I were both members of the “four deployments” club, and while his were all in Iraq, mine were hopping back and forth between Iraq and Afghanistan, so at least I had the pleasure of changes in scenery!

A part of multiple deployments that is difficult to describe and even harder to understand is the feeling that you don’t “belong” home. It defies all logic, but makes perfect sense to we combat veterans.

We know we’ll be miserable back in Iraq or Afghanistan, that the food is horrible, we’ll rarely eat, sleep or shower, and only get to talk to our loved ones via satellite phone or shoddy internet connection occasionally.

But despite all of those truths, we know that our place is there. We know that we are the Sheepdogs, and that it is our place in life to protect those who need our protection. As the Green Beret motto goes, “De Oppresso Liber: To Free the Oppressed.”

Although it is amazing to be back home, in the comfort of our bed, hopefully wrapped in the arms of loved ones, there is an emptiness in our souls knowing that other Americans are in harms way and we are sitting comfortably at home.

Veterans are respected by our country for our selfless service, but it is that very same selflessness that keeps us awake at night, feeling guilty for allowing ourselves a break from the horrors of war.

I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, but I felt that with all of the other people in the country weighing in, veterans or not, I had to give my two cents. This movie was extremely gratifying from an entertainment perspective, and extremely honest from a Special Forces combat veteran perspective.

I highly suggest that everyone see it, especially those of you who know and/or love a combat veteran. There are certain things they just can’t tell you, not because of security clearances, but because of our own walls, barriers, and unwillingness to bring our knowledge of the darkest depths of human depravity back to our own shores.

Go see this movie, enjoy it for the entertainment, but learn something about the veterans around you, what they’ve gone through, what they’re dealing with, and why sometimes they just need a little time to themselves after coming home.

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Russia, Dr. Strangelove and Deterrence Theory

             I’ve written about game theory on my blog before in the context of North Korea, but with the reports last week of a Russian TU-95 aircraft being intercepted in UK airspace carrying a nuclear payload, I think it may be a good idea to rehash the idea of deterrence theory to help explain what is going on here. The fact that most mainstream media outlets in the US aren’t covering this story in great (if any) detail is a bit alarming, but that’s another story entirely.

Deterrence theory is mainly attributed to Thomas Schelling, an American economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control at the School of Public Policy at University of Maryland, College Park. He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (shared with Robert Aumann) for “having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis”.

In his 1966 work “Arms and Influence,” Schelling introduced Deterrence Theory as a form of Game Theory, and brought the idea of mutually assured destruction into popular American thought. This theory has been argued and studied by numerous defense strategy think tanks, military scholars and heads of state and can get pretty complex, so I’ll dumb it down a bit for the sake of time and space.

Deterrence Theory is essentially the idea that if my enemy believes an invasion of my territory or hostile acts against my state will end in catastrophic losses or mutually assured destruction (due to my nuclear or strategic response capabilities), he won’t attack in the first place.

Some scholars have refuted this idea and called it nonsense, but since the nuclear proliferation began between the nuclear superpowers of the world, we haven’t had a major incursion. The upside of deterrence theory: the fact that both sides have nukes and immediate response times prevents any actual nuclear war, unless a real Dr. Strangelove arrives on the scene and doesn’t care that both sides perish.

The downside of deterrence theory: while it may prevent large scale, high intensity conflicts around the world, it increases the proxy wars and use of special, clandestine and covert operations against each other so that no country can be directly blamed for hostilities against the other. Think of how we fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, the proxy wars in Central and South America in the 1980’s, and the influx of foreign fighters we fought in Iraq in Afghanistan.

So now we turn back to Russia flying bombers armed with nuclear payloads over the English Channel last week. Intelligence officials in the UK claim they knew that bomber had a nuclear payload long before it entered UK airspace. The Norwegian listening post who picked up the crews communications confirming the payload claims the Russians know that post can hear everything they say internally while in UK airspace.

Yet they still went ahead, under the auspices of a training mission to hunt British Vanguard submarines (funny enough, the very submarine in the British fleet designed as a nuclear deterrent).

This, by very definition, is deterrence theory. With all of the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West lately, they want to send us a reminder that not only are they still a military superpower, but they still have the ability to “reach out and touch someone.”

Many Westerners (including Obama, proven in his televised debate of Mitt Romney in 2012) made the false assumptions that after the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union the threat of the Bear went away. Putin, a former KGB operative and highly intelligent and strategic military thinker just wants us to remember that, while the Bear may have taken a short nap, it is not in hibernation.

Perhaps the winter has ended, and the Bear is starting to get hungry again.

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