Famed linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky took some time during a Cambridge, Massachusetts event hosted by The Baffler to discuss the film American Sniper and what its popularity says about the American people.
He began by reading a glowing review of the film in The New York Times that began 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.”
“What was the patriotic, pro-family film that so entranced everyday Americans?” Chomsky asked by way of response. “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.”
“In [American Sniper], he describes what the experience was like, so I’ll quote him. His first kill was a woman, who walked into the street with a grenade in her hand as the Marines attacked her village. Chris Kyle killed her with a single shot, and he explains how he felt about it.”
“‘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.'”
After admitting that he had not seen the film, only read numerous reviews, Chomsky noted that The New Yorker “said it was great, kept to the cinematic values, said it was well done — but there were others who found it appalling, including [Newsweek‘s] Jeff Stein, a former US intelligence officer who wrote a very critical review, keeping to the content.”
Stein recalled 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 continued, “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.”
“I’d advise you to read some of the transcripts with drone operators,” Chomsky said. “They’re harrowing — the guys who are sitting in front of computers in Las Vegas,” drawing a comparison to the manner in which Kyle dehumanized his targets.
Watch Noam Chomsky discuss American Sniper via WGBH below.