In my least favorite film of all time, American Sniper, the titular American Sniper is but a small lad and having just survived a particularly egregious bullying at school–where our hero was forced to break the rules and protect some innocents from a bully; he stands with his brother in a judgment of his father. Quoth his father, “There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. Then you’ve got predators who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.”
Our hero, Chris Kyle the American Sniper, goes on to be the best sniper ever in the military according to the film. He doesn’t make bad decisions. Anything that seems remotely bad, this Sheepdog represses. And I think this is something we forget about our soldiers. That they are trained from day 1 (maybe even before their military careers) to begin Repressing those things that might interfere with the mission.
My favorite element of the Rivers piece was his willingness to deal with the fact that Shell-Shock (PTSD) is an issue that might not be worth healing. But something that stood out to me, and perhaps I am reading into, is when he writes, “The term [repression] is currently used in two senses which should be carefully distinguished from one another. It is used for the process whereby a person endeavors to thrust out of his memory some part of his mental content, and it is also used for the state which ensues when, either through this process or by some other means, part of the mental content has become inaccessible to manifest consciousness” (194). He goes on to write, “The training of a soldier is designed to adapt him to act calmly and methodically in the presence of events naturally calculated to arouse disturbing emotions” (194). Here, Rivers hits precisely on an issue often overlooked with soldiers. Masculinity–true men must find a way to mash it all down. All those pesky emotions that make us afraid. Or as my favorite philosopher, Bill Burr, says, “Deny your emotions and act like you have the answers.”
So going back to the American Sniper–his book, his movie, it does not matter–this is a man who touted all the answers. When he shot foreigners, he was always right. Imagine that. Going to another country, putting the sites of a sniper rifle on another human being, and pulling the trigger. And you’re always right. That person was evil. That’s how soldiers are trained, though. That’s repression. In the case of the American Sniper? Many things are being repressed. Common sense, for example.
Anyway, I feel like I am about to really go off on soldiers, the American flag, etc., and I figure I can save that for another day. I feel like Rivers cared about the soldiers, wanted to help them, and this reading, in particular, was difficult for me given how little things have changed since he tried to instigate change. On the surface, we PTSD differently, but ultimately, the game is the same: get the bodies back to the front. The best way to be a good patriot is to be a dead/maimed/psychologically damaged one.