This post originally appeared on Acronym TV.
Listening to Garett Reppenhagen describe how he felt the first time he shot someone is like listening to an addict talk about their first time injecting heroin. “I leveled my M-4, put him in my iron sights, and took three shots. One of them hit him center mass and he went down in the middle of the road. I had this instant sense of satisfaction, overwhelming excitement and pride. It was really kind of an ecstatic feeling that I had.”
I had just seen the film American Sniper, the revisionist history popcorn propaganda piece of myth making and nationalistic war porn being sold to us by Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, and screenwriter Jason Hall anapolitical character study. I wanted to talk with an actual American Sniper, and Garett was generous enough to pick up the phone.
Garett has a lot in common with Chris Kyle. Both entered the military at a older age, both spent endless hours on rooftops, in windows or trash piles in Iraq “doing their job”, both were in Iraq in 2004 hunting al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and both spent their time after active duty trying to help veterans.
The similarities end there.
I’ll admit, listening to Garett talk about his first kill, taking place when he was ambushed and life presented him a clear choice: kill or be killed, I’m a touch envious. Life rarely offers us such moments of clarity. As haunted as Garett and others who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are because of moments like this one, Garett was describing a moment so simple and so heightened because of that simplicity.
“I was training for three years to be in the moment to do that, and I did it,” Garett tells me. “It was really an ecstatic feeling that I had. I remember looking at the other guys, seeing if they saw it, because I wanted somebody else to witness it.”
American Sniper Has Us All In Iron Sights
In 2004, while Garett was in that life or death firefight, the mundane questions life presented me with could easily throw me into existential despair or paralysis. What should we do for dinner? Where to go on summer vacation? Boxers or briefs? This paralysis is a common side effect of privilege: we get to sweat the small stuff when the big stuff is never in doubt. When faced with kill or be killed moment, one answers the former, or one is dead. It does not get any clearer than that. I fear that if I found myself in Garret’s 2004 shoes, I would have soiled my boxers and my briefs.
The only time Chris Kyle soiled himself was on purpose. He would not leave his position to answer natures call so he just kept his rifle trained and went to the bathroom in his pants. Such was his commitment to the God and Country. In a micro sense, it served him well. In a macro sense, however, our invasion and occupation of Iraq was not a “kill them or they will kill us” scenario. History has born that fact out, and that lack of context makes the film American Sniper a dangerous one.
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