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Andersen: ‘Patriotic war porn’

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

That brief assessment of the hit movie “American Sniper” came to me last week in an email from a veteran who also was an American sniper.

“I spent nights in Iraq lying prone and looking through a 12-power sniper scope,” explained Garett Reppenhagen, who served as a cavalry scout sniper with the 1st Infantry Division in the U.S. Army on a combat tour in the Diyala Province, Iraq, in 2004.

Reppenhagen was a participant in a Huts for Vets trip I led in September in Aspen. When “American Sniper” came out, I asked for his take on it.

“Patriotic war porn,” was his immediate reply, followed by a link to a more detailed review he wrote.

During our hut trip together, Reppenhagen described being stationed in the desert — dropped off in the middle of nowhere by members of his unit — and left for as long as his mission required.

“You only see a limited view between the reticles,” he wrote later. “That’s why it’s necessary to keep both eyes open. This way, you have some ability to track targets and establish 360 degrees of awareness.”

Reppenhagen rotated with his spotter and an additional security-team member “to maintain vigilance and see the whole battlefield,” all while scrutinizing every target in his scope.

“In a way,” he sums up, “it’s an analogy for keeping the whole Iraq mission in perspective and fully understanding the experiences of the U.S. war fighters during Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Perspective, Reppenhagen said, is all-important in grasping the reality of the war in Iraq and understanding why “American Sniper” has been a box-office success.

“If you want to understand the war, the film is like peering into a sniper scope — it offers a very limited view,” he said.

Reppenhagen wrote that Navy Seal Chris Kyle viewed the occupation of Iraq as necessary to stop terrorists from coming to the mainland and attacking the U.S. Kyle saw the Iraqis as “savages,” Reppenhagen said, and he attacked any critical thought about the overall mission and the military’s ability to accomplish it.

“My unit had plenty of soldiers who thought like that,” Reppenhagen wrote. “When you are sacrificing so much, it’s tempting to believe so strongly in the ‘noble cause,’ a belief that gets hardened by the fatigue of multiple tours and whatever is going on at home. But viewing the war only through his eyes gives us too narrow a frame.

“During my combat tour I never saw the Iraqis as savages. They were a friendly culture who believed in hospitality, and were sometimes positive to a fault. The people are proud of their history, education system and national identity.

“I have listened to children share old-soul wisdom, and I have watched adults laugh and play with the naivete of schoolboys. I met some incredible Iraqis during and after my deployment, and it is shameful to know that the movie has furthered ignorance that might put them in danger.”

Today, Reppenhagen works as a regional director for Vet Voice Foundation, serving as a veterans’ advocate and social justice organizer. He is also part of Veterans Against the War, a group of veterans nationwide who challenge the value and costs of American involvement in Iraq.

Having suffered “moral damage” as a result of his service, Reppenhagen looks back on the missions he carried out and realizes that America compromised its moral authority in Iraq by exercising military force for dubious gains at enormous costs.

“As a sniper I was not usually the victim of a traumatic event, but the perpetrator of violence and death. My actions in combat would have been more acceptable to me if I could cloak myself in the belief that the whole mission was for a greater good. Instead, I watched as the purpose of the mission slowly unraveled.”

Patriotic war porn has strong appeal in a chicken-hawk nation where entertaining the masses with self-righteous spin serves to inflate box-office profits.

“But if you really want to be a patriotic American,” Reppenhagen suggested, “keep both eyes open and maintain 360 degrees of awareness. Don’t simply watch ‘American Sniper.’”

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at andersen@rof.net.


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