'American Sniper' and war as entertainment

"American Sniper," which blew the doors off movie box offices last weekend, is either an attempt to repackage the Iraq War and resell it to Americans, or, as director Michael Moore has characterized it, the portrait of a coward who picks off women and children from the distant safety of his sniper's nest.

I can't really say, because I won't be seeing it.


I am hustling to see as many Academy Award-nominated movies as I can before the ceremony on Feb. 22. "Into the Woods," "The Imitation Game," "Selma," "Still Alice." But "American Sniper" is not on the list, despite its six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bradley Cooper.

That's because I have never been able to come to terms with contemporary wars as entertainment.

Students were murdered during an anti-war protest at Kent State in the spring of my freshman year in college, and my boyfriend had a draft lottery number of something like 11. I was a naive kid, but kids like me were dying in Vietnam or on college campuses. I was wide-eyed with uncomprehending horror.

I didn't have the nerve to see the reality of that war on the big screen, so I never saw "The Deer Hunter," "Apocalypse Now," "Coming Home" or "Born on the Fourth of July."

I was good for "Doctor Zhivago," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Catch 22" and "Casablanca" — movies about wars far in the past and removed from me. And though MASH was a thinly disguised television show about the Vietnam War, I pretended that it really was about Korea.

I am not a squeamish movie-goer. I got through "Pulp Fiction" because I knew it was an important movie. "American Sniper" is too, but I can't bring myself to see it.

Faithful readers know my son graduated from a military academy and did three tours in Afghanistan, and I suppose you could say that's why I can't see this movie, just as I couldn't see "Zero Dark Thirty," or "The Hurt Locker" or "Black Hawk Down." And you can't go see "Unbroken" if your personal hell would be your son in a POW camp.

I knew boys who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I knew some of their mothers. I could no more buy a tub of popcorn and watch the torture and the terror and the deaths of my son's contemporaries than I could show up at their memorial services in a clown suit. Michael Moore calling Chris Kyle, the real-life Navy SEAL portrayed by Mr. Cooper, a coward is that and more. What an arrogant fool he is.

These movies are important because they illustrate for ordinary Americans who had no sons or daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan just what was going on there while they were getting the family together for Sunday dinners and trips to the beach.

But forgive me if I can't be entertained by them. By that I don't mean laugh-out-loud entertained or even brilliant-performance entertained. What I mean is, I cannot kill a rainy Sunday afternoon sitting in a dark theater and watching a dramatized version of what happened to the sons of other mothers. It is as much a matter of respect as it is one of self-preservation.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't see "American Sniper" or any of the other Afghanistan and Iraq war movies. As a matter of fact, I think you owe it to the young men and women who did multiple tours in these war zones — or who died there — to see what they endured.

After all, it is only a movie.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on