Mar 09

(We still have a ton of thoughts on Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

If you want to know how silly the entire “sheep, sheepdog and wolves” analogy is, just read the following paragraph [emphasis mine].

“The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.”

As Michael C wrote last Thursday, Grossman and his followers very condescendingly refer to the “sheep” as “naive”. As Grossman writes, “We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world.”

But you could easily reverse that sentiment to apply to Grossman: “We know that the sheepdogs live in denial. They do not want to believe that there is evil in themselves.” In other words, does Grossman really believe that law enforcement and the military don’t protect their own? He doesn’t write “should be punished and removed”. He wrote “will be punished and removed”.

Really? Bad sheepdogs are always punished?

Both parts of Grossman’s assertion are wrong. First, sheepdogs--either law enforcement or military--regularly harm the sheep. I mean, we wrote the Slate article because of the number of unjustified police shootings that occurred last year. To be fair, they occur every year; the country finally noticed it last year. It doesn’t help that the federal government doesn’t keep a database for police shootings.

Second, and maybe more important, law enforcement and the military have a long history of not policing themselves. Even if you think Michael Brown’s death was justified, Eric Garner was killed using an choke hold that violated NYPD policies. And no one was held responsible. According to a report by the NYPD Inspector General, police officers are rarely punished for such chokeholds.

Banned chokeholds are just one example. Police misconduct then denials or cover-ups are a historical part of policing. Some examples…

1. The police officers who beat Rodney King wrote fraudulent reports that he had resisted arrest. Video evidence proved them wrong...and they still weren’t convicted. (At one point, a judge told prosecutors that "You can trust me.")

2. A recent New Yorker article provides another example of a police department that refused to evict multiple wolves. In Albuquerque, New Mexico the police department has a shockingly high number of fatal shootings. But they always circle the wagons to defend these wolves in their midsts, usually by slandering the victims:

Grover, the former sergeant, said that when officers shot someone the department typically ordered a “red file” on the deceased. “The special-investigations division did a complete background on the person and came up with any intelligence to identify that, you know, twenty years ago, maybe, the person got tagged for shoplifting,” he said. “Then they gave the red file to the chief.”

Instead of investigating the police, they investigated the victims, smearing their character. That’s actually the exact opposite of what Grossman believes happens. (Unless the entire Albuquerque police department has been taken over by “wolves”.)

3. While we were writing and editing this post, This American Life did an episode on the relationship between police and African-Americans. A quote from that episode, after describing an incident where Milwaukee police officers (off-duty and on-duty police officers) beat and tortured someone:

“Eventually, seven officers were fired. Three were sentenced to over fifteen years in prison. But before that, officers closed ranks. No one talked. No one knew anything. It showed the city how cops would turn the other way and protect their own, even if they saw something truly terrible.”

Think about it this way. No one has to define what “protecting their own” means. Everyone knows that concept.

4. Part two of the This American Life episode on law enforcement opened with another example of police misconduct--Miami City police officers arrested one person over 60 times for trespassing...at his job--and ended with the not-shocking revelation that multiple police officers who harassed this man were still working. (As a side benefit, this episode also covered the material in our original piece about implicit bias in the decision-making of police officers, and actually made it sound worse than what we originally wrote.)

5. Or take some of the most defenseless lambs: the wives of police officers. It turns out that police (sheepdogs) have higher rates of domestic violence than the general population (the sheep). Are those police “punished and removed” as Grossman naively believes? Nope. Turns out that police officers are protected by their precincts. (Check out the great work by The Atlantic, The New York Times and FrontLine/ProPublica.)

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, just a few examples I found following the news recently reading about this topic.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be starting a series on why I (Eric C) don’t trust the military or national security establishment, pointing out examples of the military deceiving the public for their own self-interest. In short, I couldn’t write an entire four or five post series like that if there weren’t dozens of examples for me to find.

Because I’m not naive.

Mar 05

(We have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

Many conservatives were introduced to Colonel Grossman’s essay, “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs” through a chain email circulated on the conservative email-o-sphere. Allegedly addressed to the President of the University of Washington student body, a retired Lt. General Dula who (Again, allegedly. We can’t confirm the details.) wrote this email:

“Miss Edwards, I read of your ‘student activity’ regarding the proposed memorial to Col Greg Boyington, USMC and a Medal of Honor winner. I suspect you will receive a bellyful of angry e-mails from conservative folks like me. You may be too young to appreciate fully the sacrifices of generations of servicemen and servicewomen on whose shoulders you and your fellow students stand. I forgive you for the untutored ways of youth and your naïveté. It may be that you are, simply, a sheep. There’s no dishonor in being a sheep--as long as you know and accept what you are.”

“Please take a couple of minutes to read the following. And be grateful for the thousands--millions--of American sheepdogs who permit you the freedom to express even bad ideas.”

He then inserts Grossman’s sheep dog essay wholesale.

This email is insulting.

First, Grossman and Dula insult “sheep”, calling them all variety of names. Together they label sheep variously “naive”, “untutored”, ungrateful, unable to survive adversity, and (most insultingly for me) “living in denial”. As Grossman writes:

We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world.”

This leads into the second insult: Dula and Grossman don’t realize they’re insulting people. Dula and Grossman both write, “There’s no dishonor in being a sheep.” Grossman says, “I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep.” Paraphrasing Grossman and the above email, basically say, “Hey, you’re a sheep and I don’t mean that insultingly. You’re a naive, ungrateful coward who lives in denial if you don’t support gun rights, but no offense. Seriously, no offense.”

So the essay allows people to insult their opponents, but claim they aren’t. Two insults in one.

But the real question behind the insults is: who is really living in denial?

All the evidence in foreign policy says that Americans live not just in the safest times in American history, but the safest times in the history of the world. That’s right. We just fought the safest two wars in American history. You are more likely to win the lottery than die of terrorism in the U.S. And the crime rate has plummeted. If you think evil is expanding its reach in the world, you’re living in denial.

And all the evidence says guns kill people. The myth that good guys with guns kill bad guys with guns is just that, a myth. The presence of firearms increases the odds of their use in their own homes, but that’s what the data says. Oh, and guns are most often used in suicides. Again, that’s what the evidence says.   

So, in summation, people who don’t carry guns are not “untutored” nor “naive”. The so-called sheep aren’t living in denial. To say otherwise is insulting.

Mar 02

More updates, this time on the state of America’s security state.

Militarization of Police Forces

According to Sarah Stillman at The New Yorker, before 1990, law enforcement conducted at most, “several hundred paramilitary-style drug” raids each year. Now, across America, police forces routinely conduct tens of thousands of such raids. (H/T to the now retired Andrew Sullivan.) We’ve been following this trend since our posts a couple of years ago comparing this to Robocop’s prediction of militarized future to the present.

And now the police have military-style equipment. Partly in response to the events of Ferguson, the Obama administration researched and released a report on police militarization that came in the beginning of December last year. Some critics pointed out that only 4% of the gear is actual combat equipment. Reason debates that point:

“But the report does also show how big that four percent is in real numbers:

“‘To date, approximately 460,000 pieces of controlled property are currently in the possession of LEAs. Examples of controlled property provided include: 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 high mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs), 617 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and 616 aircraft.’”

“Mine resistant vehicles?” you ask. Yeah, like this one. I mean, listen, I don’t like Ohio State, but I’m sure their fans aren’t planting IEDs around their own stadium. (Maybe the Michigan fans are terrorists?)

Violent Crime is Down, But...

Unfortunately, our police forces don’t need military equipment. The job is safer than it has been since the 1960s (and the increase in heavy weaponry and equipment had little to do with it). It turns out that assaults on police officers have just plummeted overall. Articles in the Huffington Post and The Atlantic both push back a narrative of a “war on cops” that some media outlets have pushed.

As multiple, multiple media outlets have covered post-Ferguson, violent crime is at its lowest level in decades. Ironically--and the records are incomplete, because the government doesn’t track all police shootings--civilian deaths by police are on the rise.

Sigh.

Our Awesomely Privatized Prison System

Why does America have such a large prison population compared to the rest of the world? One reason is that we’ve privatized prisons. Fareed Zakaria, in his “What in the World?” segment, explains the problem:

“Believe it or not, many of our prisons are run by private companies that then lobby state legislatures massively for bigger prisons, larger budgets, and of course more prisoners.

“According to the non-profit Justice Policy Institute, the two largest private prison companies in America together generate revenues of $3 billion a year – paid by taxpayers, of course. These private prison companies also happen to be major donors to a number of state campaigns, lobbying for more resources.”

We’ve haven’t touched on the deplorable state of our prisons before. (Consider it one of many issues like gun violence, war films, and COIN board games, which we’d write about more if we had more time.) But we have written about privatizing law enforcement, which we absolutely oppose.

Also, Leon Neyfakh, over at Slate, offers a new theory for the America’s developed-country-leading incarceration rate: overly aggressive prosecutors. Stay tuned for more on this.

A Good Plan for the Department of Homeland Security: Shut it Down!

We’ve read two persuasive articles on this in the last two years. This article in Bloomberg Business, by Charles Kenny of the New America Foundation, advocates for shutting down the entire Department of Homeland Security as an over-reaction to 9/11 and the terrorism threat. This week, with Republicans threatening DHS funding, we agree with Dara Lind at Vox to just let it go. We still hold the hope that libertarian-minded Republicans will one day consider national security spending as wasteful as other government spending.

Al Qaeda FBI Continues to Lead All Al Qaeda Branches in Planned Attacks

Journalist Trevor Aaronson (we’ve written about his work here) has an entire book, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism, on how the FBI plans, launches and captures suspected terrorists. While these stings bring us no closer to stopping actual Al Qaeda terrorists, they do waste the FBI’s time convincing people to launch “terror attacks”. The last supposed domestic terrorist was an exemplar of FBI agents encouraging, motivating, funding and training an otherwise harmless person.

Feb 23

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2015 Oscars and American Sniper, please click here.)

As I wrote last week, we didn’t have time to fully debunk either the facts or ideology of Chris Kyle’s American Sniper. Fortunately for us--and the country--many other writers did. (Some of them got attacked for it.) Today, we’d like to share the best of those links.

A note first. This post is in no way exhaustive of the people criticizing American Sniper and/or Chris Kyle, which is a good thing; unlike, say, Lone Survivor, where it really seems like On Violence and Ed Darack were the only people who addressed the facts and ideology of the book and film.

(And before someone points out that we shouldn’t criticize Kyle’s political beliefs because he passed away, well, that’s illogical. Many people criticize the writings of people who passed away. And he wrote the book and profited from it. Fair game. If you don’t want criticism, don’t write books.)

First, two particular articles stand out for addressing the problematic portions of American Sniper before the movie came out and setting the stage (by finding the most egregious quotes in Chris Kyle’s memoir) for later criticisms of American Sniper. Laura Miller, for Salon, wrote “Death of an American Sniper”, the first article I could find that points out the problematic politics of the memoir, including Kyle’s hate of the Iraqis he was there to help. Next up, Isaac Chotiner, for The New Republic, wrote “If Chris Kyle Had Been a Muslim, We’d Call Him an Extremist”. The title sort of says it all.

A few of our favorite writers--and friends of the blog--chimed in with some of our favorite takes:

- Brian Turner (our review of his poetry here) wrote “I Served in Iraq, and American Sniper Gets It Right. But It’s Still Not the War Film We Need.” for Vulture. He points out that a great Iraq war film has yet to be made, because it won’t focus on the plight of the Iraqis.

- Alex Horton, for the Guardian, points out that we don’t need another war film glorifying special operators.

- Zach Beauchamp really takes the film to task in “American Sniper is a dishonest whitewash of the Iraq war” pointing out the numerous errors in the film. (Also check out this Vox piece on the film and the sheepdog analogy.)

- John Horgan has a great take on the science of war and American Sniper, linking this film to a discussion of the anthropology of war. (We’re huge Horgan fans.) Also, this post has an insane comments section.

- The folks at Kings of War connect American Sniper to force protection. This post actually asks the question I wished more people asked, did Chris Kyle’s kills save American lives?

- And Don Gomez at Carrying the Gun chimed in.

After the movie came out last month, a number of writers then tackled the book and film’s politics. Again, we love seeing this sort of response, with many (liberal) writers addressing a problematically popular film based on a book steeped in right-wing politics:

 

- Lindy West, for The Guardian, really went after Chris Kyle in “The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?

- Dennis Jett, in another The New Republic article, wrote “The Real 'American Sniper' Had No Remorse About the Iraqis He Killed”, which is both true and sad.

- Finally, Matt Taibbi really lets loose on the book in “American Sniper is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize”. In particular, he identifies a passage in the memoir where Kyle hints that he shot innocent people to up his kill count.

- And you can find more (albeit very, very liberal) political takes in Salon’s “Our “American Sniper” sickness: How American exceptionalism wrought Guantanamo”, another Salon piece “American Sniper’s” biggest lie: Clint Eastwood has a delusional Fox News problem”, and Mondoweiss “How a culture remembers its crimes is important: A review of ‘American Sniper’”.

As for debunking American Sniper, Snopes.com has a pretty thorough summary. Also, we just found this blog post by Michael McCaffrey at his personal website, and it appears to be one of the most thorough accounting of the facts behind American Sniper.

So in the end, that’s a lot of great stuff to read. There are still a few more issues left to be discussed, in our opinion. (For example, rules of engagement and determining whether Chris Kyle’s kill count makes America more or less likely to win in Iraq.) But at least this is a start.

And we know writers who will be willing to do this sort of criticism in the future.

Feb 19

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2015 Oscars, please click here.)

When I started reading American Sniper, I didn’t get past the first sentence without reading something inaccurate.

In the author’s note, Chris Kyle opens the book by declaring, “The events that happened in this book are true.” The American legal system disagrees, since it gave Jesse Ventura an award for defamation and HarperCollins announced they’d pull the subsection from the book where Kyle claims he attacked Jesse Ventura from future editions of the book.

So, no, not all of the events that happened in this book are true. (Chris Kyle also claimed that Saddam had WMDs, as we’ve written about before.) He also made up other stuff in interviews, including...

- In interviews promoting American Sniper, Chris Kyle claimed he shot two men who tried to carjack him in Texas. When the police arrived--according to Kyle--they ran his name, and a phone number for the Department of Defense popped up. When the cops called it, they were told to let Kyle go. After the New Yorker fact-checked this assertion--by calling every police station where the event could have happened--it’s pretty clear it didn’t happen.

- Kyle also claims he went to New Orleans after Katrina and shot looters from a rooftop, something pretty much everyone agrees never happened.

So four ridiculous stories, four debunkings. And if you think the way I think, you’ve probably drawn the same conclusion as me:

Chris Kyle might have made up other stuff in American Sniper (the book).

Which brings me to the over-riding question, something we’ve been bombarded with since the announcement of the film: Eric C and Michael C, when are you debunking the military portions of American Sniper?

Not anytime soon. Aside from the WMD claim, the debunked anecdotes all took place in America. It’s much easier to fact check things that happened at home. When we extensively fact-checked Lone Survivor, things were easier mainly because it was just one story--so the details could be debunked--and frankly, Ed Darack had written the best history of the region at the time. Darack also had access to the after-action reports. The facts were written down, and one could find when they were changed (including the Medal of Honor citations). American Sniper is a collection of anecdotes. How do you debunk that?

The first way: have a skeptical soldier or veteran (like Michael C) read the book and highlight the most ridiculous portions. (For example, this website pretty convincingly argues that Chris Kyle didn’t encounter war protesters with baby killer signs on his way to Iraq.) This is how we started with Lone Survivor. Eric C read the book and hated its politics, so he made Michael C read it. Then Michael C responded with, “Yeah, the politics are bad, but something doesn’t sound right about this mission. Especially the number of kills.” (I’d specifically look at the section in American Sniper during the battle of Fallujah.)

But this wouldn’t “prove” anything. Critics could just say, ‘You have no proof he made that up” and they’d be right. (Like that link above. There’s no way to prove Kyle didn’t see those signs; it just doesn’t make sense that he did. Unless he took a detour from the airport to a local college campus. And even at college campuses, most peace protests are, well, polite.)

So we would have to find hard proof. On to our second idea on how to fact check American Sniper: Go to the Iraq War Logs--famously released by Chelsea Manning via Wikileaks--search for specific incidents from the book, and see if they match up. Unfortunately, this appears to be impossible, since the Iraq war logs don’t include soldier’s names, and it appears Special Operations reports aren’t included. Also, if Kyle changed anything for his memoir, this would make it virtually impossible to search for in the Iraq war logs.

So that would be a dead end.

There’s still another way. If an enterprising reporter has the time and will, they can FOIA request documents about Chris Kyle. Someone could request his “kill log” the Navy allegedly used to confirm his record setting number of kills. Then they could compare that to events in the book. (Or compare their reporting in Iraq to details in the book.)

We doubt this would work. The Navy could/would stone wall for years--especially if they knew why the reporter made the request--and claim security concerns for not releasing the information.

In some ways, this post is an apology, because we didn’t try to debunk the facts in American Sniper. The cynical note, which I’ll end on, is why: when we debunked Lone Survivor, no one seemed to care. Certainly not the mainstream press.

Had Lone Survivor achieved the success of American Sniper, this might have been a different story.

And still, anyone who criticizes American Sniper, prepare for death threats from any and everyone including random people on Twitter, Medal of Honor winner and a former candidate for Vice President. In some ways, it’s just not worth it. You can’t criticize veterans, even if you’re right.

(That said, if any reporters experienced in FOIA requests out there would like our input/help/team-up to analyze the Chris Kyle story in-depth, we would love to.)

Feb 17

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2015 Oscars, please click here.)

The theme of this week’s posts about the Oscars (well, mostly Chris Kyle and the film based on his memoir American Sniper) is an ongoing apology for not giving American Sniper the Lone Survivor treatment. Based on the title of the post, you’ve realized I (Eric C) didn’t even finish the memoir.

I just couldn’t get through it. Life’s too short to read books like this. Nearly every other page had something offensive or inaccurate in it. For example, Kyle writes, “Southern California is the land of nuts. I wanted to live somewhere with a little more sanity.” I’m from Southern California, so I know that this line’s not only insulting, but also inaccurate: Coronado is a medium-sized commute from Orange County, one of the most conservative counties in the country.

Kyle filled his book with page after page of observations like this. Here’s an incomplete selection of Chris Kyle assertions that we’ve written On V posts debunking:

- His stance on the rules of engagement in Iraq is abysmal. (“Our ROEs when the war kicked off were pretty simple: If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. Kill every male you see. That wasn’t the official language, but that was the idea.”)

- As a kid, he goes around looking for ways to get into fights without getting into trouble. (Because that’s what good sheepdogs do.)

- He wants to go to war “to experience the thrill of battle”.

- He complains about his commander.

- Of course, he refers to Iraqis as savages throughout the book.

- Later in the book, he hints to the reader that he shot innocent Iraqis to up his kill count. (If you think this joke is funny, more power to you. I can’t laugh, because he killed real people.) From Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:

(The most disturbing passage in the book to me was the one where Kyle talked about being competitive with other snipers, and how when one in particular began to threaten his "legendary" number, Kyle "all of the sudden" seemed to have "every stinkin' bad guy in the city running across my scope." As in, wink wink, my luck suddenly changed when the sniper-race got close, get it? It's super-ugly stuff).

- We could go on and on, but here’s one last example: Kyle believed Saddam had WMDs. (Based on what I’ve read, this scene didn’t make the movie. But I’d love to see the alternate version of history where the film included this tidbit.)

I found most of these examples just thumbing through the book and picking a page at random.

If you want to know if American Sniper is the book for you, let me ask you a question. Do you think the following passage is funny?

A British unit flew in in the morning. By then, the battle was over. of course we couldn’t resist needling them about it.

“‘Come on in. The fight’s over,’ we said. ‘It’s safe for you.’

"I don’t think they thought it was funny, but it was hard to tell. They speak English funny.”

- American Sniper, pg. 88.

Uproarious! What a zinger!

For some reason, this little joke about the British accent symbolizes everything I hate about American Sniper. Chris Kyle’s pretending to be uneducated down-home country boy for comedic effect, as if he can’t even understand British English.

What’s worse is that I can imagine most of the target demographic of American Sniper reading this line and laughing, which is really sad. (I’d guess that demographic consists of older, male, pro-military, conservative Fox News viewers. I’m not just making this up. According to court documents, that’s the demographic HarperCollins targeted.) Not only do conservatives have a sad anti-intellectual provincialism, many actively embrace and celebrate it. (Though, unlike many pundits, I don’t think it’s limited to the South.) Mike Huckabee just wrote a book about it.

After that joke, I stopped reading the book. There’s just no point.

I felt like I was re-reading Lone Survivor, or at least the Iraq war/sniper version of Lone Survivor. A super-Christian, super-conservative Texan Navy SEAL was pushing all of his ideologies--especially his hatred of the rules of engagement--on me. So I’m not going to finish the book, and this is as much of a review as you’ll get from us. (Fortunately, as will share with the reader tomorrow, multiple mainstream critics have criticized Kyle’s ideology.)

I’ll close with this. Kyle, from page two on, delights in killing Iraqis. Just delights in it. Doesn’t regret a single death, doesn’t think he fired a misplaced shot. “I don’t shoot people with Korans--I’d like to, but I don’t.” “I don’t give a flying f*** about the Iraqis.”

It’s just not a world I feel like travelling through. But like the “jokes” throughout this post, I’m sure plenty of Americans will agree with Kyle.

Feb 16

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2015 Oscars, check out the articles below:

- A Partial Review of "American Sniper" (the Book) or: Good Luck to Anyone Who Wants to Slog Through It 

- Debunking (Or Not Debunking) “American Sniper”

- On V’s What to Read on "American Sniper" Link Drop)


Since we started blogging, we’ve tried to do a week of posts on the Academy Awards. (Though the series didn’t always line up with the ceremony.)

In 2010, we did posts on Avatar, District 9 and others. In 2011, we wrote about the documentary Restrepo and its sister book, Sebastian Junger’s War. We skipped 2012, because aside from War Horse, we didn’t have anything to write about (and didn’t/weren’t going to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). In 2013, oh man, we had a plethora of riches including Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and The Invisible War. (That series came eight months late.) Last year, aside from Captain Phillips, we were blanked again, but we spent over a month writing about Lone Survivor, which didn’t get nominated for Best Picture.

What about this year? Any war films? As matter of fact, three of the Best Picture nominees are war films, including The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and American Sniper. Two other war films--Unbroken and Fury--earned critical praise, but didn’t get nominated.

Quick question: what war do you think four of those five films take place in? Don’t think too hard...

World War II.

Of course they’re about World War II. Hollywood doesn’t make films about any other war. That’s an exaggeration….they just mostly make films about World War II. This is a huge problem.

My simple take, which I hope to expand elsewhere, is that there are moral implications to this myopic focus on World War II above all other wars. World War II actually has less to teach us about war than most other wars, all based around simplified narrative that America and England needed to go to war to defeat the evil Nazis and stop the Holocaust. (As we’ve written before, World War II wasn’t nearly that simple.)

That’s why we--not just Americans, but most of the West--embrace World War II. In a strange way, it’s comforting. You can enjoy a war film without having to think too hard. No grey areas over here! Even if a World War II movie shows the horrors of war, it actually reinforces the morality of committing them; sometimes you need to do horrible things to stop evil.

This World War II focus has a real world impact. It sanitizes war. It justifies it. It makes our country more likely to go to war. Just look at politicians rhetoric about “Munich moments”. If you’ve just seen a film about World War II--and last year, that’s probably the war film you saw--you might think, “I hope ISIS isn’t Hitler.” instead of, “I hope this isn’t another Vietnam.” (Or Iraq, strangely enough.)

This isn’t the case with other wars. The war in Vietnam and World War I force us to ask moral and ethical questions about war. And about ourselves. Most importantly, they show how pointless war can be.

Speaking of pointless military conflicts...what about American Sniper?

We’ve had people emailing us and tweeting us requests to “debunk” this book since the film was announced. This week we will somewhat fulfill that request with a (partial) review of the book, a post on debunking (or not debunking) the memoir, and a link drop.

Is this as thorough as our work on Lone Survivor? No, and we will explain why over the next two posts. Fortunately for us, many writers and columnists have gone after written about Chris Kyle’s extreme politics and many critics have lambasted the film’s inaccuracies and simplified view of war. (Though the film depicts Chris Kyle as war weary and troubled by killing, his memoir tells a somewhat different story.) Expect those links in the link drop. Except for Chris Kyle’s arguably illegal interpretation of rules of engagement, they basically hit everything.

Based on the success Lone Survivor and American Sniper, movie studios are probably going to greenlight Iraq war films like crazy. But if they follow the mold of their predecessors, that’s not actually a good thing.

Hollywood hasn’t made a film about Vietnam war film in a while. Like Vietnam, Hollywood will eventually stop making films about Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars, too, will fade from public consciousness in the coming generations.

But we’ll probably always have films about World War II.

Sigh.

Feb 12

(We have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

On Monday, we addressed two of the criticisms of our Slate piece, (“The Surprising History of American Sniper’s “Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” Speech”). Today, we want to tackle some more of the rebuttals.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with race!”

Far and away, people--even people who liked the article--objected to us connecting the sheep, sheepdogs and wolves analogy to race more than any other objection. Some felt the connection was not related to the core article, or Chris Kyle.

There’s a number of rebuttals we could issue in response. First, as we wrote in the article, many (most?) Americans use race, consciously or subconsciously. In particular, many police officers use race in their decision making. (By now, most people have seen the Harvard Implicit Bias test. If not, check it out.) The sheepdog analogy, by its very nature, divides people into categories. And most people in America divide their fellow Americans into categories...using race.

Ironically, many of the people objecting to the accusation of racism had an odd response: being racist. For example…

“But black people are wolves!”

I wanted to make this point in the original article, but Michael C made me leave it out. Follow this simple logic train (which we don’t agree with):

- The world is divided into three groups, sheep, sheepdogs and wolves.

- Wolves commit crimes.

- African-Americans commit crimes more than any other group.

- Therefore, African-Americans are more likely to be wolves. (Again we don’t agree with this at all.)

Think that’s crazy? I do too, but I just wanted to follow the crazy logic of the sheepdog analogy to its logical conclusion. If this analogy is true (it’s not), African Americans are more likely to be wolves. Turns out, some commenters are already leapt to that conclusion, citing crime statistics and saying, “See, African Americans are wolves!”

And people say the gun rights debate doesn’t have anything to do with race. But let’s get more specific...

“Michael Brown was a wolf!”

Many commenters on Twitter and in the comments section objected to us using Michael Brown as an example.

From Twitter: “at the same time, the pieces author mourns a violent criminal like Michael Brown (can't speak to Garner), so…”

From the comments section: “BTW, Mike Brown was a wolf, as shown on the security video in which he assaulted and robbed a much smaller man.” and “Mike Brown was a wolf killed by a sheepdog.”

Or in more racially-loaded terms, Michael Brown was a “thug”. (Yes, someone wrote that.) And less sensitively, some commenters wrote that he deserved to get shot.

This is really where I get upset. In essence, they’re arguing that petty larceny is a crime deserving a death sentence. Yes, I mourn the death of any young man who gets shot, because I don’t see the failing as his, but a society that couldn’t help him. Especially when an overzealous law enforcement community and its supporters see shooting him as a justified action for robbing a liquor store.

Sad.

“Evil exists!”

That’s the gist of this article refuting us. On one hand we can’t refute this. There are definitely horrific, vile acts in the world it is hard to call anything but evil. But, as we wrote in our Slate article and many times since, the number of horrific, vile acts in the world is decreasing. Evil isn’t spreading in the world, it’s receding.

But going from “evil acts” to “evil people” is a different ball game and it begs way more questions than it answers. Does one act forever make someone evil?  What about soldiers or police officers who beat their children or cheat on their wives? Are they evil? What about the torturers?  What about drone strikes of weddings in Yemen? Does that make the operators in Langley sheepdogs or wolves? What about politicians making bad decisions about wars that kill innocents? Are they sheep or sheepdogs? Evil or justified?

Evil is too simplistic a term to judge people with, unfortunately. And so is the “sheep, wolves and sheepdog” analogy.