American Sniper + Radiolab’s Hunting Episode Rage

I have never held a gun. I never want to hold a gun. I never want to take a life, and I do not understand the compulsion to do so—period.

Tonight I had the pleasure of a brief but passionate discussion of “hunting for conservation,” followed back to back with a viewing of American Sniper. I have to hand it to Bradley Cooper, dude can rock a beard. But now it’s midnight and I’m fuming about the entitlement people feel to kill rhinos, the legacy of imperialism, machismo gun culture, and other things I’ve only thought and read about and watched, but have never had to encounter first hand.

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I don’t know anything about the military or safety, or what it feels like to protect my family from people who want to destroy it. But you are never supposed to rejoice in the death of your enemies. So seeing the back-slapping congratulations Bradley Cooper’s character received for his kills made my skin crawl even more than the character—who was never quite comfortable with his “legendary” sniper status, but never denied it either. The dehumanization, the simplification of the war American Sniper depicts… “they were trying to kill my men. So I had to take them out,” he says, again and again…. all of this seemed to be presented just a little bit skeptically of its absolute truth, but never actually went so far as to question it. Ultimately, questions about safety vs morality and the integrity of life are settled in a good ol’ fashioned showdown. The American Sniper gets honor for taking out the almost equal Iraqi sniper—because Americans are exceptional, and the best way to prove that is with violent besting that justifies any of the mortal pain it causes us to defend Freedom.

Super subtle.

Super subtle.

American Sniper depressed me. The film as a whole was a war cliche, and we deserve better than the values it promotes as the film did nothing more than acknowledge the shadow of the doubt we all may have about the necessity of war and violence. In fact, the film bowled those doubts and any discussion this film could have prompted right over with its glorification of the sanctitude of the American family. Because mom and dad and the Heartland are all worth it, right?

Let’s talk about elephants. Some villages in Africa considered elephants menaces because they come into farms and stomp crops and tear shit up. If there was a pesky elephant, villages would shoot it. So this maybe wasn’t a problem when elephants numbered in the millions; the occasional rogue elephant doesn’t pose a threat to the species’ survival. But because now 100 elephants a day are poached for their ivory, you can’t shoot an elephant. Because now that creature’s life counts.

Tusks became an elephant’s greatest liability when demand for ivory products in China became so great that it could fuel massive poaching rings, whose profits go back to fund the war lords that keep the region in chaos and violence. This is different from hunting, of course! Poachers don’t revere elephants as hunters do. And they kill animals without following any laws, in droves, wiping out many species—with elephants on the way to that endangered status.

But hunters cannot save elephants and other endangered animals. Because a hunter essentially views an elephant or any other big game the same way a poacher does: as something for the taking. Whether it has monetary or egotistical value, it is still an object which it is man’s right to take, to kill. And hunters only view this act of killing as something honorable because taking a life is the way our culture—from Baghdad to Burundi—views dominance, views exceptionalism.

I am so sick of it. The killing of animals and people and the valuing of one life over another. I don’t have a solution, but I know that we are not supposed to rejoice in the death of our enemy, no matter how evil, because unnatural death is never something to celebrate. It’s not a poacher’s right to take an elephant’s tusks. It’s not a white man’s right to pay money for an African lion’s mane. And if an American Sniper is to be glorified, he should be celebrated for lives saved, not kills made.

Because I feel like we could all use a baby elephant photo right now.

Because I feel like we could all use a baby elephant photo right now.


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