Saturday, February 07, 2015

Some Thoughts on "American Sniper"

Clint Eastwood has created a very well-made movie.  I think the main moral point is muddled, because Eastwood's own moral vision stops at the individual level.  It is not wrong, but incomplete.

The issue is laid out in an early scene, when Chris Kyle, the title character, is still a boy. Chris had defended his younger brother from a bully.  Later, their father offered this worldview:  there are three kids of people in the world - sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.  The father says he is not raising any sheep, nor any wolves.  His sons are to be sheepdogs, protectors of the sheep.

As the father lays it out, he is arguing with those who think there are no wolves in the world.  This also sounds like a theme in many Eastwood movies, both as director and actor.  But this is really a straw man.

It is a false argument in the first instance because there are very few people who argue that there are no bad guys at all.  Even I, who often point out that most people are happy and that the world is getting better, do not say that.

It is a false argument for a deeper reason, too. It assumes that people simply are good or bad, weak or strong.  There is no nuance as to why some people might take up arms against another, why, for example, people who were grateful that invaders removed their brutal dictator might still resent the invader, especially if the invaders settled in.

Which brings me to the other character missing from Kyle, Sr.'s metaphor: the shepherd.  The reasoning person who thinks about the structures for protecting the sheep, the just ways of controlling wolves, and the good of the entire ecology that includes both.

Chris Kyle was a very good sheepdog, as portrayed in "American Sniper".  He was not a shepherd.

The world most needs good shepherds.


ceemac said...

Hmmm. But aren't we are living in a time when there is a hostility to the presence of shepherds in society?

I see that from my vantage in Texas which is being run by folks who are functionally Social Darwinists (even if they don't recognize what they are). Not to mention a decent dose of libertarian anarchists types

There is a hostility towards "shepherds" here. They are generally seen as nannies who get keep the sheepdogs from doing their job.

Around the Scuttlebutt said...

“Which brings me to the other character missing from Kyle, Sr.'s metaphor: the shepherd. The reasoning person who thinks about the structures for protecting the sheep, the just ways of controlling wolves, and the good of the entire ecology that includes both.”

Gruntled does a pretty good job of setting out the 21st Century liberal academic view of the world: if only you would listen to the smart, reasonable people and their smart reasoned way of thinking things through, it would be peace, love and brotherhood all around. And because they have no real grasp of what a brutal world it really is, they are always the ones who look down their noses at the shepherds who make it possible for them to continue to live in their ivory towers.

The problem with that is that simply wishing the wolves away does not work. The pragmatist sees the sheepdog as a key part of the “structures for protecting the sheep.” Wolves do not care about justice—they just want to kill the shepherd so they can eat the sheep. As far as “the entire ecology” of things, the wolf will be very glad to leave the scraps of sheep and shepherd to fertilize what was once the sheepfold.

That is why any society that wants to survive must cherish its sheepdogs—real men, warriors such as Chris Kyle and Carlos Hathcock, men like the Marines God gave me the privilege and honor of leading in the crucible of combat, and all the young men and women who take on the truest form of citizenship by assuming the duty of protecting those who are too weak, selfish, or cowardly to take on that responsibility themselves.

The only way to deal with wolves is to forget about justice and kill them before they get to your sheep. Shoot them from afar, beat ‘em with a club, let the sheepdogs eat ‘em up any ol’ way they want to. Then your wolf problem goes away. Semper Fidelis.

M.R. McCarty
LtCol, USMC (ret)

Gruntled said...

Ceemac, I agree that there is hostility to shepherds today. There are have always been "you can't tell me what to do" people. They often imagine themselves to be sheepdogs, but are as likely to be wolves, or at least social destroyers, out of sheer inattention to their effects on the entire society. Radian libertarians are, if anything, worse, in that they have a theory against social order.

As to the other comment, anyone who says "The only way to deal with wolves is to forget about justice and kill them" has repudiated what the United States Marine Corps stands for.

Michael McCarty said...

Really? And when were you in the Corps? I love it when someone who has lived the sheltered life of the scholar, who wouldn't wear the uniform or pay the dues himself, presumes to tell Marines what they stand for.

That's OK. There will always be better men (and women) who will step up and do the dirty work. But, please, unless you have stood on the yellow footprints, do not dare to presume that you know anything about what Marines do and live on your behalf.

The mission statement of every infantry unit from in the Marine Corps (verbatim):

“To locate, close with, and DESTROY the enemy by fire and maneuver or to repel his assault by fire and close combat.” (caps added)

Not scare him or hurt him, mind you. Destroy him.

The Creed of the Marine Rifleman:

Every officer and enlisted Marine also learns the Creed of the Marine Rifleman in recruit training or OCS:

“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will...

My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit...

My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will...

Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.

So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!"

If your complaint is about the word "justice," well, you're the one who suggested it."The just ways of controlling wolves." I repeat: the wolves do not want justice--they want to eat you.

No, the answer for the warriors who are protecting the Nation is to destroy the enemy--the wolves that would devour our Nation. Shoot him before he shoots me. That, sir, is exactly what the Marine Corps stands for. We will leave it to the sociologists to play patty cake with the bad guys. I will bet that the Marine Corps method will turn out a lot better than your fanciful approach to the wolves of the world—and the Nation will be better for it.

Gruntled said...

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

The Marines defend our constitutional code of justice and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Mac McCarty said...

First, I really do appreciate your blog. I often agree with what you write, and when I disagree, the intellectual level of your arguments is, well, steel sharpening steel.

In this case, I disagree. As a friend once said of his opposing counsel in court, "Sometimes, you remind me of a ol' Missouri hoot owl. The more light you shine in his eyes, the blinder he gets."

You have accurately quoted the oath of enlistment. Its counterpart, the oath of office sworn to by every constitutional officer, from the Vice President to the most junior second lieutenant or ensign, follows.

“An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath: ‘I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.’” (5 U.S. Code § 3331.)

The problem is that you just don’t understand either of them. Just because the “Uniform Code of Military Justice” is mentioned in the oath of enlistment does not mean that the oath has suddenly been converted into some philosophical discourse on “justice.” As my Criminal Law instructor told us on the second day of law school, "We are here to study the law. If you are looking for ‘justice,’ the philosophy majors are over in the Sociology Department with the other fuzzy sciences and the Divinity School is just down the street." Professor Sheldon Singer, Illinois Institute of Technology/Chicago-Kent College of Law (Sep 1977)

The oath of office of all constitutional officers (commissioned officers of the armed forces are appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate) is to support and defend the Constitution. It is not a loyalty oath to any particular president or faction, or, for that matter, to the people if they are acting unconstitutionally.

The constitution is an outline of a legal and governmental system of limited, enumerated powers. Both are applicable only to our citizens, the Constitution to all Americans and the UCMJ to the Armed Forces. The UCMJ is a criminal code. The Constitution is designed to protect the people from its government, see, e.g., the Amendments 1-10 and 27 (11 of the original 12 amendments proposed as a Bill of Rights), and the UCMJ establishes a special criminal code to maintain good order and discipline in the Armed Forces, see, e.g. Arts 133 and 134, 10 U.S. Code §§ 933,934.

So, when you say “The Marines defend our constitutional code of justice and the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” you are mangling the oaths to fit your own philosophy. Show me a “constitutional code of justice” and we can debate whether it really exists. You may be right that we defend the UCMJ, but no more so than any other law, e.g., the Farm Bill, ACA, or RICO.

No, it is not about justice. It is all about defending the Constitution and the lawfully constituted government established thereunder, with the consent of the governed, from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I suspect that you and I will never be able to reach a consensus on this. That is fine. We have both spent our adult lives doing different things. You go on and teach, think and write about happy societies and we, as I have now done for 50 years, and as the Marines who now have taken my place will faithfully continue to do, will make sure no unreasonable, selfish and even insane wolves interrupt your endeavors. Even at the cost of our lives.


ceemac said...

Could it be that there are shepherds within the military.

Shepherd would be one way of describing Eisenhower's role in WWII. He had to order the destruction of wolves. He had to protect sheep. He had to discern whether or not some folks were wolves or sheep and give appropriate orders. He had to make sure his sheepdogs stayed on task. And he had some sheepdogs that were very high maintenance (Monty and Patton).

Gruntled said...

Agreed, Ceemac on Eisenhower's role - not only as general, but even more so as president.