Big Red Car here. Last night The Boss takes me to see American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper as America’s most prolific sniper, SEAL Chris Kyle.
When the show is over and the lights come on, the theater has the feeling of the aftermath of a funeral. People are silent, awkward and tentative. Mourners filing out of church. The story is that powerful.
The last scene is the motorcade from the stadium in Arlington at which his funeral was held enroute to Austin where he was buried in the Texas State Cemetery where Texas heroes are laid to rest. It is hallowed ground and the men buried their built Texas — both literally and in the spirit that is uniquely Texas.
Chris Kyle is properly enshrined in the company of such men.
American Sniper, the movie
The story follows the life of Texan Chris Kyle and his training to become a Navy SEAL — the toughest training in the military. Then he deploys to Iraq four times with a SEAL team and proceeds to kill enemy combatants with his sniper rifle.
His rifle booms out in service to his fellow soldiers. Providing them with overwatch as they go about their own dangerous duties. Chris Kyle served this slice of our nation and he did it better than anyone else ever has.
The movie accurately catches the dilemma that such duty presents — is the target a legitimate target when it is a young boy getting ready to throw a grenade at American forces?
The combat action is realistically depicted and if you ever wanted to be there but not be in danger — go see this movie. You will be there.
War is ugly and the urban warfare portrayed in the movie is particularly ugly — smashing in doors, clearing rooms, instant life and death decisions and killing at close quarters.
As a movie, America Sniper is almost a documentary.
American Sniper, the lesson
The story also provides an incredible and powerful lesson — we have subjected a couple of generations of young Americans to horrific and marking experiences in the last thirteen years in places where we didn’t initially know the names of the cities. In Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now we know and recognize Fallujah, Ramadi, al Anbar province, Helmand province, Kandahar, Khost — places writ large in American blood and the blood of our enemies. The blood has literally flowed in the streets. In every fight, America prevailed.
While we are now “out” of those countries and those wars are nominally over, the smoldering fires of war that have been left in the minds and souls of our soldiers are not.
We have left bright, hot embers of PTSD burning in many men who answered our call and served our national interests. For these men, they are never going to be out or over.
Chris Kyle had those embers and the movie is about how he dealt with those demons.
And he did deal with his demons with the help of a good wife and two lovely children. His life was a success. His demons laid at his feet slain and demolished.
Post traumatic stress disorder is real. A horrific experience becomes imprinted on the brain of a normal young man. In its own time, it is revisited involuntarily triggered by any of a number of different stimuli — loud noise, time of year, smell of the air, dreams or the company of others. The triggers are innumerable. The horrific experience lies in wait until called forward. It needs very little prodding.
It comes softly at first, a seducer not an assailant, and then roars displaying its real intentions. It manifests itself in the thoughts and actions of its victims. It tortures minds. It kidnaps logic. It shoplifts sleep. It makes one irritable, irrationally irritable. It blocks constructive thought and action. It comes through the victim’s mind and he may initially not even know it is there. All he has is the symptoms.
It does not stop with thought, it calls those thoughts and that man to action. Insomnia is a real affliction but it is nothing in comparison to the short trigger that is created to violence or violent thought.
It destroys the ability of a man to relate to those who did not have similar experiences.
In the end, it is a thief. It steals potential. It steals relationships.
For Chris Kyle, it stole his life. It stole his life not because of his own affliction — for which he had paid full tuition and had graduated summa cum laude — but of another who he was trying to help. This former Marine was the focus of Kyle’s assistance and this young man, similarly afflicted, killed Chris Kyle at a shooting range. PTSD aimed the gun, pulled the trigger and killed Chris Kyle. That Marine was just its supernumerary.
Long term impact
Amongst us, we Americans have a parade of walking wounded. Some wounds are apparent. Lost limbs. Crushed skulls. Our medical expertise has saved more soldiers than ever before casting them into society disfigured and impaired. Obvious wounds.
But many wounds are camouflaged, invisible and silent — no less deadly to be sure. But hiding in plain sight waiting for their day of reckoning. They are sleeper cells from those wars and the good men we sent to fight them.
The problem is not going away on its own.
A frank assessment
Let us today speak the truth to each other. The truth is a mean bitch but she is a competent one. So let us speak of competence and promises made and promises broken. Cut it open and liberate its stench. Like a fine wine, draw its bouquet into your lungs and take its measure. It will make you sick.
When America loses a war, it does not want to be reminded of it. This is not the Greatest Generation. This is the generation we betrayed. We sent them to war with no clear purpose and then wasted their patriotism, blood and lives in shitty places which were unworthy of their sacrifice.
We are now so embarrassed as a nation that we are scurrying to the exits like cockroaches outed by bright lights. This is a subject we do not want to speak of. No political party champions our veterans. Those who did not serve are not willing to acknowledge their own behavior. Nothing wrong with that, maybe? But it is real.
We cannot even provide our end of the contract. We are killing these men — and men from earlier wars — because we are not willing to make the VA, the Veterans Administration, work correctly. Not work well, just competently.
Civilians who run the VA are stealing it blind. They are forging records to hit performance goals to obtain monetary bonuses. They are throwing away records to support a fiction they are managing the work flow correctly. And, us, we are not even offended. Not even offended let alone willing to go in there with a baseball bat and clean house.
The VA is as big an adversary as Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban — and perhaps right now, more deadly.
Call to action
I challenge each and every one of you to take a minute or two — less time than you will spend dining out the next time you go out to eat. In that interlude, try to answer this question: “What can I do to make a difference in this matter?”
I do not have an answer for YOU. I have an answer for me but it is my answer, not yours. If you fail to answer it, know you are still going to enjoy the freedoms provided by the blood of better men. Don’t be too hard on yourself that you are a “taker” — most of America is. They leave messy things like war to be dealt with by someone else’s son. These are always some Momma’s son. Not yours. But someone’s.
But if you can, find some small way to assist in this problem, maybe simply to acknowledge its existence. Maybe to write a letter to your Congressman and state your repugnance at the VA. Something.
Maybe there is a man as good as Chris Kyle and a family as deserving as his wife and two children who may benefit from your action. Make it so.
Go make a difference in our country. Or, just keep surfing the Internet knowing there is someone else who will deal with it.
Find out who you are and be that person. Chris Kyle served his country well. Extraordinarily. Along the way PTSD afflicted him and his assailant because of things we asked him to do.
Try to take the finger off the gun that is being aimed and pulled every day by PTSD against our veterans. They deserve no less. Now go make the ledger balance. Please.