Sunday, January 25, 2015

Americans' Blindness and Moral Failing

Perhaps growing up gay and in the closet for 37 years made me more sensitive to the plight of others knowing that, like blacks and other racial minorities, for example, I was part of a group hated by many and seen as a "sinner" and somehow less than human.   Those who hate gays, blacks, the foreign born suffer from an inability - indeed, a refusal at times - to see others as equally human. The consequences can be deadly and even extend to failed foreign policy decisions and horrific brutality towards civilians in war.  A piece at by Brian Turner, a former member of the U.S. military and the author of "My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir," looks at the American failing in the context of the furor over the film, American Sniper, being embraced and lauded by the likes of Sarah Palin.  Here are the telling excerpts:

The film made me remember something else, too: the oft-repeated phrase We should just drop a nuke and turn this whole goddamn place into a glass fucking parking lot. This was an enlargement of what I’d regularly heard prior to deploying from Ft. Lewis, Washington: I’m going to go over there and shoot somebody in the face. And so, what started as an erasure of the signature of one’s identity, their face, evolved into the complete erasure of a civilization. But the thing is, I don’t think there was any clue about what was actually being erased in the first place. And in that cluelessness lays the problem with American Sniper.

I get American Sniper. I do. But it’s myopic. . . . . Once the dust settles, though, what do we learn from American Sniper?

The biggest problem I have with American Sniper is also a problem I have with myself. It’s a problem I sometimes find in my own work, and it’s an American problem: We don’t see, or even try to see, actual Iraqi people. We lack the empathy necessary to see them as fully human. In American Sniper, Iraqi men, women, and children are known and defined only in relation to combat and the potential threat they pose. Their bodies are the site and source of violence. In both the film and our collective imagination, their humanity is reduced in ways that, ultimately, define our own narrow humanity. In American Sniper, Iraqis are called “savages,” and the “streets are crawling” with them. Eastwood and his screenwriter Jason Hall give Iraqis no memorable lines. Their interior lives are a blank canvas, with no access points to let us in. I get why that is: If Iraqis are seen in any other light, if their humanity is recognized, then the construct of our imagination, the ride-off-into-the-sunset-on-a-white-horse story we tell ourselves to push forward, falls apart. 
If we saw Iraqis as humans, we’d have to learn how to live in a world far, far more complicated and painful than the difficult, painful one we currently live in. Messy, trauma-filled, beautiful, and altogether human; all of us breathing the oxygen of our time. We’d have to learn something more than how to return home and how to reintegrate our warrior class in America — which, to its credit, is a problem that American Sniper acknowledges. We’d have to let go of our fascination with Odysseus and the hero’s return. We’d have to see everyone — not just Americans (or the ones we agree with politically, anyway) — as the family they’ve always been to us. And we’d to have to, as they say, get back to the world.
For the Christofascist and mental midgets like Sarah Palin - and even some people in my own neighborhood - seeing others as equally human and possessing the same innate rights is beyond inconvenient because suddenly things are no longer black and white and one must think and make independent moral judgments.   Sadly, I don't see these people opening their eyes any time soon.  Thinking and not going with the hoard of lemmings as they run for the moral cliff is too frightening.  I will also add that they Islamic extremist suffer from the same moral blindness.  However, two wrongs don't make a right.

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