“I beat cancer. I never had it.” –Doug Stanhope
I once watched Stephen Colbert interview a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, an enlisted Afghanistan vet from Kentucky. The sight of this flag-draped charlatan straining to make awed conversation with an actual American, clearly his intellectual inferior, was embarrassing to behold.
Fun fact: despite a service record that made fine fodder for Hollywood, the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle had a noted tendency not only to boast, but to fabricate whole tales of heroism. Ain’t that some shit?
Not long ago, the actor Seth Rogan (whose doughy mediocrity is the very image of anything Kyle might be said to’ve defended) offended a great many in the hamster wheel by tweeting that American Sniper reminded him of the (fictitious) Nazi propaganda film being shown to (fictional) German officers in a theater of the fictional occupied Paris of Quentin Tarantino’s ahistorical left-cheek sneak, Inglorious Basterds.
In other words, a movie reminded Rogan of a movie portrayed in a movie. The similarity between Nazi propaganda and Inglorious Basterds itself apparently escaped his notice. American life is nothing if not art imitated.
But the suggestion that Chris Kyle had much in common with his Nazi commando counterparts (not necessarily a bad thing), and that the Kyle hagiography is transparently akin to Nazi propaganda, is quite correct. There’s an Orwellian quality inherent in Americans’ attitude toward the US military. No one supports or is able to make sense of the wars, yet everyone supports the troops. America’s soldiers are merely obeying orders. This is pure mental gymnastics.
Kyle’s demise couldn’t have been more fitting: a simian, professional sucker-punch with no more personality than a deadening brew could draw out, done in by surprise, courtesy of an acolyte bully-narcissist who ultimately exceeded his mentor only in actualization of emotional necrosis. Rather than the paucity of symbolism inherent in a death by cancer or car-wreck, Kyle’s fate richly symbolizes the perfect inverse of the meaning it was mined for by the media, his killer being far more apt a representation of what the US military produces.
Nothing about the military makes sense anymore, and back when anything did, it wasn’t much. Since the abolition of the draft, no one who has served can correctly claim by doing so to have done anything in the interest of their fellow citizens who, like people in most other times and places, lack the capacity to give a shit with any practical viscerality about the travails of those outside their small scope of family and friends. Why should they, anyway?
But they do revere symbols—idols—and, accordingly, a lot of veterans of the post-9/11 wars have very little to talk about other than their veteran status, which they’re fond of conspicuously reminding others about.
Of course, military paperweights aren’t the only offenders—lots of us pursue the appearance of courting danger without ever footing the bill. Every tattooed petty-thug bitching about police mistreatment, every cop who wears a kevlar vest when he goes out harassing street urchins, or shoots a tethered dog in a drug raid. My own lost, self-righteous stint in the Israeli army. My EMS co-workers bragging gleefully about the misery they witness. Not to mention the schlocky, neo-American support-our-troops bluster from all those greying welders and owner-operators who own untested sidearm collections and were busy rolling fatties when the last war was raging.
Chris Kyle would’ve been a true badass in any time and place; it’s the essential spiritual emptiness and vulgar malleability of his character, the anticlimax in his legend, that speak so mockingly to our time.