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I Won’t Watch American Sniper: A Military Spouse’s Perspective

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When I began teaching in Baltimore, a ton of people recommended that I watch The Wire. Everyone raved about it. If you’ve ever been a new teacher, you know that you listen to everyone’s advice… and also that you don’t have too much time to enact any of it. It took me a while (and a free month of HBO) to actually sit down and view it.

I turned it off within the first episode.

For me, the story line and characters weren’t abstractions. They were real. I had driven through streets that had no streetlights. I had students tell me not to circle the block again after I dropped them off– someone would probably shoot at me. Or that I shouldn’t stop at red lights on deserted streets at night. I attended the funeral of a student who died, in part, because she didn’t have adequate health care. I taught homeless students, students who had been abused, students who had been raped, students who were working jobs to keep their families off the street. One of my students was shot and paralyzed during gang wars. More than one of my students were pregnant or were getting ready to become fathers.

I just couldn’t watch The Wire because it was too close to what my students dealt with every day. It was too close to the issues and the problems that faced my school every day. They were the same issues that I couldn’t shake when I left work, that I cried about later that night, that bothered me for days… weeks… years.

That’s the same reason I won’t watch American Sniper.

Don’t get me wrong– I am a fan of military movies. Ones of other wars set in other time periods, ones of wars that look nothing like our modern ones. To be quite honest, even since John’s deployment, I haven’t gotten the same satisfaction from watching standbys like Band of Brothers and others.

I knew I didn’t want to see it the first time I saw the first ad for it. “Nope,” I said to John, and looked away.

I know I’m in the minority. American Sniper has broken box office records and made cash hand over fist. I’ve seen the chatter on social media– a lot of military families have seen it and have loved it.

But I won’t be buying a ticket.

I already know what it’s like to have someone you love deeply deployed to a warzone. I know what it’s like to be on the computer and hear rocket alarms ringing in the background. I know what it’s like to read articles about attacks on your loved one’s base and not be able to contact him for endless hours or days. I know what the goodbye at the MAC terminal feels like, how desperately you want to stop everything and are entirely powerless to do so. I know what the last few hours before deployment are like, too. How even almost two years after deployment, just typing those sentences brings tears to my eyes.

There are other spouses who aren’t seeing it either. I felt totally vindicated in my emotional reaction when I stumbled across a thread of spouses who didn’t want to for one reason or another. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be part of the military community and not want to see it, just like it’s okay to question the movie itself.

As a military spouse, I’m glad that there has been a vocal critique of American Sniper.  We should look critically at the way we portray the military in popular culture and how those portrayals shape the way we, as a country and culture, think about the institution. We should question the wisdom and necessity of putting a nation at war for endless years. For the continual cycle of deployment and reintegration and what it does to families and those individuals serving. For the morality of war itself. For the treatment of our vets. It’s wholly and uniquely American to voice your dissent and question the powers-that-be, the powers that are greater than you, the powers that– in other countries– could throw you in jail or a gulag or have you summarily executed. We have the freedom of speech and the ability to critique any part of our government– including every single branch of the military, its motives, policies, and actions. After all, it’s so important to our society that that right is written into our founding documents.

There have also been strong arguments for American Sniper, too. Apparently Bradley Cooper is amazing (and duh, why wouldn’t he be? It’s Bradley Cooper.) and that it’s a realistic portrayal of the Iraq War and the experience of military families– especially military spouses. And that’s a very, very good thing. The civilian-military divide is deep; movies like this can help to give a window into the realities of some of the most difficult parts of being a military family. It can offer a point of common connection, a beginning place for concrete discussions about … well, pretty much all of the controversial topics in the former paragraph. That is necessary and vital to our national conversation surrounding the military, military families, war, and deployment, too. And for many of those reasons, American Sniper is valuable our discourse.

It could be a great movie– and by the sounds of it, it is. But I won’t be watching it.

Not any time soon.


22 Responses

  1. This was written prefect! I agree with you. Once you’ve been in that situation you don’t need to see a whole movie about it!!

  2. Hi Jo!

    I won’t be seeing in theaters either, i might catch when its on HBO or Netflix. But I feel the same way, even though I am no longer with my army husband, it is so surreal to me. My husband (now ex), missed the birth of my second child and we he returned home he was just so different. He isolated himself from everyone including me and the kids. He was just so distant. He did nt go through what this sniper went through, but he had a lot of scares and being surrounded by so many soldiers put a strain on him. So I am not rushing to see it at all. Thanks so much for your honesty in this post!

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Rekita! :-) Gosh, I have nothing but respect for you. You are an amazingly strong woman!

  3. This was a good post! I watched the movie because I actually like to know what our soldiers go through. But yes, it was tough to watch. It also reminds me how brave our soldiers are.

    I cried. A lot.

  4. Nice thoughtful post. Some of my friends will not see it either as their sons are overseas now. It’s a very individual thing. My family saw it and cried (how could you not). My friends had similar reactions to mine. The one thing I believe this movie did was make people think (long after the movie) about how incredibly traumatic war is for everyone involved and how much we need to focus on taking care of veterans when they come home. I do not believe this was a political movie, just an eye-opener and a nudge for 99.5 percent of Americans to walk in the shoes of the .5% who serve.

    1. I agree– I especially don’t think I could watch this if John was deployed right now. That would be exceedingly tough.

  5. my husband is an active duty soldier and is pushing me too see it (I haven’t yet) and part of me feels like it’s his way of explaining to me the things he’s seen and done without actually taking to me about it. he’s a very open person who will tell you anything you ask, but I’ve never gotten the cahones to ask about his deployment (it was pre-us) and how he feels about it after the fact. he knows I want to be a psychologist and I really don’t want him to think I’m trying to shrink him so to speak. so any glimpse I get into his head I welcome.

    1. I totally understand that, too, Sam. That’s a tough place to be, but it also offers a lot of room for growth in your relationship together. :-)

  6. I won’t see it, either. I watched Restrepo during Mac’s first deployment. It was the worst thing to watch because I had friends who provided artillery support for the unit in Restrepo, not too far from where Mac was.

  7. I have to agree with you. I only watch this type of movie because that is what my husband wants to watch but as I do I relive the deployments and honestly do not want to know more than what my husband wants me to know.very well written thoughts and know you are not alone in this

  8. Such an awesome post, and it’s so encouraging to see that other spouses feel the same way! I still am undecided. I think if my husband really, really wanted to see it, maybe I would watch it with him. But I just asked him if he wanted to see it and he said, “Not really.” So there ya go. Still too much too soon maybe…at least for me.

    Lauren

    1. Thanks, Lauren! I think that for every military spouse gung-ho about seeing the movie (I’ve seen so many posts from military spouses saying it was “must-see” etc.) there’s at least one spouse who doesn’t want to or can’t bring themselves to see it.

  9. This is a great post! My husband and I have not seen the movie, he said he had no desire to see it. We watched Lone Survivor at the theater. As we were exiting the theater, my husband said, “I never want to see that movie again.” His tone was really cold, very unlike my husband. At that moment, hearing all his stories from deployments and from other soldiers who fought beside him, I realized there are things these guys have been through, that no one will ever, or could ever understand. So while I would not mind seeing the movie, I would never push him to watch it.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Victoria! I have not seen Lone Survivor (in fact, the only movie about Iraq or Afghanistan was Stop-Loss. Such a terrible movie), but I think I would steer clear for the same reasons.

  10. I completely agree with you! My hubby just left for Korea three days ago. While we have had a TON of TDY’s over the years, this is very different. I won’t see him for 8 month! We found out six months prior to the trip and of course all of the trailers were out. The hubby has even read the book (a new development for him). But as the trailers, interviews and all the excitement of the movie came about, I felt more anxious about watching it. I absolutely looked at my husband and everyone else and said, “no way”. While he’s not in a war zone, we are still struggling with the separation and how to be strong and confident in our selves so far apart. Agreed. I will steer far and clear of this movie. Maybe for years to come.

  11. I appreciate what you have written. I too, have seen and I have BEEN in similar situations as those of your students. You don’t really know what they are going through unless you yourself have gone through it. I too am a military wife. For a very long time now. SEVERAL deployments We have gone through. I too have been on the other end of the phone or on Skype and seen and heard things. I know what it’s like to not be able to hear from my husband for months at a time. I too have been in hell like many of you. I too know what it’s like to have small kids longing for daddy and not understanding. Unlike many of you, I did see the movie and I bought it. I don’t see this movie as a negative thing. Many of our guys come back and cannot explain or speak of the demons of war and what is happening to them. Most don’t even know. This movie not only glorified an Navy Seal, but it also took you into the life of his family and his demons he had to face. It gives a perspective of what our soldiers go through and with hope that they will be understood and get the proper care and treatments. I thank God that this man did what he did. I thank God for his wife Taya and his children. It may be a crappy ending but who are we to decide fate? War happens and I stand behind our military. War is ugly. I’m not a fan of war. War takes my husband from his family. But, I think it’s important to know and to understand what happens in war and on the Homefront. PTSD is not something to take lightly. It’s time for awareness and “American Sniper” gives insight to PTSD. I’m a longtime proud Soldiers Wife and proud owner of “American Sniper.” Long live the memory of an American Patriot, Chris Kyle.

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