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The Furor Over American Sniper: The One Percent on the other One Percent

Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, American Sniper, has shattered box office records and touched a chord in movie audiences across the country.  The film has also unleashed an unbecoming waft of snarkiness from a pair of Hollywood insiders— Seth Rogan and Michael Moore, men who have monetized their own constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of expression and made themselves into millionaires— the lucky 1% of our population.  

Mr. Moore’s remark that “snipers are cowards” and Mr. Rogen’s comparison of American Sniper with an infamous piece of Nazi propaganda have ignited a firestorm of controversy. Divorcing their comments from professional jealousy leaves the equally unflattering impression that Moore and Rogen are either woefully under-informed about world affairs, or have yet to grasp the fact that the civil liberties we enjoy in our democracy have been provided to us, and are defended for us, by the men and women who serve in our armed forces. 

Moore and Rogen’s opinions are all too common among the people who consider themselves the shapers of America’s art and taste. In article for The Wrap, writer Steve Pond quotes a member of America’s Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences who called Navy SEAL Chris Kyle “a sociopath.” This comment followed an article in the New Republic by Dennis Jett, which disparaged Kyle by saying that Americans who treat Kyle as a hero, “…ignore the consequences of invading a country that had no weapons of mass destruction, had nothing to do with 9/11, and had no meaningful ties to Al Qaeda.”

A breathtaking ability to ignore current events is but one of the logic faults necessary to warp history into Hollywood’s world-view. Many, if not a great many, of Hollywood’s 1% subscribe to a sort of liberal “unified field theory” that is often bereft of patriotism and short on facts. To the Hollywood elite, the Iraq Wars remain unjust, even though recent articles by the New York Times reveal that as many as 10,000 chemical shells were found in Iraq and hundreds of US soldiers were sickened and injured by unreported exposure to nerve and mustard gasses. Ignoring these inconvenient facts, the editors at The New Republic might yet have been expected to know that Al Qaeda’s franchise operation in Iraq not only killed American and coalition soldiers, but was also the direct progenitor of ISIL and the Islamic State. Still, Mr. Jett might have spoken for all of Hollywood when he summed up, “…many Americans are unable to accept that nothing was won in Iraq, and that the sacrifices Kyle and others made were not worth it.”    

Yet there is another 1% in the United States, and that is the number of men and women who serve in our military. The difference between these two groups, Hollywood’s insiders and the one percent of our population who have voluntarily entered the military to serve, is increasingly glaring. What the men and women of our armed forces do, and what they have sacrificed for us all, seems incomprehensible to people who consider everything between Manhattan and Manhattan Beach to be fly over country.  From the window of a Gulfstream jet, the doings of the rest of the nation are a reduced to a patchwork of farm fields where migrant workers are exploited, meandering watersheds where frackers ply their evil trade, and one-horse towns where bigoted police officers brutalize and murder minorities. 

Hollywood is increasingly separated materially and culturally from the rest of the country; you will not find a big box store on Rodeo Drive. Nor will you find a bodega proffering loose cigarettes, or a card table with a mom and a couple of scouts selling homemade brownies. Chanel, Viton, and Coach are more the mark, and Jaguars outnumber minivans in numbered parking places.  While the rest of the nation has increasingly backed away from liberalism as either a solution or stopgap, the denizens of Hollywood remain staunchly progressive and solidly Democratic. Yet all is not sunshine in Lala land; many in Hollywood remain vaguely dissatisfied and disgruntled. They, too wonder that the government can track their every telephone call without a warrant, they, too, marvel that the War Powers Act no longer seems to constrain the Commander in Chief, and they, too, can read that the Justice Department continues to prosecute journalists, ignore Freedom of Information requests, and stonewall congressional inquiries. A few even wonder how it was that an obscure YouTube video ignited a “protest” that killed America’s ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, but the much dreaded release of the CIA’s report on torture at Gitmo evoked not even a shrug in the Arab world.   

Hollywood’s 1% are many things, but they are not obtuse. It is not lost on them that the administration they greeted with leg shivers has turned increasingly paranoid, secretive, and Nixonian. But they say nothing. And in Hollywood there is the fear that to say anything against the administration would be to open oneself to the condemnation and calumny of other liberals—talent and management alike.  The example of discarded conservative actors, writers, and producers is constantly before their eyes. Their liberal credentials must be constantly burnished. Not even massive donations to PBS can save the reputations of the Koch brothers. Better in Hollywood to be snarky, tenaciously critical of previous administrations, and blandly urbane—just like everyone else.   

Hollywood’s 1%, above the fray, enlighten us by attending Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, lecturing on the imminent collapse of our eco-system, and regard patriotism as a quaint artifact of the working classes. Most instructive is the pinnacle tribe’s mantra that we all must reduce our carbon footprints and make do with less while they burn jet fuel, travel in convoys of armor plated SUVs, and cavort behind a screen of armed bodyguards. We, the prolons, will be happier, safer, and virtuously uplifted under a regime of capped and traded carbon taxes and credits that they have invented, will administer, and have already greatly profited by. They, the better educated, more globally savvy, and enlightened, consider themselves not only our betters, but the class destined to lead us toward a glittering and socially conscious city on the hill. Others may serve in the military and sully themselves morally; it is not necessary for them to exert themselves.   

This was not always the case. In World War II, two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart, abandoned Babylon to serve in combat over Europe. Both won the nation’s second highest decoration for gallantry, the Distinguished Flying Cross. It was not only movie stars who answered their country’s call, but many who would later ascend the Hollywood ladder; Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, and Audie Murphy were a few among dozens of real life heroes who would become matinee idols.  After World War II, Hollywood moved increasingly to the left—perhaps never so obviously than during Vietnam, when bashing the war, and often the military, became a liberal prerequisite. The division between military veterans and Hollywood still rankles; Jane Fonda recently apologized, yet again, for posing for photographs with a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun crew while singing anti-war songs. In an appearance last week, she was quoted saying saying that she regretted her “mistake” and insisted that by traveling to North Vietnam during the war that she had not been “anti-soldier.” Some find her apologies facile, and recall later remarks in which called returning POWs “hypocrites and liars,” and added that, “These were not men who had been tortured. These were not men who had been starved. These were not men who had been brainwashed.” Were we to fail to grasp her point, Ms. Fonda proclaimed America’s returning prisoners to be “careerists and professional killers.”

“Killer” is the same word used by the Guardian’s Lindy West, who proclaimed Navy SEAL Chris Kyle to be “hate filled” as he volunteered to serve three post 9/11 tours in combat. Like Jett, Moore and Rogen, Ms. West wondered aloud, “Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?”

I shall not attempt to answer her question, nor will I attempt to defend her reasoning.  But none of her ilk have ever served in combat. Not one has ventured past the door of a recruiting office, not one has sweated through the tortures of boot camp or struggled through the demanding technical training required by nearly every member of our Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps. None of them could imagine putting aside their own careers, leaving their own friends, families, and domestic partners to travel to far off, hostile places and put their lives on the line—simply because their nation required volunteers, citizens, who were willing “To support and defend the constitution for the United States, from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”   Hollywood’s present opinion of military service was put succinctly by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said, “You know… if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

You might indeed. But the fact that you might actually deliberately enter into your nation’s service—without the perks of office—remains to them an unfathomable mystery. The entertainment industry’s 1% are incapable of understanding that the other 1% of our fellow citizens who voluntarily enter into military service do so to protect the very institutions, rights, and constitutional guarantees that allow Hollywood to function. 

We live in a brutal, violent, and unstable world. The men and women who serve our nation abroad do so knowing that their thanks will be scant, their pay meager, and that the benefits they supposedly will earn will have to be pried from a burdensome, unduly complex and parsimonious labyrinth called the Veteran’s Administration. None of them will be come wealthy—and many of them will find it necessary to subsist on food stamps in order to feed their families. Still they serve.  Still they volunteer.  They put themselves forward so that Hollywood executives may sleep without fear of the beheading that would be their inevitable fate should the enemies of the United States triumph throughout the world. The Islamic State is the enemy of Hollywood too. ISIL is the enemy. Al Qaeda is the enemy. Chris Kyle is not.

It is difficult to remember the last time I heard members of the Islamic State described as “killers,” though surely they are; that, and rapists, assassins, and misogynistic slave traders into the bargain. The 1% of our number who put themselves forward to fight against religious bigotry and sectarian hatred sacrifice much on our behalf.  The trials and horrors that they endure are almost impossible to explain much less comprehend for those who have not served in in a war zone. I am a former Navy SEAL. I have served in combat. To kill another human being takes a permanent and obdurate toll on both mind and spirit. It is a burden that soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen will carry with them for the rest of their lives. The awful rate of veteran suicide is a stark and sobering reminder that service in the war on terror is both arduous and ethically complex. 

The massacre of the staff of the magazine Charlie Hebdo has placed the rights of a free people and the freedom of speech, thought, and expression into stark comparison with the ethics and values of worldwide jihad. In the brave new world ISIS would bring into being there is no democracy, there is no freedom of speech, there is no gender equality, there is no human dignity and there is no freedom of conscious or religion.  Everywhere ISIL has triumphed, people languish under a twisted interpretation of Shi’ra law, and it is administered at the point of a sword.   

The shadow of that blade hangs over Hollywood as surely as it darkened Paris. The killers who entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo called out names from a list and murdered eleven unarmed, defenseless men and women in cold blood. Our names, too, were on that list. As is the name of every man, woman, and child, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Yazid and Muslim who would resist ISIL’s vision of a worldwide theocracy.

Hollywood may eventually find time to thank the selfless men and women who have placed themselves between Charlie Hebdo’s killers and the gates of Bel Air. It is not likely to happen soon, and it is hardly necessary. The other 99% of us are rightly awed and grateful for the sacrifices made on our behalf. It is from the small towns of fly over country that our best and bravest come. It is from the families of the working classes that patriotism inculcated and it is by them that the flower of our nation is placed on the altar of our liberty. Their sons and daughters give their lives so we may all be free.

Our veterans and serving forces do not require the flaccid praise of politicians. Especially those who have conspicuously enriched themselves while voting, repeatedly, to cut the benefits of simple soldiers. Our men and women in uniform do not need the trite and meaningless corrections of the record that are certain come from the likes of Moore and Rogen. The appreciation of the rest of us is sufficient, as is the heartfelt thanks of their fellow veterans. I hope you will join me and take a moment to praise them, and Chris Kyle, for putting themselves between us and our enemies. 

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