Michael Moore spoke to VICE at length about his thoughts on <em>American Sniper</em>, snipers in general, Sarah Palin, PTSD, that time Clint Eastwood threatened to kill him, and a whole host of other issues swirling around the media circus at the...
Michael Moore at the Oscar Celebrates Docs reception in 2013. Photo by Tommaso Boddi via Getty.
On January 18, two days after the release of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, Michael Moore tweeted: "My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren't heroes. And invaders r worse," followed by: "But if you're on the roof of your home defending it from invaders who've come 7K miles, you are not a sniper, u are brave, u are a neighbor." The backlash from the right was swift and loud. Breitbart called the tweets "pathetic trolling," John McCain said they were "idiotic" and "outrageous," and Kid Rock wrote on his website, "Fuck you Michael Moore, you're a piece of shit and your uncle would be ashamed of you." But the most dramatic reaction to the tweets came from Sarah Palin, who posed alongside Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Dakota Meyer with a sign reading "Fuc_ You, Michael Moore." The two O's in Moore's name had been replaced with crosshairs.
After drawing criticism from both the right and the left, Palin stood behind the photo during her bizarre, rambling speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, saying, "What the poster said is what the rest of us are thinking." Moore, for his part, has not made any TV appearances or reacted to the controversy outside of a few tweets and Facebook posts, but he was willing to speak to VICE's Eddy Moretti at length about his thoughts on American Sniper , snipers in general, Sarah Palin, PTSD, that time Clint Eastwood threatened to kill him, and a whole host of other issues swirling around the media circus at the moment.
VICE: Hi, Michael. Let's start with your tweets, before we get into the reaction to them, and give you an opportunity to clarify what you meant, what inspired you to write them, and how you felt emotionally when you wrote them.
Michael Moore: Well the first thing I would say is that I feel really no need to clarify or defend what I wrote. I'm proud of what I wrote. I take nothing back, and in fact I've only added more to it. I am not bullied by these people who bullied a whole nation into a senseless, illegal war. So really, in terms of impact, this has none on me. I say what I say. Of course if I were wrong, or made an error, I would certainly correct it, but that's not the case here. And it really kind of grinds me when I see on TV or hear from other people, you know, Michael Moore, he walked that back, and it's just like, well, that hasn't happened. I have no apologies for my very strong beliefs in how I want the warmongering in this country to stop.
And I think that the reason we're having this conversation too—and I've shared this with nobody else, I've turned down all requests for TV shows—is that the problem with Twitter and why you do need to, we'll use the word clarify, is because 140 characters can't really convey things that have enormous depth to them. So Facebook and talking to you gives me a really good chance to add on further to what I had said on Twitter.
One thing that struck me is that there are two things you're talking about in different media. On Twitter you were talking about the issue of snipers, which is a fascinating topic that deserves some more discussion, and then there's the film called American Sniper—and it seems like you're talking about two different things. Am I right?
That's correct. I purposely didn't say anything about American Sniper in my original tweets. I certainly wrote what I wrote because that weekend there was a lot of talk about snipers because of the movie, but also because it was Martin Luther King weekend and I just found it uncomfortable that something called American Sniper, a film about a sniper, would be released on the weekend where we're honoring a great American who was killed by a sniper. And if anybody doesn't see anything wrong with that, how would you feel then if it were announced tomorrow that American Sniper 2 would be released on November 22?
Yeah, you wouldn't do some kind of disaster type attack movie and release it on September 11, for instance.
Exactly. The appliance store doesn't take out a Holocaust Day ad for you know, Today, ovens on sale. I mean that would be the most extreme and bizarro example, but it just shows a bit of a tin ear. Or does it? Maybe the plan was, Well, you know, Selma has just been released. Are white people going to go see that movie? Let's give white people something to watch on Martin Luther King weekend . I don't know, but it felt really uncomfortable. It got me thinking about snipers, and you had to have grown up in my family to understand the intense sort of raw nerve that the idea of a sniper created.
My uncle's name was Lawrence Moore, but they called him Lornie. Uncle Lornie was someone I never met because I was born nine years after the war, but it was very clear to me at a young age that his death had impacted the family greatly. It impacted my grandmother quite intensely. When they finally shipped his body back and they buried him at the Catholic cemetery in Flint, she convinced her husband to leave their home. They moved from their home to a house two doors down from the cemetery. And she would go over there every day and visit his grave.
And to add insult to injury, the military marker sent to the grave by the War Department—its name before it was called the Pentagon—did not have Lornie's name, not Lawrence Moore's name, but Herbert Moore, who was her husband, my grandfather, Herbert (and they also had a son, another one of my uncles, who was named Herbert). So it's not even his name on the grave.
It was a two- or three-time-a-year ritual for all of us kids to go there and put flags on the grave. He was a beloved sibling. To all the aunts and uncles, he was the loved one, the kind one, the one they all turned to, and it really impacted the family.
You see, the battle was over in the Philippines, and they had essentially won. They were in the Luzon Province, and they were marching down this road back to the base. Japanese soldiers were known for not giving up, and a sniper up in the tree shot him in the back of his head and killed him instantly. They just couldn't fathom that if it was over, why would—what a cowardly, cowardly act.
I also sent a second tweet out right away because I wanted to clarify what I meant by "sniper." A sniper, to me, is the person in the invading force. That's the soldier and the people who are doing wrong, who climb to the tops of buildings or trees and hide themselves and take out people without them knowing, without them having a chance to fight back. If troops from another country were marching down Broadway and someone were to climb to the top of a building to try to stop them, by any means, that's not a sniper. That's a defender of his or her home. Just as the person who was the sniper—the Arab sniper in American Sniper—what was he doing? He was trying to stop the invading force.
Snipers were first called sharpshooters or marksmen, they weren't called snipers until World War I, and it was really the Germans in World War I who perfected the concept of the sniper, not the Allies. And then that really carried over. In WWII, I think you can look this up, but two thirds of all kills from snipers occurred from German and Japanese soldiers. And as the war went on the Russians figured it out and how to do it. What Eisenhower did in 1956, 1957—we had the US sniper school in Camp Perry in Ohio—and he closed it down.
People should practice saying it. We will be better off in the future when we say we lost Vietnam, we lost Iraq, we lost Afghanistan.
I don't know. I mean I've been doing some research this week. It remained closed for 30 years until Reagan reopened it in 1987 at Fort Benning. There was a lot of talk after Korea—a vet told me this story—saying that it just didn't feel like the American way. Snipers are really needed by the invading force. As defenders, you know, there's all kind of preying that goes on—like if we were actually attacked we would all, as such, become snipers, if you wanted to use that word. But when the liberators come, it's the snipers that's taking out the liberators. And that's the confusion of course when you watch FOX News. I mean, talking about American Sniper —they're talking about American soldiers as the liberators of Iraq! We didn't liberate anything. In fact we made it worse, and we lost the war! Write that in the loss column. And people should practice saying it. We will be better off in the future when we say we lost Vietnam, we lost Iraq, we lost Afghanistan. Why do we invent this fairy tale about ourselves? It does no good, and it is only going to get us into more trouble in the future.
The right wing in this country is championing this film, and the film is doing really well. If you assume a film does well because people love the main character, you could say that Americans are loving this sniper, right? Why do you think that is? You're right that generally snipers have always been menacing. It's always the poor guy caught in the square who gets picked off and the sniper is always hiding, and it's a sneaky move. But what is this sniper doing for popular American consciousness that is satisfying people so much and driving them into the theaters? There's some incredible psychodrama happening around this film at a national psychic level.
Yes, and it has to do with the fact that psychically, we know we were wrong. We know that there were no weapons of mass destruction. We know that 4,400 American kids lost their lives and countless tens of thousands of Iraqis. We know all this and really, underneath, it is a deep-seated guilt.
Plus a lot of the Cold War Republican types who go to the movies too, you know they don't live in a bubble. They have family members or they have neighbors, they have people who have come back from this war messed up. We have a huge PTSD problem. We have a huge mental issue here with the soldiers who have come back from this war. And I have to tell you the two times that I've seen it, it's very quiet at the end. Nobody is cheering. Even when Bradley Cooper takes out Mustafa, the Arab sniper, no whoop went out, and believe me, I saw this in an audience of people who are not on my side of the political fence. And they were very affected; they felt very sad. Every main character in the movie ends up either messed up by the war or dead. And it's not a celebration of this. People may go into the movie thinking Ra ra! but they don't walk out going Ra ra!
The final thing I'll say is that a lot of people want to see it now because of the controversy and also because it got nominated for Best Picture, and people want to see the best picture. Also it's Clint Eastwood—he's made some of the greatest films. So there are lots of reasons people are going, but I'll tell you, I saw it on the second night in Union Square, and there wasn't a single person who lives in the Village in that movie theater. It was all people who took the train in from New Jersey or Long Island. And the research has been done—the studio wants to know who's going to the movie—and this movie's audience is made up of people who go to see one movie a year or people who never go to the movies. It is the Passion of the Christ crowd that is in these movie theaters.
Let's go back to snipers for a minute, and the distinction you're making between comments on snipers versus the film American Sniper. You have a real personal connection to snipers and their effects, and there aren't very many modern sniper stories that resonate in the American consciousness, except maybe if you go back to World War I or II, like you were saying.
Except even then, just off the top of your head you can't name a sniper that society has agreed over time is an American hero. It's just not in our culture. There's the famous story of Jesse James and the coward who shot him in the back. He was hanging a picture on the wall in his home when a guy came up to the window and shot him and killed him. Jesse James is not remembered as the scoundrel. He was a robber and a killer, but the guy who killed him is a scoundrel in the story that was told.
We grew up with stories like that. Our dads told us—at least the boys—that to cold-clock somebody was a chicken-shit thing to do. To hit somebody without them seeing you, to come up from behind, is just considered wrong. The word sniper itself—have you ever heard the word sniping used in a good way?
No, I haven't
It has a negative context to it. I didn't invent this the other day on Twitter. It is a commonly held belief, and it's why we were never known for our so-called snipers. In the wars we've been in, it's been the other side that's had the snipers. And it's not that we haven't always had sharpshooters or marksmen. For crying out loud, I won the NRA marksmen award when I was a kid. But I think that the sniper is usually associated with the evil side, the one that's doing the harm, whether it was the Germans in either war or the Japanese in my uncle's case.
There's another film out right now called Fury. Have you seen that?
Yep, I saw it.
There's a sniper in that film too, and at the end he takes out the American hero. So it seems like the value of the sniper is in the eye of the beholder. It's the bad sniper camouflaged and taking out Brad Pitt, who was destroying a battalion of SS soldiers.
I liked that movie. It was a well-done war movie and really had me on the edge of my seat. And earlier in the movie when they come into the one town there's another German sniper, which was the problem for all Americans who went into these towns. The invading force, the Germans, were occupying the town and trying to stop the liberators. They couldn't win in a fair fight, and you can say that Americans had more troops, more money, and more firepower, but I also look at it in a more Zen way: that the oppressor, the invader, the occupier, pretty much—not always, but pretty much—throughout history is defeated. In other words, good does triumph over evil. With a few exceptions, Native Americans being of course an obvious one.
I get all these emails from people going, Chris Kyle, he protected our troops and he saved lives. Well, what does that mean, "he saved lives"? The lives of our soldiers shouldn't have been there in jeopardy in the first place. We were the ones in the wrong; we were the invading force and eventually we lost. We were there under false pretenses, and we left the place much worse off than when we got there.
Taking your personal history and emotions around the concept of a sniper into account, can you describe how you felt when you walked into the film, and also when you walked out?
Well, I went there on the second night of the opening. It was only in four theaters in the country. I like Clint Eastwood, and I wanted to see this movie. Frankly it had the best trailer and best TV ads of any movie of the year. But when I got there, from the popcorn line to inside the theater, I said, "Oh my God. Look around, we're in the Village and no one from the Village is here." Then some people saw me and one person said, "Hey, it's great you're here," and thanked me for my stuff.
I was so happy sitting with this audience because they were very affected by it. There were tears.
It was clear we were in a theater with 800 vets, or active duty, or family members or friends, and we were with people who never go to the movies. In fact, the person I was with was laughing because I was sort of like a de facto usher. Going to a movie in New York is different from elsewhere, and people would come in and look around, they couldn't find seats together and get how the whole system worked. They were so out of their element. I can't tell you, a dozen times I probably said, "Hey, look, there's a balcony." And they looked stunned because they hadn't caught it on their own. And I asked people, "Could you move those coats? Could you let this couple sit down?" They looked so flustered and had this look on their faces that I probably would have if I were seating myself at the Oxford debating society.
Anyway, I was so happy sitting with this audience because they were very affected by it. There were tears. People were having a reaction to it. The closing credits have no music—very somber. Every main character in the film either ends up messed up by the war, turns against the war and becomes anti-war, or dies. There's not some American victory to cheer at the end, and there's no instance of go look what we did , or like at the end of Saving Private Ryan , where you see Tom Hanks die but in the back of your head you're going, Well, he didn't die for no reason. There is none of that in this film. There is no catharsis.
I talked to Deb, who runs my film festival back in Traverse City, and she said the same thing. She went to see it at the mall. She said it was just sad from beginning to end. She said there was a lot of talking during the movie, mostly people asking each other questions because they didn't understand the politics, they didn't understand the Shia-Sunni thing, and they would ask, Whose side is he on? There was a lot of ignorance in the audience.
But it's interesting; I just saw today that it's going to break the all-time box-office R-rated-movie record, which was held by The Passion of the Christ. And I think they're finding the demographics for this are very similar. These are not people who usually go to the movies, and if they do they don't go very often. Fifty percent of the American public never goes to a movie theater. And then the next 25 percent who do go, go once a year. The movie-going public is that last 25 percent. It just felt like a real Passion of the Christ crowd. People who would normally wait for it to go on video or see it on TV but wanted that collective feeling of sitting there with others.
Trailer for 'American Sniper'
Putting your issues with snipers and the politics of war aside, would it be fair to say that you have no issues with the filmmaking itself?
The film itself. I don't usually comment if you follow my Twitter. I, like most filmmakers and directors—there's sort of an unwritten, unspoken code that we don't criticize each other's films. If we don't like a film by another director we just say nothing. If we do like something then we talk loudly about it and encourage people to go see it. That's why it's rare to find a filmmaker attacking another filmmaker for the film they've made. Because we all know how hard it is to make a good movie. The only time I've done it in the past is when I felt really bad that so many people, especially working people, were going to shell out money to see something they've been told is one thing and then it's not, and then they're going to be miserable. They work hard all week and it's a lot of money now to go to the movies and buy candy and stuff for the kids. That's just how I feel. So as a movie, I didn't say anything about the movie in those first two tweets. And then when I finally went more than 140 characters, when I went onto Facebook saying, Well, I'm not going to say anything about American Sniper but I'll say this, Bradley Cooper—one of the best performances of the year. Hands down. How he transforms himself... you don't even think it's Bradley Cooper.
Steve Carell just did the same thing in Fox Catcher. After just a moment that guy "Steve Carell" is just gone and this monster is there in his place.
Exactly right. That's the sign of a good actor, so that's my first positive comment about the movie. The second thing is that, technically, it's a well-made movie. I think there were some good choices made in terms of—it was very bold to not have a closing song, no music whatsoever, just credits rolling in the dark. Black and quiet. As a story, I think that this is where the film gets a little messy for me, because Clint basically just wants to make an old-style western—you know, keep things really simple and don't complicate matters. For instance the Twin Towers were hit, they get called up, and suddenly they're in Iraq.
If you haven't paid attention to anything, basically the film says, W e were attacked, so then we attacked back in Iraq . Of course we know Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but the film implies that it does, and that that's the mission he's on to defend our country. But we weren't being defended by his being in Iraq. You can make the case that by going into Afghanistan to stop them, and to try to get Bin Laden and all that, that it had some legitimacy to it. But before it was being run by an incompetent commander-in-chief, and it took the new commander-in-chief 13 months—if that—to do Bush's job that Bush had eight years to do, to get the mass murderer. So there are storyline problems in the film, and I think that's why people in the audience were talking, because they were confused. American Sniper covers what looks like about five or six years or three or four tours of Iraq, and it was like, How does he keep ending up in the same town with that one same guy ? It was just dumb in the old-school western way. It was like a B-movie in that way. And then of course there's all the historical things that are wrong, but we don't really want to get into that. It's a movie; I'm not watching it as a documentary.
But I think people are really affected by what we did, and we're going to continue to be affected by it. Where I live in Traverse City I've set up these PTSD programs for veterans. I have these conferences for finding jobs, I started the first affirmative action program to specifically hire Iraq and Afghanistan vets, and any active-duty military and their families can go to my movie theaters for free any day of the year—they don't pay a dime. Not many businesses offer their things for free every day of the year to active-duty military. And I have these three theaters that I've restored; they're all nonprofit. I set them up to be owned by the communities they're in.
You're showing the film in your own theater, right?
Yeah, I'm showing the film in one of the three theaters. And that's because I think that it's part of the American discussion and people should see it. You can't talk about it if you haven't seen it. I saw John McCain criticizing me yesterday for what I said about snipers in general, and a reporter asked him if he'd seen the movie and he said, "No, I haven't seen it yet." And it took me right back to when he went on Letterman and criticized 9/11, and Letterman went, "Did you see the movie?" And he said, "No, I haven't seen it yet." And Letterman said, "Senator, do you think it's right to criticize things you haven't seen?" And he went, "No, you're probably right. I should see it."
I wouldn't show Transformers 5 , because that's just a crap movie. But this isn't a crap movie, and in fact Clint Eastwood has even said there's a very strong anti-war sentiment in this film. You tell me, Eddy, when you came out of that film, did you think to yourself, This is a great recruiting film to get young boys to join the military?
I think I kind of prepared myself for a piece of right-wing propaganda when I went into the film. When I saw it I was frightened because I felt like I was in a first-person shooter video game, and I thought that was potentially a very dangerous thing, if people were finding that titillating, that they'd think, Wow, Iraq is this real-life version of this video game that I'm playing. Cool . So that was a scary moment. I was totally glued to every second of the film, though. I didn't take my eyes off the screen once. So yeah, I went in worried, and I thought the film did warrant the worry, but after talking to you now there is potentially a real anti-war message in there.
OK, first of all he runs into his brother on the tarmac. He's so excited to see his brother, who is getting on a plane to get out of there. You can see the poor boy is completely shell-shocked. The American sniper dude, Chris Kyle, is all excited to see him, and then his brother finally says the truth to him: "Fuck this place." How often have I heard that from guys returning from there? Fuck this place. And then his best friend is killed, and he goes to the funeral with his wife, and his friend's widow reads his last letter home, an anti-war letter. You know, war is wrong.
Clint Eastwood is not a right-wing ideologue; he's a mixed bag of nuts, politically. And really if anything he's a libertarian. If you wanted to put a label on him, that's probably what he believes politically. I don't think he believes the United States should be the policeman of the world. It took a lot to show that the brother is against the war, his best friend is against the war, and Chris seems like he's the only one to be like, Woo hoo! Everyone else is looking at him like, Are you crazy? Let's keep our heads down and get the fuck out of here as soon as we can .
Everybody knows the lie that Chris keeps telling himself, that this is worth it, he has to keep saying because he probably knows deep down in his heart that it's not worth anything—it has nothing to do with defending the United States of America, which is their only job. That's what we pay our taxes for. So if we are attacked or something is threatening us, we are protected. This was not threatening us. Iraq was not attacking us, and they weren't planning to attack us.
I put out a book of letters from soldiers actually, because I got so many from people who had signed up after 9/11, just wanting to do their part, and two years later they got sent to Iraq and they're like, What the fuck am I doing here? I didn't sign up for this .
It sounds like you're saying that the film is less one-dimensional than the discourse around the movie and the backlash against you, which is almost more myopic than the film itself.
Yeah, exactly. Then the question has to be asked, Why? How did I become—why the hot button on this one? I mean I've read what Noam Chomsky has written about this. I've read Matt Taibbi, I've read Chris Hedges... I've read what the thinkers on the far left have said, and I mean they are brutal and vicious about the movie. And I agree on a lot of what they're saying, but they don't go after them, they go after me. I figured this out a long time ago—the reason they go after me, and the reason they went after Seth Rogen, is because we reach deep into the mainstream of Middle America. My base, and obviously the church of the left, loves my work and buys my books and goes to my movies, but if it were just them, I'd be doomed. My movies play in shopping malls and cineplexes, and that's a very unusual thing for someone on the left—to have our work, our art, reach that deep into the mainstream of America. So that then makes me dangerous to them, because they know that I have this audience. I love that sometimes I get these comments like, "How did he get two million followers on Twitter? Somebody explain that to me? What kind of world are we living in?"
I don't have a nightly show like Rachel [Maddow]; I don't have a weekly show like Bill [Maher]. My last movie was five years ago, and my last book was a couple. I'm not out there on a daily basis. I don't go on TV. And yet I have this enormous fan base that extends way beyond the church of the left, and obviously Seth Rogen does too, to an even greater extent because he's not a political person. He's really, really in the mainstream, especially with the younger generation. And that makes him dangerous, and they have to stop him immediately. He didn't think anything really political by it, I thought it was a very astute, funny observation that he made. But now there's a restaurant in Michigan and Seth Rogen and I can't eat there. I started a hashtag #tableforsethandmike for any restaurant that will feed us to please send us your name. [ Laughs]
Obviously you saw the poster that Sarah Palin held up—Michael Moore with the crosshairs in the two O's.
The one that ended her political career on Saturday?
Yeah, I tweeted those two Tweets on Sunday, and on Monday I figured I better do a Facebook post because I live in a nation where a lot of people can't comprehend, and plus 140 characters isn't a lot. So I did the Facebook [post] and then I decided I'm going to be silent now until Friday. And I didn't tweet anything about this, didn't talk about it, didn't do anything, just decided to play rope-a-dope with these crazies and let them scream all week and they won't see me fighting back, which will elevate their screaming and nuttiness and essentially let them punch themselves in the face. This is what I hoped would happen. Think about this—the vast majority of her base is made up of born-again Christians. Good Christian people. They were stunned to see her holding a sign that said "fuck you."
She got so mad at me that she let her guard down to reveal who she is, and the Christian right saw that and were all kind of horrified.
This is someone who portrays herself as a real proper American mother.
Yeah, family values and apple pie, and she says things like golly gee wiz. She got so mad at me that she let her guard down to reveal who she is, and the Christian right saw that and were all kind of horrified. She got a lot of immediate blowback on social media, and then again on Saturday before she stood up to give her speech. My theory is she thought her own people turned against her in that time and it rattled her, and then I guess the prompter went out, right? She wasn't able to recover, and she was right in the middle. I should go back and have a look at this, I can't remember. I saw it on C-Span. But at the start she was on me, she's just come off this posting, she's getting a lot of blowback from her people so she starts off on me again, and then the prompter blows, so whatever. I'd like to think that a good union man or woman...
Pulled the plug?
[Laughs] Pulled the plug. But be that as it may, she got discombobulated, and if you follow any of the news on her now, in the last four days, it's all saying that she's over. They're attacking her on Fox—Bill Kristol, who was her big supporter... all these people have abandoned her because of those two things that she said, holding a sign that used the word fuck and her discombobulatedness when she was going off on me and then lost the plot and couldn't speak.
With the crosshairs and the O's, didn't she get into some trouble—didn't her website a few years ago have districts with crosshairs over them across America?
Yes, and she had to pull that off. And in the "fuck-you" sign she put crosshairs in the two O's of my name. And that also was part of the blowback—thanks for reminding me about that. So using the F-word and going back to putting crosshairs on a human being.
For what it's worth, I'm looking at the picture now, and she's making this real kind of white-trashy hand sign—you know when you put your pinky out and your thumb is out... I don't even know what they call that. There's a word for it.
Yeah, I know what you mean.
It's like a party-time kind of hand symbol. It's pretty funny.
[Laughs] This is more like, Let's kill this motherfucker and PARTY!
Michael Moore's Oscar acceptance speech for 'Bowling for Columbine'
There's something really trashy and crude about what she's doing with her hands. I've got to ask you one last question, because I can't end an interview talking about Sarah Palin. You allow people suffering from PTSD to use your theaters as meeting places. How do you think the film handled the issue of PTSD, since that topic is so close to you?
Well, I identify with it through the veterans I have helped, but I also identify with it personally. I didn't have to go through what they went through in Iraq, but I had to have the kind of threat level that I was under after my Oscar speech, and after Fahrenheit there were half a dozen assaults on me. I had to hire a security team, which was essentially six ex-Navy SEALs and Green Berets, and they caught this guy who had made a fertilizer bomb to blow up my house. So I've had my own issues with this.
I was glad [PTSD] was part of the film. You know, Clint didn't try to portray either the soldiers or the veterans as a monolithic, He-Man operation. They were all kinds. And I think that they are... I know that this has actually triggered some good stuff with people wanting to deal with PTSD issues, and I think that the movie will engender wanting to help the returning veterans. I hope it does good things on emotional levels. But on the cognitive brain level, Americans who watch this film have to really commit to never again. Never will we allow a situation like this to happen again.
And there's very little attention paid... the big funeral they have at the end with the caravan, it looks like something you'd give to somebody who had died in the war. The war he died in was the war at home—the war of the returning veteran who wasn't getting help. But it's also the war of an American culture, specifically a Texan culture that says, Sure, give anybody a gun. Let's go to the range. Oh, he has PTSD? No problem, have a gun . The American gun, the American culture and attitude toward guns, killed Chris Kyle. And it's dealt with very briefly in the film. We're only told of how he died. Clint doesn't show us the scene where he picks the guy up and they go to the gun range, and show the scene at the gun range, and show that after all he goes through in Iraq, he dies this way from a fellow Army guy. Not from some liberal, some protester, but from one of his own. The whole thing is wrong, the whole war was wrong. It was immoral; it was illegal. The Pope said this was not a just war, and it is completely—look at the statistics of the guys who have come back in terms of spousal abuse.
Prescription drug abuse...
Oh my God. It's just... And I get this feeling from people, Out of sight, out of mind. I don't want to think about it. But if the film gets them to think about it, it will have done a good thing, but if they go away from the film thinking, Can't wait for that next war so we can get more of those bad guys , well, I'm sorry folks, but we're not going to learn our lesson until we're willing to say, We were the bad guys , we were the guys who did the wrong thing here . People were defending their homes, and that's why they were killing us. As we would kill them! If a group of Iranians or Iraqis or Canadians were coming down your Main Street in the town you're in, tell me you'd act any different.
It's even more complicated than that, because not only were they killing the American soldiers, they were killing each other. And frankly, in a way, maybe it's kind of perfect that this film comes out now, at a time when ISIS has brought the Iraq war back into people's consciousness, and exposed the complexity there that nobody really knew existed when we went into Iraq because they didn't pay attention or learn about it. It's interesting the film is coming out now, when everything is kicking up again, because we pulled this thing apart. The mess is now, and yet to come.
We did pull it apart, and I'm not saying Saddam Hussein was a good guy, but clearly he understood that the only way for Iraq to not fall apart was for it to be a secular country, not a religious country. If religion was going to be introduced, there would be a civil war. And he was right. That's what's happening right now.
Would we be showing a film that constantly refers to Native Americans as savages?
I have to say before we close that the portrayal of Iraqis, Arab, and Muslim people in this film is really offensive. We're talking about this in our home in Michigan, there are a lot of native people here, and would we be showing a film that constantly refers to Native Americans as savages? I mean the word is said one too many times in that film. The first time I heard it I was like, OK, I get it, soldiers talk this way , but when it kept getting repeated, then I heard Clint Eastwood talking, not the soldiers. He really needed to drive that point home. He needed to drive it home, story-wise, that the other sides were savages, that they would put a drill into a boy's head. That he really needed.
The first thing I wrote about his conflation of Vietnam with Iraq is that this whole thing about sending children out with grenades or the women or whatever, that was part of the Vietnam mythology. And it did happen in Vietnam a few times, but it scared everybody, made everybody think that the Vietnamese were animals. Well that didn't really happen in the Iraq war. The kids were not booby-trapped; the kids were not doing grenades and all that. In Palestine there were women who were suicide bombers, there was the woman who tried to be a suicide bomber in Jordan, but they're trying to negotiate the release right now. But that wasn't the Iraq war; it wasn't that kind of thing.
We lost so many guys and so many limbs because of cell phones and IEDs they could put on the road and explode. And then Rumsfeld refused to upgrade the Humvees from General Motors, so they were just tinfoil on the bottom for the first couple of years. Guys there started retrofitting the Humvees, they would just get scrap metal and bolt it all over the fucker so they could live because the Pentagon wasn't giving them vehicles they were going to survive in. So it was offensive to hear that word spoken throughout by—not by bad people but by good people, which made it seem that it's OK to say these words about these Iraqi "savages."
It's also maintained a feeling about Arabs and Muslims that makes me feel uncomfortable. But you know, I'm not saying we try to whitewash this thing, there are some serious problems. Even with the guy with the fertilizer bomb, I can cite you one example of that in ten years against me. If I lived in other countries it would be a little bit more often. So I don't want to compare this to that, but I just posted a thing on Facebook tonight because I've been asked for this in the last couple of days with Clint Eastwood—did he threaten to kill me? So Snopes finally did a thing on it yesterday, and said yes, this is true, it happened in 2005 at Tavern on the Green. I think everybody took it as a joke or half joke, but it was one of those weird things where he wasn't expecting a laugh, and then when people did laugh, he didn't like it, so he was like, Hey, I mean it. I'll shoot you. Then it got really quiet, like, What the fuck is wrong with him? There are certain things you don't make a joke about. You don't say to a woman, Hey, I'm gonna rape you, and then nervous laughter, No, I mean it! I'm gonna rape you! Don't say that please. That's not cool.
Let's just close here, with one last thing. Not every film can tell every story. Surely there are many Iraqi stories that are not being told in this film, but that last shot of the film where Chris walks out the door and we know what's going to happen next, what about the untold story of that killer? Should we know about these guys? Is anyone telling that story of the psychologically shattered Iraqi vet coming home?
No, it's not being told. Nobody thinks about it in their day-to-day lives. People don't want to think about how serious this problem can be. We're going to pay the price for it if we don't address it. We're already paying the price for it. It's a great problem and should be a top, top priority.
Where do people go to learn more? Do you want to send them somewhere?
The veterans hotlines that have been set up by veterans groups. There's a documentary short that's nominated for the Oscars this year called Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. It's so powerful. It's based in a veterans hotline just up the river from here. So I think that anything you can do to support on a local basis and encourage psychologists, psychiatrists to donate whatever time they have. Don't depend on the VA for it. Then there are really good groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of America and others who are really trying to be good advocates for veterans, and I think that people should join that group. They should support it, and I think also we should make our representatives make this a priority. There's a problem with our health-care system in that we don't treat mental health as an equal partner in this. We should be equally concerned with fighting mental health as well as physical health.
How many veterans commit suicide per day?
It's 22 a day.
The percentage of homeless who are veterans is staggering. If young boys in high school could be shown here's how your country thanks you for your service ... I wrote a blog last year saying I want everyone to stop saying to soldiers and vets, "Thank you for your service to our country." They don't want to hear that, they want you to shut the fuck up and do something. Make sure there's mental health care available. Put in politicians who won't send them to war for no reason. You know, if you want to thank them, then that's how you can thank them.
More information on PTSD and veteran support groups can be found at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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