Monday, August 8, 2016

Roy Scranton, "The Trauma Hero: From Wilfred Owen to 'Redeployment' and 'American Sniper'", LA Review of Books, Jan 25, 2015

American Sniper focuses in tight on one man’s story of trauma, leaving out the complex questions of why Kyle was in Iraq being traumatized in the first place. The Iraqis in the film are villains, caricatures, and targets, and the only real opinion on them the film offers is Kyle’s. The Iraqis are all “savages” who threaten American lives and need to be killed. There’s some truth in this representation, insofar as this is how a lot of American soldiers thought. Yet the film obviates the questions of why any American soldiers were in Iraq, why they stayed there for eight years, why they had to kill thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians, and how we are to understand the long and ongoing bloodbath once called the “war on terror.” It does that precisely by turning a killer into a victim, a war hero into a trauma hero. [...]
The sad fact Klay plays on is that most American readers will care more about a dead dog than they will about a dead Iraqi, and in this way “Redeployment” opens up an emotional conduit for those readers to feel the pang of grief that can come with killing, but without having to connect that feeling to the political reality of the war in Iraq. Whereas an Iraqi victim would have to be reckoned with as a fellow human being, with all the complexity that entails, a dog can simply be pitied and his killer simply empathized with. This moral simplification comes at a cost. [...]
The Yellow Birds, “Redeployment,” and American Sniper may portray a loss of innocence that makes the dirty war in Iraq palatable as an individual tragedy, but they only do so by obscuring the connection between American audiences and the millions of Iraqi lives destroyed or shattered since 2003. Focusing on the suffering of Private Bartle, Sergeant Price, or Chief Petty Officer Kyle allows us to forget the suffering of the very people whose land was occupied in our name. There are almost no Iraqis in The Yellow Birds or Redeployment at all, and where they do appear, they are caricatures. If the point of literature is to help us “recognize [our] own suffering in the stories of others,” as George Packer sententiously asserts, rather than soothing our troubled consciences with precisely the stories we want to hear, then novels such as The Yellow Birdsand stories such as “Redeployment” are gross moral and literary failures. But the failure does not belong to the writers. It belongs to all the readers and citizens who expect veterans to play out for them the ritual fort-da of trauma and recovery, and to carry for them the collective guilt of war. 
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/trauma-hero-wilfred-owen-redeployment-american-sniper/

[brought to my attention by Michiko Kakutani's review in the NYT of Scranton's new novel War Porn (just out this month).]