Thursday, 29 January 2015

American Sniper; the bit no-one seems to be talking about

Michael Moore is being barred from all kinds of hamburger joints because he called snipers cowards.

He probably felt like he was on a winner. Nobody likes snipers. Read any English language memoir of World War II; if there’s a sniper in it, it’s a cowardly German or Japanese hiding in the bushes picking people off from a distance, and getting stomped something wicked if the brave Allies caught up with him. You can argue that there’s something sneaky or underhand about snipers if you want to, but it’s one of those jobs like flamethrower operator where you go in knowing that if anything goes wrong, you’re not going to be getting any of that Geneva Convention stuff everyone else gets. 

Underneath it all, there’s a visceral unease about what snipers do. They shoot people on purpose. Most people can’t do that. It takes about six weeks of systematic dehumanisation to get men comfortable with the idea of just blazing away randomly at a faceless enemy they can barely see. After WWII was over the US Army did a study of what their troops did in the Pacific. Less than a quarter of them even fired their weapons; only one in ten of those men aimed at anyone. And then there’s snipers. Taking aimed shots at people they can see quite clearly in their telescopes. Snipers kill more enemy soldiers than whole platoons of ordinary grunts. A good one will kill 50 or a hundred people before the law of averages catches up with him. An average one can stop an entire infantry company in its tracks. In Normandy company commanders would just shell a whole neighborhood rather than waste time trying to figure out where the sniper was. Snipers are, pound for pound, the most efficient killers of men in any armed force.

Kind of makes you wonder why generals don’t just make the whole army out of snipers.

Well, Michael Moore would probably say that it’s because snipers are freaks and decent soldiers are better than that. And he’d be wrong.

The reality is, if anything, more depressing for the American view of its wars and its victories. Snipers are losers; or rather they’re a weapon which only losers can use. A sniper can blunt an attack, slow down an advance, keep an enemy confused and disrupted. But he can’t take ground. He can’t attack. A sniper stays still. A sniper is permanently on the defensive. The reason Allied memoirs are full of ENEMY snipers is that the Allies were winning and the Germans and the Japanese were trying to slow them down with snipers. A force of snipers is not how you win a war; it’s how you launch a last ditch struggle not to lose it. It’s how you try to hold the ground that the real army has taken with blitzkrieg and shock and awe. When you’re relying on snipers, either you’re defending your home, or it’s time to GO home. 

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