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With the release and success of the movie, American Sniper, whether they have seen the movie or not, everyone in the country, including many around the world, have strong opinions about it.

url-1Some say the movie is propaganda. Some say Chris Kyle is a murderer and a racist. Some say this is the greatest war movie of the past twenty years.

Unfortunately, most of these people have completely missed the point of the movie.

First, all war movies have a level of propaganda in them; from Band of Brothers to Saving Private Ryan, Platoon to Top Gun, and Lions for Lambs to Lone Survivor. Each one was created to cause viewers to learn and feel and do something.

Not every war movie resonates with people on such a mass scale, though. That is why American Sniper is so fascinating and worth the time to evaluate why.

It’s important to revisit the structure and purpose of a good story in order to best evaluate why this has happened.

Jonah Sachs writes from Winning the Story Wars,

“Good stories are structured just like baseballs. On the surface, we find the story’s visible elements: the setting, the characters, and the actions those characters undertake. These are the elements of stories we’ve all been familiar with since childhood. We know the cover and think we know everything there is to know. But there is so much more.

Just beneath the surface, the story finds its structure in the moral of the story. Without some kind of moral we instinctively reject a story as poorly told.

And then there’s the story’s core, hidden one layer deeper at the center of it all.

The values at the core of the myth provide its meaning and, unless we are looking for them, these values often remain hidden from our conscious minds.

Ultimately in a good story, the hero grows up.

Good stories are about healing a broken world through a life’s journey. Perhaps that was the point of the creators.

How does this apply to American Sniper?

american-sniper-bradley-cooper-sienna-miller1

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

 

In the movie, we follow Chris Kyle, a boy growing up to become a man. If this were Greek mythology, the Texas cowboy would be on a journey like Odysseus, Achilles or Perseus.

What I expected going into the movie was a patriotic feeling after finishing the movie. Yes, I felt very proud of Kyle as well as those many others who have volunteered to sacrifice their lives for our nation. The movie doesn’t address the politics of the Iraq war in any major way and some people think this makes it pro-war.

Director Clint Eastwood responded to critics that the movie is all about pro-war propaganda,

“The biggest anti-war statement in any film can make is to show ‘the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did,'”

He went on.

“One of my favorite war movies that I’ve been involved with is ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,'” he continued. “And that was about family, about being taken away from life, being sent someplace. In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case no good deed went unpunished.”

Screenwriter Jason Hall shared,

“Chris was a man who believed in something and who therefore was useful to a government that needed him to go to war. It cost him his physical health, his mental health and almost cost him his family — but Chris probably would have paid the price over and over again if he’d been asked, which is both patriotic and totally tragic.”

The biggest surprise of the movie

It was a feeling deep inside that was difficult to describe at time. The movie kept tugging at me to be a better husband and father. You leave with a feeling of wanting to do the right thing and make more of your life at the core of who you are. You get the sense that our lives are progressing toward something meaningful.

Still of Bradley Cooper and Madeleine McGraw in American Sniper (2014)

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Chris Kyle transforms in the story from being a boy to a rough cowboy, then to become a soldier, husband, father, and one wanting to help others.

To re-analyze the story structure of the movie; The surface story follows cowboy life, the soldier feeling the duty going to war, and every other fact of his life. The moral of the story is that war is glory and hell and causes incredible stress to family because of the psychological toll. The core of the story is Kyle’s journey to become a man.

It is fruitless to read another article about the movie until you have processed the core of the story. Leave the surface and moral to the pundits because they missed the big picture of what moves people.

American Sniper reminded me that often the surface themes of a movie are not enough. That is why I recommend re-reading books and re-watching movies. We can often miss the core of a story that ultimately will move us. That is why American Sniper is resonating.

The core of American Sniper is one that we are meant for a grand journey of life. It is not perfect but it is a true journey in our hearts.

 

 

If you have not seen the movie, Taking Chance (2009), it is a must for any American to get a unique perspective on how to treat military who are lost through the eyes of a funeral escort. Based on the true story, Kevin Bacon plays a Marine Colonel who served in Desert Storm in 1991 but for several reasons, mainly having a young family and served so long in the military, decided to focus on serving  in 2003-4 in the mainland. He felt guilty not going over to Iraq or Afghanistan and made the decision to escort this young man who perished, Chance Phelps, to his family. It was highly uncommon for a high-ranking officer like him to escort a PFC. Along the way he witnesses many things that helped him understand why he needed to do this and honor those who fought in his place. It was as if a parade of honor opened up on the week-long trip to take Chance home. Kevin Bacon’s character was the escort of a hero.

Today I am 34 and amazed at the drive and sacrifice of friends and so many others younger than me who have fought and in some cases died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regardless of your political thoughts on war, there is something special about serving your country, especially the military. I come from a long line of family that have served in the military and as a writer I am always interested in listening to them and helping tell their story.

Previously, I have written my thoughts on the military and why I did not serve. I recognize that I’m not off the hook. Neither are you if you did not serve.

The need us and we need them. Even though we don’t serve, how should we act? Here are seven helpful ways we all can make a difference for those who served:

  1. Help give them purpose. A job is just a job but a purpose in a job can have eternal impact. The group,The Mission Continues is focused on that and I’d love to find ways to help them more. If you are an employer, give each resume or meeting with a veteran a second look. Their skills may not look standard but they most likely understand hard work and leadership better than anyone else.
  2. Listen. I can only imagine what these young men and women have gone through and plenty suffer from PTSD. Engage them and listen to their stories. They may not want to tell you much but give them your all. It is therapy sometimes for them to share and we also show respect by hearing them out.
  3. Donate: Donate to your local VFW, USOWounded Warrior Project, Operation Stand Down, or Operation Homefront. It’s easy and enables you to fund those who are already making a difference.
  4. Plant flags: Plant flags with Boy Scouts during Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Veteran’s Day at National Cemeteries. My father helps The Veterans of The Battle of the Bulge do this and other things to help.
  5. Give up your seat: If you are a traveling businessperson and have a great seat on a plane, especially in 1st Class, give up your seat for a veteran or uniformed soldier.
  6. Give a Homecoming Party: If you aren’t disgusted by the way some Vietnam veterans were treated when coming home, then we have an opportunity as this generation to show what we’re made of and honor them properly. To my knowledge, The Mission Continues was the first major entity to organize an Iraq homecoming parade for soldiers in St. Louis in 2012 and it drew in the hundreds of thousands. Wow.
  7. Teach your kids: If you have children, encourage your kids to find a unique way to help troops. When she was around 10 years old, my cousin Ryan and Mandy’s daughter Victoria asked friends to come to her birthday and instead of bringing presents, give money to supporting troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan with presents and supplies. She raised almost $2,000. What an example and what legacy go give our children.

Last, never stop praying for them.

The victory in serving them well comes with action.

Stand up and serve them as they have served you.

What are some other great ways you see to help veterans? 

You had to have been hiding under a rock or not care to notice but this past week a big election occurred here in the United Staes.  However you feel about the outcome there is no doubt that there were clear priorities set forth by politicians.  You heard about the economy and tea, health care and death panels, as well as immigration and Mexican drug lords.

What you didn’t hear much about is that there are still troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan not to mention a presence in areas like Germany, South Korea, Okinawa, or Guantanamo Bay.

Why do we forget so quickly?   Let us honor the military by studying what works so well for them so we can find ways to solve problems in our own unique situations.

I recently picked up a copy of the Harvard Business Review primarily because of the cover story about “Leadership Lessons from The Military”.  Here are the key learnings:

According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 82% of respondents expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military, whereas only 16% expressed confidence in big business.  There have been some tremendous leaders in our history that came from a military background.  Let us not forget Presidents George Washington, Harry Truman, or Dwight Eisenhower and the leadership lessons they gave us based on their military experiences.  Of course there have been poor military leaders so we can learn from their mistakes as well.  General Petraeus, we are learning from you.

In the article, there were some helpful elements that those church, community and business leaders can utilize to be effective with your teams.

1.  Meet the troops: Create a personal link that will be crucial to lead people through challenging times.

2.  Make Decisions: Make good and timely calls which will be the crux of responsibility in a leadership position.

3.  Focus on Mission: Establish a common purpose, lift up those who will help you achieve it, and eschew personal gain.

4.  Convey Strategic Intent: Make the objectives clear, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them.

November 11th is Veteran’s Day. What is different about this day?  Well the idea is to celebrate and thank those who are still alive but have served.  It was originally known as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I.  It is different than Memorial Day because we have the chance to honor these people in person. There are over 23 million veterans of the US Military so plenty to honor.

What will you do to honor veterans this week?

*I am giving out 2 signed copies of The American Patriot’s Almanac. I am looking for unique ways that you all are honoring veterans so it is a bit subjective.  For full disclosure, I have worked on the promotions in the past for this book and with Bill Bennett and John Cribb who compiled it.  I would also like to share your stories with them.   The authors have graciously signed copies for veterans within Thomas Nelson.

To learn more about Veteran’s Day, here is an excerpt from The American Patriot’s Almanac (2010) by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb.

In the early morning hours Of November 11, 1918, representatives of France, Britain, and Germany met in a railroad car near Compiègne, France, to sign an armistice ending World War I, or the Great War, as it was known at that time. The cease-fire took effect at 11:00 a.m. that day—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Up and down the trenches, after four long years of the most horrific fighting the world had yet known, the guns fell silent. “The roar stopped like a motor car hitting a wall,” one U.S. soldier wrote to his family. Soldiers on both sides slowly climbed out of the earthworks. Some danced; some cheered; some cried for joy; some stood numbed. The Great War had left some 9 million soldiers dead and another 21 million wounded. No one knows how many millions of civilians died. Much of Europe lay in ruins. But finally, with the armistice, it was “all quiet on the Western Front.”

For many years November 11 was known as Armistice Day to honor those who fought in World War I. In 1954 Congress changed the name to Veterans Day to recognize all American veterans.

Every November 11 at 11:00 a.m., the nation pays tribute to its war dead with the laying of a presidential wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C.

But Veterans Day honors more than the dead. Memorial Day, observed in May, is for remembering soldiers who lost their lives in the service of their country. Veterans Day is set aside to honor and thank all who have served in the U.S. armed forces—particularly our 23 million living veterans.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America