Normalizing violence through frontline stories: the Case of American Sniper

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Critical Military Studies
pp. 52-71

POMARÈDE J. in Critical Military Studies, Volume 4, Issue 1, 2018, pp. 52-71.

Abstract: The objective of the present article is to explore the image of the ‘war on terror’ in US popular culture through soldiers’ battlefield experience. The main argument is that the ‘living’ (or ‘embarked’) narration of front lines creates an effect of power that gives the soldier a legitimate authority to take part in the representation of war. As such, the ‘view from the battlefield’ can be conceptualized as a political gesture as it involves the production of shared representations of war. The article focuses on the American Sniper legend, which is a heroic narration of the experience in Iraq of a former Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle. I propose to understand the conditions that made possible the collective normalization of a soldier considered ‘the most lethal sniper in the US military history’. The study of this case brings to the fore two main conclusions. First, the political dimension of American Sniper paradoxically emerges from an apolitical discourse that claims to tell the ‘real story’ of a soldier on front lines. Second, war appears at the same time as an agonistic struggle for life where killing is the condition for survival and as a banal and trans-historical reality embodied into ‘ordinary’ human emotions.