Monday, January 26, 2015

"Injun" in Chris Kyle's AMERICAN SNIPER

When American Sniper opened in theaters last week, I started to see reviews that pointed out Kyle's use of the word savage to describe Iraqis. That word has been used to describe American Indians. I wondered if Kyle made any connections between "savage" and American Indians in his book. The answer? Yes.

In his autobiography, Kyle uses "Injun" in two places. Here's what he said on page 267:
Or we would bump out 500 yards, six or eight hundred yards, going deep into Injun territory to look and wait for the bad guys.
And here's what he said on page 291:
Our missions would last for an overnight or two in Injun country.
See? He made connections between "savage" Iraqis and "savage" Indians. In his book, he used the word "savage" several times. Here's page 4 (the book uses caps as shown):
SAVAGE, DESPICABLE EVIL. THAT'S WHAT WE WERE FIGHTING in Iraq. That's why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy "savages." 
Later on that same page, he says that when people asked him how many he's killed:
The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.
On page 147:
On page 173:
It was near a hospital the insurgents had converted into a headquarters before our assault, and even now the area seemed to be a magnet for savages.
On page 219:
I hated the damn savages I'd been fighting.
On page 228:
They turned around and saw a savage with a rocket launcher lying dead on the ground.
On page 244:
They had heard we were out there slaying a huge number of savages.
On page 284:
There was a savage on the roof of the house next door, looking down at the window from the roof there. 
On page 316:
"...after we killed enough of the savages out there," I told him. 
On page 338:
I'd have to wait until the savage who put him up to it appeared on the street.
Of course, Kyle is not the first person to equate American Indians with Iraqis. In 2008, Professor Steven Silliman of the University of Massachusetts did a study of the use of "Indian Country." His article, The "Old West" in the Middle East: U.S. Military Metaphors in Real and Imagined Indian Country includes a chart of how it was used in the Middle East, by media and soldiers.

And, anyone who has paid attention to the use of "savage" or "Injun" in children's literature will be able to list several books that use either word to dehumanize American Indians. Here's a few examples:

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder used "savages" in her Little House on the Prairie.  
  • Carol Ryrie Brink used "savages" in Caddie Woodlawn.
  • Lois Lenski used "savage" in Indian Captive.
  • Elizabeth George Speare used "savages" in Calico Captive and "savage" in Sign of the Beaver.
  • Eoin Colfer used "savage Injun" in The Reluctant Assassin.

When we share books with the dehumanization of American Indians, do we inadvertently put people on that road to being able to dehumanize "other" in conflicts, be the conflict that takes place in war or on the streets of any country?

Update, 5:03 PM, January 26, 2015

In addition to the article I linked to above, please see the conclusion of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's Indigenous Peoples History of the United States. Irony abounds within military activity. At one point in time, US soldiers dehumanized Native peoples so they could destroy us, our homelands, and our ways of life. Kyle's framing of Iraqis as savages is a present-day manifestation of that.

Dunbar-Ortiz documents the flip side of that stance, quoting Robert D. Kaplan, a military analyst who Foreign Policy magazine named as one of the top 100 global thinkers in 2011:
"It is a small but interesting fact that members of the 101st Airborne Division, in preparation for their parachute drop on D-Day, shaved themselves in Mohawk style and applied war paint on their faces."
She cites other instances of that sort of thing. Get her book, if you can from Teaching for Change

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the cowboy culture (of which Kyle was a part, and Bush also identified with) contributes to this framing of the Iraqis and the war?