American Sniper: Rough Men and the revulsion of the Pappataci

In Rossini’s comic opera L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) the heroine, Isabella, engineers the escape of the heroes from the harem of the Turkish Bey Mustafà by convincing the credulous Bey that he has been inducted into the Italian order of the Pappataci. The pappataci is described as the ultimate expression of Italian sophistication; an order of men devoted to chasing women, eating, drinking and making merry. In other words, a man that treats luxury as an end in and of itself.

A very worthy movie that has prompted some very unworthy criticism.


Now, why mention this? Because over the weekend the movie American Sniper going into wide release occasioned a little clash between our own class of pappataci and those Rough Men who, (as the sentiment attributed to Orwell), stand ready to do violence on our behalf. Reflections on the life of war hero Chris Kyle;

Which, in fairness, still beat the crass racial angle of this Huffington Post contributor;

And, just to make his feelings completely clear,

Now, to be fair, there is a lot going on, and the above were scarcely alone in their dislike for American Sniper. What they have is a certain similarity, a certain mode of thought that brings to mind the pappataci and his purposeful indolence. The pappataci seeks to cast off care, worry and responsibility and luxuriate, to become, in a sense, a child again. So much of the criticism of American Sniper hinges on this child-like approach:  it is the men who serve our country that are the real brutes, the real villains. At The New Republic they are so sure Chris Kyle isn’t a hero they publish a movie review by a man that hasn’t seen the movie (not kidding). The Penn State professor(!) who dismissed American Sniper after viewing the trailer alone chides the fans of Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Kyle saying,

For him, the enemy are savages and despicably evil. His only regret is that he didn’t kill more. He laments that there were rules of engagement, or ROE, which he describes as being drafted by lawyers to protect generals from politicians. He argues instead for letting warriors loose to fight wars without their hands tied behind their backs.

In other words, Chris Kyle articulated exactly the sort of truths that the pappataci cannot endure hearing: that we are at war with loathsome, vile men and that our fighting forces are ill served by the restrictive, political rules of engagement they are saddled with. This rankles the pappataci: they look at a news headline like “Boko Haram Appears to Be Using Abducted Girls as Suicide Bombers” and accuses men like CPO Kyle of being insufficiently sad for killing such men, for not having enough “moral anxiety”… as if a lack of moral certainty in the face of evil is a virtue, rather then a failing. That’s not quite true, they are quite sure that “[t]he real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer”, as an opinion piece is titled at the Guardian.

How is it possible that a man that spent his life in service to both his country and his countrymen, who so enthusiastically answered President Kennedy’s call “what can you do for your country”? Resentment, I think, explains a very great deal: the pappataci, after all, contributes nothing but consumes everything. There is a simple, and painful, truth at play here: these men that embrace luxury become like luxury: an addition rather then an essential.  As the phrase oft attributed to Orwell goes: “people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” No one sleeps peacefully beneath the blanket of protection provided by the Micheal Moore’s or Seth Rogan’s of the world, nor are these protestations on behalf of “brown people” likely to engender much camaraderie.

Once upon a time this was different, for in ages past Hollywood and popular culture sold heroism, real heroism, without shame;

Sergent York, Hero of the Great War and devout Christian.

There can be no doubt in the world of the fact of the divine power being in that. No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of me; and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all. Over thirty machine guns were maintaining rapid fire at me, point-blank from a range of about twenty-five yards. When you have God behind you, you can come out on top every time.

Sergeant Alvin York

For a moment, let’s try an imagine what the pappataci of today would say had they lived in the time of Sergeant York.

Then again, maybe this fellow has the right of things…


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