Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Apparently neither Michael Moore nor Bill Maher like Clint Eastwood’s new movie American Sniper (Which I have not seen), and they have expressed their displeasure by sniping at snipers. Despite the injunction of Proverbs 26:4 to “answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you become like unto him,” I feel constrained to reply. When Michael Moore says snipers are cowards he shows that he knows nothing about the nature of courage. When Bill Maher says that snipers are psychopaths, he reveals the depth of his ignorance on the subject of psychopathy. I’ll talk about snipers and cowardice first, and then I’ll say something about snipers and psychopathy.

Snipers have had a bad name at least since the Trojan War when Paris killed Achilles by shooting him with a bow instead of walking up to within arm’s length of the near-invincible killing machine and fighting him hand-to-hand. Paris is remembered as a coward, probably because his side lost the war. King David, for example, got better press for killing the giant Goliath from a distance because his side won and got to write the history. Every army from the dawn of history to the present day has used snipers of one form or another—whether they were slingers, archers, or used some other type of missile weapon—and the American military is no different.

Snipers have been a fixture in the American military since before Declaration of Independence. At the Battle of Bunker Hill snipers hid in the abandoned village of Charlestown and fired on Howe’s troops as they advanced on the patriots’ fortifications. This prompted Howe to order his ships in Boston Harbor to cannonade the town with incendiary bombs. Were the Charlestown snipers cowards? Another sniper stood on the top of the breastworks and fired offhand at the advancing British. He would fire, hand the musket down and be given a primed musket, and then fire again. This constant supply of freshly primed muskets allowed him to keep up a steady stream of fire. By the time he was finally shot and killed, he had shot some twenty British officers. Was he a coward? You cannot call anyone a coward who goes into combat and performs his assigned task to the best of his ability, whether that task is caring for the wounded as a medic or wounding the enemy as a sniper.

Now let’s talk about psychopaths. According to Dr. Hervey Cleckley, a pioneer in the study of psychopathy, a psychopath is unreliable, untruthful, insincere, remorseless, shameless, narcissistic, uncaring about others, and prone to poorly motivated antisocial behavior. Years ago a psychiatrist at the state hospital for the criminally insane gave me the best definition of psychopath that I have ever heard. He told me that a man I wanted to use as a witness was a psychopath. Then he asked me “You know what a psychopath is, don’t you?” I said that I didn’t, and he continued “Bum, hobo, criminal. That’s what a psychopath is.”

During the Battle of Mogadishu two U.S. Army helicopters were shot down and the personnel surrounded by hostile fighters. Something had to be done to protect them. Delta snipers Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart volunteered to hold off the hostile forces until a rescue could be effectuated. They knew that they were volunteering for almost certain death. They nevertheless undertook the mission and fought until they were overrun by a mob consisting of thousands of combatants. Is that something an unreliable, untruthful, insincere, remorseless, law-breaking, shameless narcissist would do? These two men were courageous to a fault and the exact opposite psychopaths. The posthumous Medals of Honor awarded to them were well-deserved.

There’s an old saying that goes “Make sure your brain is in gear before putting your mouth in motion.” Moore and Maher would do well to heed that admonition.