I am not American. I have never supported any war. I am not in the military nor have any relative in the army. Foremost, I am a former aid worker, whose aim was to help the victims of the cruelty of wars.
Still, I really liked American Sniper (not only because of my incurable crush for Bradley Cooper).
I have been tremendously touched but the tribute to SEAL Chris Kyle because it tells you in 1h some of the greatest things I learnt from my years working in war affected countries, and dealing with combatants from all sides.
I’ll always remember the last ICRC briefing before I was deployed to South Sudan. The words of our trainer, a former high ranked military, have stayed with me since then. “you have to look beyond the uniform. Remember that you are talking to another human being, probably a father, a husband, a son. You are probably sharing more than you think”.
Those words were my mantra when I was stuck in check points in Sudan and Liberia when my heart was dramatically racing at the mere view of an AK47. I repeated them over and over, trying to figure out what I could have in common with those guys who had the power to kill me in a blink of an eye.
Working in the humanitarian field is emotionally draining. All you see, all the people you are talking to, all the risks you take will constantly challenge your faith. Your protective wall of certitudes will explode, leaving everlasting bruises deep in your heart.
I used to blame the militaries. The only responsible of the horrendous mess we humanitarian were cleaning. Brainless body builders, the loudest at the bars, zooming at anything wearing a bra, like starving dogs.
This was before Liberia. Before I was assigned to train soldiers and contractors on the respect of International Humanitarian law. I thought those guys would be yawning all the way, or even laugh at me when I’ll start explaining the Geneva Conventions. I was so wrong.
Those classes enabled me to really talk with those men, to gather their experiences, to listen to their stories. Some would wait till we meet in parties to tell me the stuff they would not share with their colleagues. I got used to see them in civilian clothes, and this time, spontaneously ask them about their families and their home.
I was told to have “the smile of my little sister”, “the eyes of my fiancée”, the “laugh of my best friend back in college”.. . All the stories started with the same “ I have always loved my country” or “you know M’ame, I am a proud American”. But the roads were so bumpy after this departure line. I remember this Dan, so silent during our class, who once took me aside to show me his little digital camera. Dozens and dozens of self portraits. “I take a picture of me every morning. I died in Iraq. Since I came back, I don’t feel anything anymore M’ame. I take pictures to prove myself that I am still alive”. John the womanizer whose macho behavior used to irritate me so much, once confessed “My wife have no clue of who I am. My kids don’t know me. We only see each other 1 week every 3 months you know. I don’t know them, my wife said I failed them. I am a vet, but what would I do back home, hon’? I earn a lot as a contractor. At least I can pay for the studies of the kids”. Dean the big bear, a paramedic kiwi. His optimism and his childish sense of humor were a breath of fresh air in those discussions. We all knew that the huge Mike would never join a volley ball match on Sunday morning. Nothing could make him miss a skype session with his 3 yo son.
We are all driven by our ideals. Mine was to serve the innocent victims of wars, help at my little level in promoting a culture of peace. Theirs was to protect their country, their families back home. At the end of the day, if you take off the uniform, the weapons, the badges, and talk to the individual, we are all the same: we all have families we want to protect, we all want a peaceful world.
That’s why I liked American Sniper, for showing us some ideals; The soldier’s missions are not mine, their means will never be mine. But I am truly respecting them. Cheers to peace, to times where aid workers and soldiers will all be jobless, finally!