Photo by JMulson Photography (www.jmulson.com)
On Fox news this evening, I saw an interview with a sniper instructor for a SWAT unit. He was saying that he and his colleagues in the so called “legitimate” sniper community are offended that the media is referring to the serial killer in Washington DC as the “Beltway Sniper.”
“A true sniper,” said the instructor, “is someone who saves lives.”
Budge Williams, an ex-Vietnam war veteran and columnist writes, “A sniper is a soldier who serves with honor. [The Beltway Sniper] is just a brutal assassin with a rifle.”
The Web is teeming with sniper websites, like CyberSniper.com and SnipersParadise.com and Mel's Sniper Page (I really don't think guys named Mel should operate sophisticated long-range rifles. Guys named Mel should work in diners). Of the Web sites I visited, all have issued statements complaining about the so-called misuse of the word “sniper.”
Whooda thunkit? Snipers have feelings too. Somewhere out there, balanced on a branch, is a sharpshooter who can't aim at his mark because tears are fogging his eyes and dripping all over his cheekpiece.
Pull yourself together, man! There is no crying in SWAT.
“Make no mistake,” says the introductory page of Sniper Country, “the Beltway Killer is a second-rate murderer and coward in the truest sense of the word.”
Don't you love it when people begin their sentences with phrases like, “Make no mistake,” or “The truth of the matter is,” as though making that statement gives you some sort of insider's edge on the facts? I especially enjoy it when they have it all wrong.
Here is the real, true fact of the matter: the beltway sniper is a sniper.
Let us consult the American Heritage Dictionary Third Edition: Sniper: “One who shoots at other people from a concealed place.” Well, that pretty much ends that discussion, huh? Isn't it just like a sniper to hijack the language?
Here is another real, true definition from the dictionary of truth: Coward: “One who shows ignoble fear in the face of danger or pain.”
I'd say the Beltway Sniper is pretty fearless. He has summoned the wrath of an entire city. Everyone is hunting for him. He may soon be dead or incarcerated. So, then, why call him a coward? Is it because he takes shots at people from a safe distance? Hmmm, well, that would make the “legitimate” sniper community cowardly as well, wouldn't it?
Budge Williams says Lee Harvey Oswald is an assassin. A sniper is a soldier who serves with honor. So, to recap, Lee Harvey Oswald was a shooter for the enemy-so he is an “assassin.” But when our guys assassinate world leaders, well, they are morally pure snipers of love who shoot people in the head for the causes of righteousness.
Really, Budge, you're a writer-do I have to pull out the dictionary again?
Assassin: “One who carries out a surprise attack... especially a plot to kill a prominent person.”
If you hide and shoot, you are a sniper. If you surprise attack, you are an assassin. All snipers are assassins; not all assassins are snipers. There is no moral distinction. Jesus Christ himself could be obscured in the cloudbanks of heaven, taking pot shots at baby-rapers-he would still be an assassin.
So why does the “legitimate” sniper community focus on all this semantics crap? Because they must widen the moral gap between them and the Beltway killer; because the real true truth is, the moral gap between them is as thin as the crosshairs on their scopes-because all snipers are killers, and killing as a profession is a morally ambiguous activity they would rather not confront.
Same thing goes for the Iraq conflict. By muddling the argument against war with semantics-by labeling those who disagree with an attack on Iraq as being “unpatriotic”-they effectively stifle the dissenting voice. In this way, they never need confront the moral ambiguity of launching a pre-emptive strike on a foreign country. In this way Americans can still go to their beds, their jobs and their kid's hockey games morally removed from the real true ugliness that is world politics-grinning with the vacant, blissful ignorance of a dog without balls.
In this way Americans never need admit the true, real truth of the fact of the real, true matter: that it just might be America, and not Iraq, that is the most dangerous regime on the planet. And that, my friends, is exactly the kind of blind arrogance that makes people want to pick us off one by one.