I am a huge fan of the American stand up comedian Bill Hicks, who sadly passed away in 1994 at the insanely young age of 32. I was a teenager growing up in Glasgow in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and the raw acerbic comedy stylings of this troubled American wannabe preacher had a profoundly positive effect on my ascent into adulthood.
After seeing Hicks perform his stand up his way, I never could dream of being a movie star, a rock star, a footballer, or anything else so belittling. The dream was always to be a stand up in the same genius vein as my new idol Hicks. Even 20 years after his death, Hicks is still revered by stand ups and fans of comedy alike (see this article by fellow stand up Stewart Lee in the Guardian from last year).
In his legendary stand up show entitled Relentless (from December 1991) Hicks spoke about American soldiers in the first Gulf War (August 1990 – February 1991), how they had access to a huge arsenal of the latest military weapons, and how this gave them a colossal fighting advantage over the poorly equipped and poorly trained Iraqis. As with all great stand up comedy, there is intelligent humour entwined with basic honesty that resonates from the heart, even a heart as dark as the one that once beat in Hick’s chest. Here is the transcript of that part of the routine:
First of all, and this needs to be said, because it isn’t said enough, and in fact it was never said. There NEVER was a war. A war is when TWO armies are fighting…Right there, I think we can all agree.
Boy, Bush turned out to be a real demon, didn’t he? Remember when Bush was first President? He was the wimp President. You remember that? Cover of Newsweek: ‘WIMP President!’ Apparently, this stuck in that guy’s craw a little bit. Guy turned into a fucking demon, man.
‘Not good enough.’
‘We run away!’
‘Too little, too late. We’re havin’ way too much fun.’
You kidding me? Those guys were in hog heaven out there, man. They had a big weapons catalogue opened up:
‘What’s G-12 do, Tommy?’
‘Says here it destroys everything but the fillings in their teeth. Helps us pay for the war effort.’
‘Well, shit, pull that one up!’
‘Pull up G-12, please…’
[Sound of a missile launching, he watches the missile heading off into the distance, several beats go by, then the sound of an explosion]
‘…Cool. What’s G-13 do?’
Yeah, everyone got boners over the technology. And it was pretty amazing, you gotta admit, watching a missile fly down an air vent. Pretty unbelievable.
– Bill Hicks
American Sniper, the book
Fast forward to just over 20 years later and I find myself reading the book American Sniper: The Autobiography Of The Most Lethal Sniper In U.S. History by Chris Kyle (with Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen). I have blogged previously about the controversy surrounding the movie American Sniper, with Bradley Cooper playing the part of Chris Kyle.
About halfway through the book (pages 238-239 of the paperback edition, to be precise) there is a passage which immediately made me think of the Hicks routine above. Whilst Hicks may have said what he said with a certain amount of jest, what Kyle says is said with nothing but brute force actuality. It made me shudder a little to think that soldiers out in the field of battle were indeed in “hog heaven”.
In the movie Rambo (2008) John Rambo, played so iconically by Sylvester Stallone, says “When you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing”. What the passage below seems to show is that when you’re bored, killing more and more is as easy breathing. The weapons used and the manner in which they are used seem more important than the people being killed by those weapons.
Perhaps it is easy for me to say what I am saying because “You weren’t there, man, you weren’t there.” I don’t know. Anyways, here is the passage by Kyle (‘Viet Ram’ is the nick name given to the Iraqi city of Ramadi):
When you’re in a profession where your job is to kill people, you start getting creative about doing it.
You think about getting the most firepower you possibly can into the battle. And you start trying to think of new and inventive ways to eliminate your enemy.
We had so many targets out in Viet Ram we started asking ourselves, what weapons have we not used to kill them?
No pistol kill yet? You have to get at least one.
We’d use different weapons for the experience, to learn the weapon’s capabilities in combat. But at times it was a game—when you’re in a firefight every day, you start looking for a little variety. No matter what, there were plenty of insurgents, and plenty of firefights.
– Chris Kyle