Monday, July 20, 2015

Overheard at the Counter: American Sniper

First of all, let me start out by saying that when reading an autobiography, you can still never believe you know a person whom you have not met.  All the words on the page, no matter how true, are filtered through the minds of the writer, the ghost writers, the editors.  And the reader.

The reader brings to the book the preconceived notions of the person.

That said, I can now tell you about the man I encountered in American Sniper.

I started out with a little loathing for a man who so overtly and unashamedly loved his job, which was simply to kill Iraqis.   Any and all Iraquis.  Now, he did not, because he always followed the Rules of Engagement (or so he says - methinks he doth protest too much) but he makes no bones about loathing them, made clear with passages like, "I never once fought for the Iraqis.   I could give a flying fuck about them" (Kyle, 2012, p.194).

Now I'm neither stupid nor ignorant.  I know war is pure hell and that if you hesitate you die.  I also know that to fight war properly you have to make sure you never see your enemy as a human being.   Still though, it is the lack of empathy even for the Iraqi women and children (although he does refrain from shooting a child) that is truly disturbing, especially since he wrote this book after being back from his last tour for several years.  The United States of America did a fine job on Chris Kyle by making him wholly incapable of viewing Iraqis (and Arabs in general) as anything more than "savages" which is his word that he used more times than I could count in the book.   Certainly, he could say that he meant it only for the insurgents, and possibly he did, but one can not help that found contempt for every resident of the country that was their home, not his.

The book also describes how killing became a game, how the men tried different weapons to see different effects.  His spotter even said his shot looked "like a scene from Dumb and Dumber" (p. 295) when Kyle shoots two men on a moped with one shot.   He writes, "The taxpayer got good band for his buck with that one" (Ibid).

There are some interesting insights in the book, such as "Let's face it - if you're using your pistol in combat, the shit has already hit the fan" (p.126) and "The best way to stop a vehicle is to shoot the driver" (p. 103).

What truly makes this book interesting, however, is not the stories of his adventures in Iraq, but rather the unabashed exposure of how multiple military deployments can threaten to destroy a marriage.  In fact, the interjection of thoughts from his wife, Tyra, are some of the most compelling in the book.  These passages nakedly describe the hardship on human relationships back home, and we see from her thoughts how the spouses of deployed military are themselves true heroes and heroines.  These spouses have to raise kids on their own, worry about their spouses not coming home or coming home broken, walk thought their days with a sense of loneliness and isolation, even when surrounded by people who try to help but who simply can not understand.

As a Christian, I must say a few words about his professed Christianity.   Chris Kyle, unfortunately, had obviously been raised on the perverted Nationalism that America tries to pass off as Christianity. He felt that he had the right to judge the worth of a person's soul.  "My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that twisted woman's soul.  I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job" (p.4).   He also concludes his book with these words:

"But in that backroom or wherever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe that any of the kills I had during the war will be among them.  Everyone I shot was evil.  I had good cause in every shot.  They all deserved to die"  (p.377).

Perhaps yes, he did have justification according to the earthly laws of the US government for every kill.   However, Christians have been ordered by the Almighty and Incarnate God not to kill.  A Christian strives to live peaceably with all men.  And even when faced with war and the conflict that brings, to state clearly that one can stand and look God in the eye and say that we had decided that one of your children deserves to die, well, my dear fellow Christians, that is putting ourselves in place of God.  And that is heresy.

Even with that, though, I am truly sorry that this man is now gone.  He was shot by another vet with PTSD as Kyle and a friend were trying to help him through his problem in the only way they knew how: by taking him to a shooting range and allowing him access to loaded firearms.   He leaves behind a loving with and two children who will grow up without their natural father, who so obviously loved them.  Again, one of the best parts of this book is the Kyle's description about how he so badly wanted to connect with his children, and did at some points and not at others.   He described the difficulty in establishing a gentle control in his home.   Like Tyra's parts, it is these passages that should let people know how even though we Americans think war is always in some distant country to keep us safe here at home, the war is always in our homes.  Our homes are destroyed by war, because it destroys the human beings that we send over there to fight it.

One last point.  I fully agree with Chris Kyle on one thing: there should be no ROEs.  No telling them what is or is not a target.  He stands firm on the belief that if you want the military to win a war then you can't tie their hands behind their backs.  I agree.   I believe that war is the basest of all human activity, that's it makes us all no better than animals, but IF we are going to be a militaristic people and IF we are going to go to war, then let the military go all out, use everything, even nuclear weapons, to absolutely decimate everybody and get it over with.  It's a lot more honest.   In the long run it will make wars shorter, because it will force everyone either to capitulate to us or band together and destroy us.  Either way, it will not cause this 14 years of bloody conflict that does nothing but make Dick Cheney insanely wealthy.

So, rest in peace, Mr. Kyle.  I do pray that in your final moments you did accept Jesus as your personal saviour.  I only wish that all Iraqis who were killed in the conflict, both innocent civilians and insurgents, would have had the same opportunity to hear about the love, compassion, kindness, and salvation that comes through  a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Whoever reads this book will take away with it what they wish.  Some will see him as a killer, some will see him as a bad-ass.  I see him as a human being, full of strengths and weaknesses.   Like everyone else in the world.


Kyle, Chris, with DeFelice, Jim and McEwen, Scott.  (2014 paperback movie tie-in edition).  American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History.  HarperCollins, New York.


No comments:

Post a Comment