Is the American Sniper an American Hero?

By Anand Tayal, Contributor

The American Sniper debuted in movie theaters across the country last week and immediately shattered box office records with an $89.5 million three-day haul.  Its widespread popularity has been attributed to its great trailer, numerous A-List actors, brilliant director Clint Eastwood, and of course it following after the Charlie Hedbo and Boko Haram attacks.  The movie, which is based on Chris Kyle’s own autobiography, sends a very ambiguous message about war. To many conservatives, Eastwood’s film taps into a desire to see military men portrayed as patriotic, altruistic, and decisive, and to shine a spotlight on battle-scarred vets long after their tours are over. And to liberals, its depicts war’s toll on those who fight it.  Nevertheless, the movie went in with a bang, leaving many with the question, “Who was the real Chris Kyle?”

Regardless of political affiliation, it is hard to deny that Kyle was an effective sniper.  During his four tours in Iraq, Chris Kyle tallied over 160 confirmed kills, earning him the title of the “Devil of Ramadi” by Iraqi insurgents and a series of ever-increasing bounties on his head, purported to have eventually reached the low six figures. He became known by the moniker “Legend” among the general infantry and Marines whom he was tasked to protect.   In the words of the National Review’s David French, “Chris Kyle has entered the pantheon of American warriors – along with Alvin C York and Audie Murphy – giving a new generation of young boys a warrior-hero to look up to, to emulate.”  

Even after his honorable discharge in 2009, Kyle continued to set up programs for those serving in combat .  He helped found FITCO Cares, a non-profit group that helps those struggling with PTSD and when he left the Navy in 2009, co-founded Craft International, which provided tactical training to military and law enforcement.  The actions of Chris Kyle have garnered a lot of support even from those who defame him when trying to defend him. Still all of his military successes combined with the very positive light Mr. Eastwood shines on Chris Kyle’s life contribute to his heroic image.  So then why is there so much controversy surrounding such an exemplary soldier?

The debate over the heroism of Chris Kyle centers around his attitude towards the Iraq War. Many readers found the book to be inspiring but at the same self congratulatory  In his memoir, Kyle reportedly described killing as “fun”, something he “loved”; he was unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a “bad guy”. “I hate the damn savages,” he wrote. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.”  It is important to understand that Kyle does not mention terrorists, but Iraqis as a whole, when in reality the war he was fighting in was against those who terrorized the Iraqis.  

Throughout his life, Kyle maintains this sincere conviction that he was only killing enemies for the good of his country.   In a 2012 interview with the BBC, Kyle made that point directly.  “Every person I killed I strongly believe that they were bad,” he said. “When I do go face God there is going to be lots of things I will have to account for, but killing any of those people is not one of them.”  

As Laura Miller wrote in Salon: “In Kyle’s version of the Iraq war, the parties consisted of Americans, who are good-by virtue of being American, and fanatic Muslims whose ‘savage, despicable evil’ led them to want to kill Americans simply because they are Christians.”  His own words make Kyle seem like he was a sadistic killer looking for an outlet to satisfy his desire to kill.  It is also important to recognize the allegations surrounding Kyle’s life after his discharge.

 The mounting accusations begin with his conduct during the assault on Fallujah.  “Chris Kyle boasted of looting the apartments of Iraqi families in Fallujah,” wrote author and former Daily Beast writer Max Blumenthal. “Kill every male you see” wrote Rania Khalek, who also called Kyle an “American psycho”.  The “Devil of Ramadi” seems to be more of a war criminal than war hero.  

Additionally, Kyle has invented three separate stories to reinforce his image as a vigilante for justice.  The first was at a gas station in Texas where Kyle claims that two men assaulted him at a gas station and were instantly shot dead by Kyle.  Great story. Except none of it is true.  The New Yorker magazine and other journalists have investigated the story. They all come to the same conclusion. There were no carjackers. There were no dead bodies. There were no cops. None of it happened. No police departments know anything about it, no coroner ever saw the bodies, no gas station had any surveillance video or ever heard of such a thing and no cops ever responded to the scene and called the Pentagon. 

The second story was that he and another SEAL were sent by the government to New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.  Kyle claims that he and another sniper stood on top of the superdome and shot over thirty looters.  Again this is another blatant lie as Kyle never went to Katrina in the first place.  The lies were so bold faced and despicable that Taya Kyle, Chris’ wife, fought in court that neither of these stories be used during the Ventura lawsuit, in fear that her husband would be labeled a liar.  The third story was an alleged bar fight between Kyle and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura.  Kyle claimed that Ventura criticized the Navy Seals, leading Kyle to deliver a devastating blow to the face, knocking Ventura off of his bar stool.  However, Ventura fired back with a $1.854 million lawsuit against the Kyle estate, where he was able to successfully prove that he had never even met Chris Kyle in the first place.

Overall it seems like a stretch to compare Chris Kyle to the likes of true American war heroes like Alvin York.   York received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 32 machine guns, killing 28 German soldiers, and capturing 132 others.   And nowhere will you find York writing a self-congratulatory book about himself, taking pride in the act of killing, or lying in order to bolster his reputation.  While the military accomplishments of both York and Kyle are impressive, it is character that garners the title American hero, something that Chris Kyle is sorely lacking.  I respect Chris Kyle for the potential American lives that he saved in combat, but I have nothing but disdain for his character.

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