American Sniper’s Chris Kyle keeps returning to the idea of a guardian angel watching over him without ever acknowledging the extent to which he is one.

I gave American Sniper an abridged review upon its release, but it’s a book that deserves an extended version. Chris Kyle may be “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, ” but he’s much more than that. Throughout the book, Kyle wrestles with the many roles he must play (i.e., husband, father, soldier) and the responsibilities he must balance with God, Family, and Country. We ask our soldiers to be killing machines, but then expect their humanity to remain unscathed. We order them to extinguish pure evil, but then give them Rules of Engagement better suited for a cricket match. If for no other reason, civilians should read this book just for a glimpse into the psychological ringer we put our war fighters through without ever giving it a second thought.

One of the other topics that comes up repeatedly throughout American Sniper is the idea of a guardian angel. Chris postulates that there must have been one looking over him on multiple occasions (as does his friend Marcus Luttrell in the fabulous book Lone Survivor). What’s interesting about both of these soldiers is that on some level they downplay the fact that THEY are guardian angels. Chris’ obsession becomes saving every solider in harm’s way—and impossible task that begins to take a psychological toll on him as the war moves on. After his battle buddy is shot, he blames himself:

I’d put him in the spot where he got hit. It was my fault he’d been shot…A hundred kills? Two hundred? What did they mean if my brother was dead? Why hadn’t I put myself there? Why hadn’t I been standing there? I could have gotten the bastard–I could have saved my boy. I was in a dark hole. Deep Down. How long I stayed there, head buried, tears flowing, I have no idea.”

Chris often observes the unpredictable nature of war, but when it comes to an injury or a death of a fellow soldier he seems to (unfairly) place full responsibility on his own shoulders. What Chris fails to realize is that even a guardian angel can not be all places at all times. His insatiable thirst to find and kill every last enemy is commendable, but readers will know long before he addresses the issue that yes, even Navy SEALS are human, and such a mentality lends itself to the kind of physiological problems (e.g., high blood pressure) he would experience later in his career. Luckily for Chris, this story has a happy ending.

The final aspect of the book that needs to be covered concerns how wars are won—something that is not taught in college classrooms, which might be the reason for the bongo-drumming anti-war protests I experienced years ago at USC:

YOU KNOW HOW RAMADI WAS WON? We went in and killed all the bad people we could find. When we started, the decent (or potentially decent) Iraqis didn’t fear the United States; they did fear the terrorists. The U.S. told them, “We’ll make it better for you.”

The terrorists said, “We’ll cut your head off.”

Who would you fear? Who would you listen to?

We went to Ramadi, we told the terrorists, “We’ll cut your head off. We will do whatever we have to and eliminate you.” Not only did we get the terrorists’ attention—we got everyone’s attention. We showed we were the force to be reckoned with. That’s where the so-called Great Awakening came from. It wasn’t from kissing up to the Iraqis. It was from kicking butt.

The tribal leaders saw that we were bad-asses, and they’d better get their act together, work together and stop accommodating the insurgents. Force moved that battle. We killed the bad guys and brought the leaders to the peace table. That is how the world works.

Chris Kyle makes a compelling case, and it’s one that doesn’t get the attention it deserves among the civilian population, which is sad. Regardless, I’d like to narrow the scope of his argument: The United States “works” because guardian angels like Chris are willing to enter into a realms of pure evil and push back. They do so selflessly. They do so at the expense to family and loved ones.

In the late 90s I enlisted in a mechanized infantry unit. I wore a chain with the prayer to Saint Michael inscribed on it. Reading American Sniper made me realize that for a span of three years I lived and worked with guardian angels every day and I never adequately showed my appreciation to a great group of guys. Chris Kyle’s book will make you realize just how much we take the civilized world—and life—for granted. I highly recommend this book, for soldier and civilian alike.

Update: Please pray for the Kyle family. Chris was shot and murdered on February 2, 2013.

Related: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account … of a great book

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

35 comments

  1. Very well written review along with an opinion that I completely agree with. Thank God for “Guardian Angels” like Chris Kyle, Sgt. Major Brad Kasal and so many more that have made and continue to make our life possible!

    1. Thanks for the comment, John. And thanks for reminding me about Sgt. Major Kasal. That’s another book I should really get around to reading!

  2. I haven’t read many books, but American Sniper was the best book I ever read. I’m proud to live in a country were there are men and women willing to go into harms way to protect my family and I. I also want to thank the husbands and wives who allow those to go and defend us. They are just as big a hero. People often forget that our freedom was won through the barrel of a gun.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jim. Very well put. But let’s not forget those police officers, either! You get extra love for being a cop from Philly.

  3. Saw Chris on O’Reilly, loved the guy, had to read the book. Just finished it, wished there was more, I Can’t thank these people enough for their service. With Taya being an Oregon girl, Ihave some great property in Central Oregon that would be perfect to make available to these great people. They deserve everything we can give them.

  4. thank you. I cry for the loss of a true hero. one who has put his life on the line so we can keep our freedom. I bought three of his books today to help his family. I am saddened.

    1. Thanks for the read, Deborah. Indeed, he was one of the best on the battlefield AND off. I think of how he tried to help fellow soldiers in need after their service and it gets me every time.

  5. This retired patrol deputy read Chris’s book and treasured it. My father was an AF Spec Ops. chopper pilot, my husband a Navy Senior Chief and my son a Marine. Everything Chris wrote about, God, country, family, duty and honor, really do mean the world to me. What a loss and it was an honor to have witnessed such an American walking the walk.
    Douglas, great tribute, thank you! You might enjoy Brandon Webb’s book The Red Circle. More American excellence!

    1. 😀 Would that it could be so! I have so much I would love to read that I’ll have to live 10 lifetimes to get to it all, not counting all the great blogs!

    2. Haha. I agree. I keep buying books and adding them to my “to do” list. But I promise you I’m going to buy that book. There are a few that I embarrassingly should have read years ago that I’m just now getting around to.

  6. Good review, the world lost a true hero, I too saw him on O’Reilly, and was very impressed. One of the best books I have read. RIP Chief.

  7. My deepest respect & condolences are extended to the Kyle family. He was a choice spirit, sent home too early.
    Thank you for this moving video. I too shed tears for Chris & mourn the state of this great country. Let the evil spew their hatred, for every word of it is recorded in the heavens and their day of reckoning soon cometh. Angels circle this planet now, waiting to pass judgement on the evil here.
    May the righteous stand steadfast as we await our Lord & Savior.
    May God bless you.

  8. My heart and prayers go out to Chris family and friends !! Hearing this makes me very sad and angry !!! I love and respect my country and our troops !!! When I am needed to defend my country and help our troops in anyway I will be waiting and willing !!!!

    1. Chris never stopped trying to save the lives of of fellow soldiers and he gave his life trying to do just that. There is no quicker way to the celestial kingdom than to give your life to save another.

  9. So tragic to lose such a hero and such a patriot. My thoughts and prayers for Chris, his family and friends,and all who mourn his passing, as do I.

  10. May we all take time to pray for the Kyle family, such a loss is unbelievable. We take for granted daily what our troops go through, and to lose even one should be unbearable to our nation! may God bless all of them.

  11. I am putting Chris Kyle and his family and friends on our prayer list. God hold them close and comfort them. Thank you to all who really protect our great country and heal all their wounds, physical, emotional, and spiritual. God have mercy on our country and those who don’t see the wrong that our “leaders” are doing.

  12. Over 5,000 reactions to this post on Facebook through Special Operations Speaks. This is the second time I’ve been honored to have that community’s eyes on my blog. I’m humbled. I’m forever grateful. Thank you all for taking the time to read my thoughts on an American patriot.

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