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.