“I hated the damn savages… I could give a flying f*** about the Iraqis,” wrote the late Chris Kyle in his 2013 memoir, American Sniper.
As the Clint Eastwood-directed biopic about Kyle continues to do big box office, The Guardian’s Lindy West asked why so many were celebrating a “hate filled killer.” West wasn’t the only one who wondered why so many were proud of this “psychopath.”
National Review’s Ian Tuttle notes how some of Kyle’s controversial comments may have been taken out of context. For example, Kyle actually wrote, “I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting,” (emphasis added) which is significantly different from how West’s edit portrays him. As for not giving a “flying f***” about Iraqis, here is the entire quote:
I didn’t risk my life to bring democracy to Iraq. I risked my life for my buddies, to protect my friends and fellow countrymen. I went to war for my country, not Iraq. My country sent me out there so that bullsh*t wouldn’t make its way back to our shores. I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying f*** about them.
I have long believed the Iraq War was one of the worst foreign-policy blunders in U.S. history. Watching “American Sniper,” Kyle seemed to me as much a victim of the horrible decision to invade Iraq as the Iraqis.
Rod Dreher is right: “The main takeaway for me was the cost of war on a soldier. It made me angrier at Bush, Rumsfeld, and the lot for putting true-believing, faithful soldiers like Chris Kyle into Iraq under false or foolish pretenses.”
In the film, Kyle is not a knuckle-dragging murderer who gets off on killing “brown” Arabs, as some have alleged, but a soldier who wrestles tremendously with his military duties and is never really comfortable with his fame as America’s “most lethal sniper.” Kyle seems sure in his rhetoric about fighting for his country and getting the “bad guys,” but his everyday environment, both in Iraq and stateside, is morally complex. Kyle and his fellow soldiers do wonder about the point of their mission, particularly as the years wear on. Why are they there? What are they trying to accomplish?
“What was that for, anyway?” Rod Dreher asks.
Kyle didn’t give a “flying f***” about Iraqis because his first concern was his “buddies” and his countrymen. Likewise, many Iraqis didn’t care for the U.S. soldiers in their midst because of what the war had done to their families and country.
Both of these different, yet same, perspectives are healthy and normal patriotic sentiments. Both emanate from people who are culturally removed from each other, if not for war. It is this detachment that makes it easier to villainize the other side. In the movie and probably in real life, this becomes harder to do as U.S. soldiers and Iraqis see each other face-to-face daily.
Demonizing either U.S. soldiers or ordinary Iraqis is much easier for those who didn’t have to live the war up close, or at all, but only experience it through Fox News pundits or op-eds in The Guardian.
Every Arab or Muslim is not a terrorist, though for many hawks there is a certain moral comfort in subscribing to this kind of bigotry. Every U.S. soldier is not a “murderer,” “psychopath” or “baby killer” (going back to the Vietnam-era), though antiwar critics get a certain satisfaction with these blanket slanders.
The truth is more complex. It almost always is. Simplifying it often only compounds the tragedy for those who’ve suffered, but strengthens attitudes that can lead to policies that result in more suffering.
Many Americans, perhaps many fans of Chris Kyle and “American Sniper,” really do think of Iraqis or Muslims in general not as people, but as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Yet many innocents Muslims and Arabs are as much victims, of both American foreign policy and Islamic extremists in their midst, as the innocent people murdered on 9/11. They didn’t ask for this chaos and tragedy in their lives, but they find themselves damaged by it, nonetheless.
Most U.S. military members are regular, morally upstanding people who are thrust into extreme circumstances due to their government’s unwise foreign policy decisions. Yes, they voluntarily signed up, whether out of patriotic duty or economic necessity. Still, it wasn’t Americans soldiers’ decision to invade Iraq. It wasn’t Chris Kyle who sneakily tried to connect the 9/11 attacks with Saddam Hussein, as Dreher notes.
Kyle was a victim of this deception as were his brothers and sisters in arms.
Those who constantly argue against a habitually aggressive and mindless U.S. foreign policy insist that we must consider what war does to those living in the Middle East on a personal, emotional level, and also how this affects the long term security interests of the United States. “Blowback” is real, and yet it is a hard sell for many Americans, particularly because Middle Eastern culture is still something remote for most living in the United States. Many in the U.S. more often see that region and the people in it as an inconsequential blip on CNN, not as individuals with families who share the same life concerns as Americans.
Chris Kyle, on the other hand, was all-American. Those who admire Kyle probably know people like him.
Culturally, Kyle reminded me of me. I was born the same year as Kyle, come from a middle-class background, spent the better part of my life in bars chasing girls, have a distinct Southern drawl, and my rhetoric can be rough and undisciplined. Watching “American Sniper,” I imagined what I would have done if I found myself in the same situation. I really don’t know. My current political beliefs aside—senator and Vietnam veteran Jim Webb once called the battlefield the most apolitical environment he’s ever experienced—I am not confident my behavior or attitude would have been different from Kyle’s.
Kyle, like many Americans, wants to believe his government is right but becomes more confused as the war wears on. He joined the military to do his duty and serve his country. His certainty dampens and then deteriorates, as does his mental state while his family life lies in tatters.
Chris Kyle wasn’t alone. The following is a private discussion with a woman who generally holds antiwar views that helps shed light on what many military members and their families have gone through post 9/11. She wished to remain anonymous and this is used with her permission:
My brother did five tours between Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he did a lot of things we know he didn’t do, and suffers from insane PTSD to the point that he and I hardly speak and when we do he’s irrational to the point of distraction. But he’ll tell you some crazy stories, has some serious violence issues, and probably could be classified as the same type of “jerk, liar, and murderer” that Chris Kyle is accused of being. These guys come back messed the hell up. Some figure shit out, others don’t. Sometimes the bragging is their way of dealing or staying numb or hiding. I’ll pass on making judgment because I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to handle what they went through and I hope one day my brother returns to a piece of who he was before.
How many U.S. military members and their families see their own struggles reflected in the saga of Chris Kyle?
War critics who now attack Kyle and arguably, by extension, the U.S. military, don’t sound much different than hawks who revel in casting all Middle Easterners in the worst possible light. There is an ugly crudeness to being anti-Muslim. The same can be true of being anti-military too.
Many war critics are careful to explain the context of anti-American sentiment made by some in the Arab world, that certain U.S. policies naturally provoke emotion and extreme rhetoric. These critics should approach Kyle and some of his controversial statements with the same depth, consideration, and judgment.
Being antiwar can, and should, also mean being pro-soldier. “American Sniper” should be instructive in this regard, despite attempts by left and right to see only what suits their ideological purposes. Director Clint Eastwood says his movie makes “the biggest antiwar statement any film can.”
Ultimately, “American Sniper” is about what the Iraq War did to Chris Kyle and his family. He wasn’t just some cocksure cartoon. He was a man. And he was a mess.
Jack Hunter is the editor of Rare.us and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.