Recommendation: Oh dear, I am so conflicted about this book. It’s interesting to hear about war from somebody who was quite recently in the thick of it. And I did like how honest Kyle was about the effects his military career had on his family and his health and everything else. But, there are some viewpoints shared in this book that I think could be poisonous if adopted by the larger culture. I’ll explain. Or try to.
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American Sniper is the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal sniper who has the most confirmed sniper kills of any American in history. Right off the bat, some of you should know that this book isn’t for you. It deals with the grisly realities of war, and it comes from the perspective of someone who killed an incredible amount of insurgents—and took a certain amount of pride and pleasure in doing so. Personally, I would suggest that you withhold some judgement regarding Kyle’s attitude toward his enemy because you might not have such strong opinions if you were being shot at every single day.
But, overall, I felt that this is a book from the inner reaches of the military that would have been better served to stay inside that world. Now, it’s obvious that this review is treading on treacherous ground, so I’m going to try to be as clear as possible. I do not personally agree with the attitude that Kyle puts forth in this book (calling the insurgents “savages,” and “evil”). I do not personally agree with the idea that an American life is inherently more valuable than the life of someone living in another country. At the same time, I think it’s very important for military personnel to have, if not Kyle’s more fanatical interpretation, at least some greater regard for their own lives and the lives of their brothers in arms.
Really, my problem with this book is that I don’t think it will have a positive influence in society. And that isn’t because Kyle is some robot monster who just likes killing people—he’s not. It’s because the realities of war are so extreme that they require its participants to adopt extreme values and perspectives. Your life is on the line every second of every day. You have to think you are better than your enemy. You have to think your enemy is purely evil and wrong in every way. You have to value your soldiers’ lives more than anyone else. Those are minimum necessities of the world that Kyle was faced with.
The issue comes when these values are translated and adopted into our everyday American culture. In war, American soldiers need to value American lives more than anything else. But, in everyday situations, do I feel that someone is inherently more valuable to society just because they were born in a specific place? Absolutely not. In war, you need to be absolutely certain that the people you are trying to kill deserve to be killed. But, in peace time, do I think people should be put to death just because they have fanatical beliefs and different values than myself? No. And if I did, there would still be a whole lot of Americans who fall into that category. In war, it’s important to be patriotic and to believe in the mission that you were sent to carry out. Outside of war, do I think people should blindly support their country’s decisions and assume their government is always in the right? Well, just crack open any history book ever and you’ll realize what a bad idea that is.
One place where I absolutely do agree with Kyle is his opinion on war protesters. Kyle expresses his anger at people who protest the warriors instead of writing to their Congresswomen or marching outside the White House. A couple times Kyle’s departure was soured by war protesters meeting him at the airport. I can’t think of many things worse than this. DO NOT take your frustration out on the women and men who are risking their lives. They had just as much say in the matter as you did, the only difference being that you aren’t about to fly to a foreign country and face hundreds of people shooting at you. If the thought of protesting the combatants comes into head, trust Kyle’s suggestion and aim your anger at the government. Or, at the very least, keep your mouth shut at the airport.
Real quick, it wasn’t the focus of this book or a major part in it, but I also want to throw out there that the constant use of the word “pussy” and “coward” to describe people who struggle to face war, is a bit judgemental and shows a pretty serious lack of empathy. Not that I think I’d act or feel any different in war, just saying.
I guess that last sentence sums up my feelings on this book quite well. It’s ugly. It’s crude. It’s filled with dangerous sentiments and, in my opinion, at least slightly misplaced values. But it’s real. This book is a completely realistic and natural byproduct of war, as told by a phenomenal warrior. I disagree with it a lot, but I’ve also never shot a gun at someone or had someone shoot one at me. As long as readers keep in mind how different Kyle’s job was from everyday society, then the honesty in this book will give a great perspective. I just worry that won’t be the case.
The author of this book, Chris Kyle, was shot and killed at a Texas shooting range earlier this year. I won’t pretend to agree with everything he wrote, but his death is nothing short of a tragedy. There should be no doubt that Kyle cared for his family, cared for his brothers in arms, and cared deeply for his country. I don’t know how his writings will affect his readers, but I do know that we’re all worse off without him.