The recent criticism of Chris Kyle, the subject of the record breaking movie, American Sniper, demonstrated in the most public way, our lack of thoughtful consideration of the mindset of the American Warrior. Every day there seems to be a headline regarding the movie. Pundits and celebrities shape facts and non facts into a story line to support their own agenda, their own world view.
I wish everyone would just stop.
Stop and think about the man. Not the SEAL sniper but the living, breathing, thinking, feeling man.
Chris was a country boy who grew up in a family of strong faith and with a deeply ingrained sense of right and wrong. He was raised never to be weak and to stand up and protect those who were vulnerable. Loyalty was a closely held value. Loyalty to family, friends and community. He grew tall from a boy to a man and he was every inch a product of his West Texas upraising, both good and bad. Like anyone else. Just a guy. A strong young man who was also a pretty damn good shot with a rifle.
Chris Kyle volunteered to serve our country after working around West Texas as a ranch hand and a professional rodeo rider. Many in Texas consider a career in professional rodeo as living the dream. But Chris wanted to do something more significant with his life. It took him a couple of tries due to an old injury but in 1999 he succeeded in being accepted into the Navy and qualified for BUD/S training. There, on Coronado Island, he earned his way into a new family, the Navy SEALS.
What does it take to turn a civilian into a Navy SEAL? Like any branch of the military, the individual is broken down and rebuilt into a member of a team. He is taught he is nothing. Then he is rebuilt into something new. The instructors do their absolute best to steal every ounce of his self confidence. Then they fill him with newly earned confidence. They make him believe he is unworthy and unlikely to ever become a member of that most elite fighting force, 2,500 men who are the best of the best. But if he refuses to fail, he accomplishes what few could ever hope for. He enters into the brotherhood.
Part of that long indoctrination into the SEAL family involves being taught to kill. SEALS are taught many, many ways to kill. They graduate and assume the role of our country’s protectors and killing is the nasty necessity of ensuring our freedom. It is also the nasty necessity of ensuring our soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen come home instead of being killed. War is brutal, irrational, random, sickening, heartbreaking and squalid. SEALS training prepares men for the reality of war but is powerless in protecting them from it’s effects.
SEALS report to their teams knowing they will be asked to endure the worst and most dangerous of all living conditions. But a new SEAL does not care. He has been completely transformed, from civilian to steely warrior, knife sharp and cool as the currents swirling around Coronado.
Chris’s gift for hitting a target resulted in specialized training as a sniper. It was the role assigned him, the orders were given and he carried them out to the best of his ability. Though he possessed great skill and a certain swagger, as all warriors do, no amount of training could have prepared him for that first shot fired in combat. No warrior is ever fully prepared for that first shot and most cite a feeling of relief once the first one is done. After the first shot, Chris took hundreds more. Four deployments. Fallujah, Sadr City, he was involved in some of the heaviest fighting our “war on terror” had to offer.
Chris brought all those old family values to his job as protector. With those values and his newly acquired lethal skills, he watched over fellow soldiers as if they were his brothers. He identified situations in which they were vulnerable and used his skills to eliminate threats to their safety. His loyalty was to his military family and his country.
As it is so often said, the rest is history. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s expertise earned him the respect and gratitude of his peers, a reputation for deadly precision and placed an $80,000 bounty on his head. But what about Chris Kyle the man? The living, breathing, thinking, feeling man who endured four deployments in the battle zone?
To understand that, don’t you first have to attempt to understand what it takes, besides training, to kill another human? What does it take to kill a couple hundred humans? How does a Christian face the moral dilemma of looking past “Thou shalt not kill?” What emotions motivate a man to kill and what are the emotional consequences of a good man becoming a lethal warrior?
Those are questions I asked myself just before I met Chris Kyle. Right before he generously donated his time to helping our Never Quit Never Forget Gala raise money for several foundations benefitting veterans and their families. I can only share with you the conclusions I myself drew.
Could fear make you kill? Chris feared he would make a mistake, miss a threat and the result would cost American lives. He feared seeing an American soldier lying in a tangled heap, his eyes dazed and confused and his life draining onto a dusty Fallujah street. Yes, Chris Kyle killed out of fear. I’m certain of it.
Would hatred allow you to kill? Chris observed the brutality of the enemy and he grew to hate them for it. He hated them for using women and children as devalued tools of the conflict. He hated them for their failure to realize only they can rise up to form a government that serves it’s individual citizens. And he hated them mostly for killing his brothers in arms. Chris Kyle absolutely knew hatred during his deployments and as he killed.
Could love make you kill? Chris loved his brothers as much as he loved his country. He did not consider any of their lives expendable. He considered every soldier to be a brother and he wanted every brother to make it home, returning to the love of their families just as he wanted to return to his wife, Taya, and two small children. Chris Kyle would have killed or died for the people he loved. And he ended up doing both.
Could you kill as a Christian? I don’t know if Chris’s faith ever wavered but I know he believed he was doing his God’s work as a protector. He took lives to save lives and if he ever agonized over the righteousness of his cause, it was not apparent. “Thou shalt not kill” was indeed a commandment but the bible is also full of examples of protectors who struck down evil when it reared it’s ugly head. So yes, I think Chris killed as a Christian and he believed it was just.
So now, two years after his death, his stupid, incomprehensible death at the hands of a veteran he was trying to help, we have a movie which attempts to tell his life story. I am so thankful for the attention the movie brings to the struggles of our warriors as they return home. Chris would appreciate that. But the movie has also attracted the attention of those who take the opportunity to question and demean Chris, strangers who bend the story to their own agenda.
That makes me incredibly angry.
Chris Kyle does not deserve to be used posthumously to promote anyone’s agenda, conservative or liberal. He does not deserve to be used as a tool, his life twisted to prove a point when he is no longer able to speak for himself.
So I would respectively ask again. Please just stop.
Chris Kyle was just a man. Neither perfect nor infallible. But he was a good man. He was a brave man. He did what his country asked of him. He spent years of his life as a guardian of the men he regarded as brothers. He was wounded twice in combat. He endured more than we will ever know. Yet he was still able to smile and was quick to laugh with others.
He left the Navy before he lost the ability to be a good father and husband and continued his mission of service to country by mentoring other veterans suffering from the scars of war, both physical and emotional. The war haunted Chris as it would any good man. But he was conquering those ghosts and helping others conquer theirs. He was a generous, loving man and he left behind a loving wife and two beautiful children. Those who knew him miss him. That’s really all anyone needs to know about Chris Kyle and certainly enough to warrant our respect and appreciation.