REVIEW: American Sniper by Chris Kyle
Mr. Kyle has passed away and a movie loosely based on this book is due out in a couple of weeks. The book showed up randomly at my doorstep. I blame Jayne’s review of World War II books.
The movie clip shows more thought and moral dilemma than the entirety of the book did. I hope it goes without stating that I am sincerely grateful for the service of our military and that this book review isn’t a judgment about the war or the actions of military people in the war but of the book and the narrator of the book as depicted in the story.
I read later that the book was written, in part, by the ghostwriter interviewing Chris Kyle and then transcribing his stories onto the page. Maybe something is lost in the translation between the telling and the transcribing, but America Sniper makes Chris Kyle look like a guy who likes nothing better than to shoot his gun and get into fights.
Everything is “bad-ass” to Kyle, from his equipment to his shooting to his encounters with civilians. (The word appears about every 4 pages) He has no other adjective in his vocabulary. He uses the words “savages” and “evil” to describe his targets. I could understand this if there was some section wherein he explained that he had to think that way in order to be able to effectively perform his duties but that section was absent and I took it to mean that Kyle had no deeper thoughts that the black and white contrasts he put forth on the page.
“Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy “savages.” There really was no other way to describe what we encountered there.
People ask me all the time, “How many people have you killed?” My standard response is, “Does the answer make me less, or more, of a man?”
The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives. Everyone I shot in Iraq was trying to harm Americans or Iraqis loyal to the new government.”
Yes, there was a time when he was faced with killing a child, but he doesn’t contemplate it for more than about three sentences in the story.
“I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different—if my family didn’t need me—I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.”
It almost felt as if he was proud that he wasn’t weak when it came to kids or women–like he was some kind of equal opportunity sniper.
I thought that there might be some introspection, some thoughtfulness about what taking all those lives meant to him, but in the end, he recounted each tale as if it were a game and no matter how many times he denied it, he reveled in the fame it brought him. He shared his nickname was The Legend and that the Iraqis nicknamed him “The Devil of Ramadi”.
One of the stories he recounts later in the book is how he got into a bar fight and kicked some local law enforcements’ ass and then another unit went to the same bar to start up the same fight but they didn’t win like Kyle’s group did. Because Kyle never loses in this book. What’s ironic is that in never showing a weak moment on the page, Kyle comes off as a braggart.
“When you go into a bar, you’ll always have someone who will poke a shoulder into you or otherwise imply you should fuck off. Happens in every bar across the world. Most people just ignore things like that.
If someone does that to a SEAL, we’re going to turn and knock you out.”
He was frustrated by the rules, at times, that prevented him from making more kills–the rules of engagement and the accountability he had to make. Yes, the bureaucracy at times was frustrating to read and thus doubly so to experience, but at times it seemed necessary.
“I’m not saying war crimes should be committed. I am saying that warriors need to be let loose to fight war without their hands tied behind their backs…
I feel that I could have been more effective, probably protected more people and helped bring the war to a quicker conclusion without [rules of engagement].”
This isn’t really a thoughtful war memoir but read like a locker room journal passed around between jocks. For all that these SEALS are supposed to be silent and unsung heroes, Kyle is often portraying himself as a loud mouth, inciting others. Perhaps he was talking about the other SEALs that haven’t written memoirs. (And at this point, though, are there any SEALs not writing tell alls?)
There are passages interspersed by Kyle’s wife, but they are more about her coming to terms with the rightness of his actions and acceptance of what marrying a SEAL. He showed emotion (as much as the author was able to depict) when his team members died or at the end when he spoke about his children.
The writing of the book consists of terse, short, choppy sentences. And the narrative seems to jump all over the place. It’s almost as if the ghostwriter just pasted together transcribed a streams of consciousness. There was this one time I was working with the Army, then the other time I was supposed to train stupid Iraqis, and another time there were Marines here. Some of the sections were only two paragraphs long before I was taken to another memory, another place, another group of people.
There’s no real sense of time and place. Most of all, though, the writing is just inexorably dull. I found myself marveling about how I could be reading about training and missions and battle zones and kill shots and bar fights and be totally and completely bored. C-
It should be noted that some of the stories in the book have been fabricated. One section is the subject of a highly publicized lawsuit between Kyle and Jesse Ventura wherein the jury found that Kyle had defamed Ventura. Post news reports also indicate that the bar fights and other stories Kyle could not be corroborated. And truly, all those bar fights? I think those would be the subject of disciplinary actions within the military.