“I only wish I had killed more… 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.” – Chris Kyle from his autobiography American Sniper.
I saw Clint Eastwood’s film American Sniper the other day. Technically the film delivered, but the message it sent struck a wrong chord with me.
My first problem with the movie is that it conflates the September 11, 2001 attacks with our invasion of Iraq. There is a scene where you see protagonist Chris Kyle and his future wife watching the World Trade Center fall – the angst and anguish at a terror attack on our soil. The scene then cuts to his first deployment in Iraq. Sorry, but the two don’t go together and Clint Eastwood ought to be ashamed for his lies and misrepresentation. We invaded Iraq on false pretenses and bad information and our actions were shameful and largely created the situation we are facing with ISIS today.
The problem is that too many people already think that our invasion of Iraq had anything to do with 9-11, and this movie further cements the lie.
Eastwood’s manipulation of the truth doesn’t end there.
The movie itself glorifies killing and does not ask any introspective questions about why we invaded Iraq, the irreparable damage we did to the infrastructure and the power vacuum we created. It doesn’t address that the Bush administration sold the invasion as a positive thing – that we would be treated as liberators, but instead were seen as the invaders and occupiers we were. It represents the people who became disillusioned from the war as cowards and quitters who gave up on a good and just cause.
Beyond that the movie completely glosses over the fact Chris Kyle was a liar who bordered on being pathological. His lying was so bad it cost his estate $1.85 million dollars due to a defamation suit brought against him by former Minnesota Governor Jessie Ventura.
The story Kyle told in his book was that one night in a bar a well known but unnamed celebrity had bad mouthed the Navy SEALs during the wake of one Kyle’s recently deceased military comrades. Kyle says he asked the celebrity to keep it down out of respect, and said celebrity reportedly replied that the Navy SEALs ‘deserved to lose a few’. At that point fists flew and Kyle said he taught the celebrity a lesson.
The anecdote would have been just another in a book full of them, except that when Kyle appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show to promote his book he identified the celebrity as Jesse Ventura. Ventura sued for defamation – and won. A jury found the assertions so egregious that they found against Kyle’s estate, knowing full well the money would come from his widow and children.
That Kyle tried to pass off a complete figment of his imagination as the truth should give some insight to the man and his capacity for self-aggrandizing lying.
But the lies didn’t end there. Kyle purported to have killed some 30 looters in New Orleans, in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by sniping at them from atop the Superdome. This preposterous claim began circulating on the internet, and showed up in FWD:FWD:FWD emails praising the notion that a military officer would be dispatched to kill American citizens in public with no arrest or trial. To believe such a thing could happen would mean dozens of bodies riddled with high-power rifle bullets would simply disappear. It would require the silence of the military, the police, the coroner, all witnesses and every extended family member of the murdered, missing 30. It defies imagination that such a thing could happen. Further, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, told The New Yorker magazine in 2013, “To the best of anyone’s knowledge at SOCOM, there were no West Coast SEALs deployed to Katrina.”
Aside from claiming to kill dozens in NOLA without due process, Kyle claimed to have killed 2 would–be car jackers in 2009, in Dallas. His description of the incident sounded like something from the old west, with him drawing his concealed weapon and shooting under his left arm, taking both bad guys unaware. He claimed that when police arrived on the scene they ran his license, but instead of getting his name, birth date and address, they received a message to call the Department of Defense. According to Kyle the police were told that they were in the presence of one of the most skilled fighters in U.S. history. At that point, he says, they let him go. When questioned later the sheriffs in the 3 possible counties where this could have taken place denied anything like that happening in their jurisdiction. It was, again, an utter fabrication.
Chris Kyle isn’t the first person to pad or make up wild stories to make themselves look better. But most people don’t choose to lie about killing people, because that makes you look unhinged and dangerous. Perhaps he thought it made him look more bad assed. Whatever his reasoning it is truly disturbing that he believed that more kills made him a more formidable person.
Which brings us back to his state of mind while deployed in Iraq. He did not see the Iraqi people as human, and referred to them as ‘savages’ repeatedly in his memoir. He thought of them as biblically evil and wished he’d had the chance to kill more. He thoroughly dehumanized the Iraqi people and saw himself as an avenging crusader fighting with God on his side. He even had a medieval Christian Crusader’s cross tattooed on his arm. He admitted he enjoyed killing. He was, in a word, a fanatic.
Let’s not forget that Kyle also promised that the profits from his book American Sniper would go to veterans groups. According to the National Review only 2% – roughly $52,000 out of more than $3 million – went to veteran’s charities. It’s just a repeated pattern of lying.
So, how did Clint Eastwood ignore all of these things when lionizing a self-professed serial killer? What Eastwood did goes beyond sanitizing and into complete fiction. To show Kyle as some sort of hero without feet of clay is a disservice to truth. But, the narrative that Kyle had issues with the truth didn’t fit into the jingoistic movie Eastwood was making. Introspection about Kyle’s character and his penchant for lying is totally absent.
So, why am I so hesitant to say these things? Because I run the risk of getting shouted down as Un-American if I dare to voice a dissenting opinion on actions taken by a deceased, decorated former member of the military.
It is possible to dislike this movie for blatantly misrepresenting that the Iraq invasion had anything to do with 9-11 and still support our troops.
It’s possible to be patriotic and at the same time think of Chris Kyle as a liar who valued killing so much he fabricated the murder of 32 American citizens.
Chris Kyle served his country, and for that he deserved our thanks. But the Chris Kyle that Clint Eastwood is selling never existed, and that needs to be recognized and acknowledged.
American Sniper needs to be treated like the work of fiction that it is. The sooner the United States stops romanticizing our invading and occupying a sovereign nation the better.