Chris Kyle was a navy SEAL who served four combat tours in Iraq, winning two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. He wrote a best-selling book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” By his own count, Chris shot down over 250 people in Iraq. On Feb 2nd he himself was shot down at a rifle range by a troubled veteran Kyle was trying to help.
Chris Kyle is being mourned as an American hero, which he certainly was, but his life and death both raise questions about just what those words really mean. Ron Paul, himself a veteran, stirred up a hornet’s nest by tweeting: “Chris Kyle’s death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’” and “Treating PTSD at a firing range doesn’t make sense.” When challenged, Ron Paul explained further, “Unconstitutional and unnecessary wars have endless unintended consequences, a policy of non-violence, as Christ preached, would have prevented this and similar tragedies.”
Chris Kyle has been eulogized both as a “Christian hero,” and as an “American Badass.” But how does one build that bridge between the teachings of Jesus, who taught that we are all sisters and brothers, with the willingness of an “American Badass” to kill people he has never met on the word of people he doesn’t really know?
For Chris Kyle, that bridge was expressed by his tattoo of a crusader’s cross and by the logo of his private company with a sniper’s crosshairs extended to make a Christian cross. Over the logo read the words, “Despite what your momma told you, violence does solve problems.”
“I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian,” Kyle wrote. “I had it put in in red, for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I always will. They’ve taken so much from me.”
“You just view these guys as the terrorists that they are,” Kyle said. “So you’re not really viewing them as a person. They’re out there, they’re bad people, and you just take them out and you don’t think twice about it.”
They are two separate topics, whether a soldier is brave, and whether a war is just. Brave soldiers have killed and died on both sides of every war in history. And because militant leaders can easily turn any question about war into a supposed attack on the troops, young men and women have marched eternally off to their own deaths. That death is physical if the soldier is struck down on the field, but it can be emotional if the soldier survives. I have no desire to criticize Chris Kyle, but I have great anguish to prevent other young people from being propagandized into unquestioning killers.
Chris Kyle said in an interview, “I am not a fan of politics.” This would also mean he was not a fan of trying to figure out how wars happen. The statement would imply that he would never have thought to ask what is really at stake in one nation’s violence against another. Instead, when he drew a bead on a target, he assumed the target was a “bad guy” because that was what he had been told.
Such unreflecting patriotism does not always last. Late at night propaganda weakens, and many veterans find themselves overwhelmed by the questions they did not ask before. We have reached a point in our nation’s history where more of our soldiers are committing suicide than are dying in combat. Kyle represents the heroism and the tragedy of the unquestioning soldier of every country and every age. Because his world was as simple as a video game where people born on one side of a line are good and on the other bad, Chris Kyle had little chance of realizing that he might have had more in common with the 250 Iraqi’s he shot down like dogs, than with the rich barons who send the soldiers on both sides out to kill and to die.
It is right and good to mourn the tragedy of how Chris Kyle’s died, but when we consider the fate of the eternal soldier, it is hard not to also mourn how he lived.