In case you didn’t know: “The Real American Sniper Was a Hate-Filled Killer.”
So reads the first half of the headline to a January 6 essay by Lindy West at the Guardian’s website. It’s true that writers rarely pen their own headlines, but that one does an apt job of capturing the first part of West’s thesis.
Like other recent Kyle critics, West, a culture writer at GQ, wields quotes from the 2012 autobiography of the late Chris Kyle, America’s deadliest military marksman and the subject of Clint Eastwood’s biopic, American Sniper, to show what a loathsome, morally treacherous character he was. After revealing that she has not read Kyle’s book, West goes on to use misleading quotes, those same ones pounced on by all critics — “I hate the damn savages,” and “I couldn’t give a flying f*** about the Iraqis” — as proof that Kyle at a “bare minimum was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people.”
Her assessment was tame compared with that of Max Blumenthal, author at the left-wing blog Alternet, who tweeted in December that Kyle was “the perfect recruiter for ISIS.” Blumenthal likened Kyle to “John Lee Malvo, another mass-murdering sniper.” “John Lee,” for those who might not recall, was one alias of Lee Boyd Malvo, the 17-year-old who, with John Allen Muhammad, murdered ten people and wounded three others in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002. (They also killed seven people and wounded seven across the country in the months beforehand.)
Others have piled on: Rania Khalek, a freelance journalist, called Kyle an “American psycho” (alluding to novelist Bret Easton Ellis’s fictional serial killer), while filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that snipers were “cowards.”
“Why,” then, asks the second part of the Guardian’s headline, “Are Simplistic Patriots Treating Him as a Hero?” Why is “the US right wing . . . treating [American Sniper] with the same unconsidered, rah-rah reverence that they would the national anthem or the flag itself?” asks West.
The answer is simple: because the Right is just like Chris Kyle.
West thinks the similarity is racism: The Right has latched on to Kyle “because Chris Kyle is good, and brown people are bad, and America is in danger, and Chris Kyle saved us.”
For Laura Miller, senior writer at Salon, the similarity is stupidity: Kyle was, she writes, afflicted by his “steadfast imperviousness to any nuance, subtlety, or ambiguity, and his lack of imagination and curiosity” — and in that he was “all-too-emblematic of the blustering, tragically misguided self-confidence of the George W. Bush years.”
For the Daily Kos, writing back in 2012, admiration of Kyle is Freudian projection:
Chris Kyle was feted by Bill O’Reilly last week: His deeds were recounted, and killing admired by the Fox News faithful. There is an odd homoeroticism (or is it homosocial worship?) in this interview, where O’Reilly as an archconservative is channeling a deep fascination with the “how” of death, and a type of hyper-masculinity that is the bleeding heart of Right-wing authoritarianism. Here, O’Reilly reminds the viewer of why straight men enjoy watching the freakishly large penises that dominate much of American pornography. Hero worship, with no small amount of projection, is, and remains, the thing – it is the means for a visceral thrill.
The above is not satire.
So this is not a new phenomenon. Since Vietnam, the only military men the Left has found to like are those who return to the U.S. and roundly repudiate the war in which they fought. They think the highest form of patriotism is marching before Congress to “blow the whistle” on horrors, real or imagined, being committed by Uncle Sam’s legions against innocents overseas. The only veterans worth honoring with medals are those who will turn and chuck those medals over the Capitol fence, à la John Kerry. The Left has no love — or even tolerance — for unapologetic servicemen who write about “savage, despicable evil” and declare their fidelity to “God, Country, Family,” in that order.
Now, in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reflexive anti-war sentiment of the progressive Left has mutated, in certain corners, into full-blown derangement — the sort that can straight-facedly link American military policy with porn-viewing habits. As the Kyle critics have made clear, it is now nothing short of an unassailable truth on the left that the act of criticizing America’s military ventures is in itself an indication of moral and intellectual superiority.
Which is what all of this armchair psychologizing-cum-political commentary about Chris Kyle is really about: He is important because, as a racist, rapacious killer, he is a representation of racist, rapacious America, and how it exported its bloodlust to Iraq and Afghanistan, slaughtering innumerable women and children in the quest to seize Iraq’s oil fields or to expand Dick Cheney’s stock portfolio or to satiate George W. Bush’s Oedipal complex. By pointing this out, West and Miller and Blumenthal and all the others show that they are not fooled. They announce how attuned they are to “moral ambiguity” and “emotional complexity,” how “deeply” they think about war and peace and life and death, how much more sophisticated they are compared with trigger-happy, redneck rubes such as Chris Kyle — or the simpletons who think he might have served his country admirably.
In his autobiography, Kyle wrote of taking the deadly shot: “You do it again. And again. You do it so the enemy won’t kill you or your countrymen. You do it until there’s no one left for you to kill. That’s what war is.”
Yeah, but what did he know?
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. fellow at National Review.