With the release of Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle biopic American Sniper, based on the life of America’s deadliest marksman, the Left has been eager to take potshots at the late Navy officer and Iraq veteran. By deceptively quoting Kyle’s 2012 autobiography (also entitled “American Sniper”), they have gained traction for questionable interpretations and outright lies. Here are the three most egregious falsehoods, and the truth his critics have willfully ignored.
Chris Kyle, Racist
In his memoir, Kyle writes, “I hated the damn savages” and “I could give a flying f*** about the Iraqis.” According to GQ culture writer Lindy West, writing in the Guardian, that is proof that Kyle at a “bare minimum was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people.”
Unsurpisingly, West — who admits in her piece that she has not read Kyle’s book — has torn Kyle’s quotes out of context. “I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting,” he wrote (my emphasis). “I always will. They’ve taken so much from me.”
The use of the word “savages,” which has occasioned so much antipathy, requires context, too. “Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq,” Kyle writes in the book’s prologue. “There really was no other way to describe what we encountered there.” The word “savage” appears seven times in Kyle’s book. “Brown” appears five times — to describe Kyle’s clothing, a cloud, and buildings.
Kyle’s comment that he “could give a flying f*** about” the Iraqis is not straightforward, either. It comes in the context of discussing why Kyle fought at all: “I didn’t risk my life to bring democracy to Iraq. I risked my life for my buddies, to protect my friends and fellow countrymen. I went to war for my country, not Iraq. My country sent me out there so that bullsh*t wouldn’t make its way back to our shores. I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying f*** about them.” Critics can debate whether Kyle should have taken a liking to the locals, but his apathy toward Iraqis clearly has nothing to do with race.
Chris Kyle, Liar
This is a more complicated question. Kyle claimed that he killed two would-be robbers at a Texas gas station, that he picked off looters from the top of the Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and — famously — that he punched Jesse Ventura unconscious in a Texas bar after the former Minnesota governor made disparaging comments about American soldiers. The last claim resulted in a defamation suit that Ventura won against the Kyle estate in 2014. The sniper did have a penchant for tall tales.
“Chris Kyle, Author of American Sniper, Was a War Hero. He Was Also a Liar,” wrote Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. In a review for that same outlet, Amy Nicholson condemns the American Sniper movie for “glossing over” Kyle’s lies; it is, she writes, “one of the most mendacious movies of 2014.”
The relevant point, though, is that there is no evidence that Kyle ever deceived when it came to his service record. His record kill count — 160 — is confirmed by the Pentagon, and he has been defended by former colleagues, for heroics both on the battlefield and off. On the most important matters, Kyle seems to have told the truth.
Chris Kyle, Serial Killer/Mass Murderer
Max Blumenthal, of the left-wing blog Alternet, has been the great propagandist of this stunning bit of moral revisionism. Kyle — an “occupier” who “mow[ed] down faceless Iraqis” — was “the perfect recruiter for ISIS,” tweeted Blumenthal, and also likened him to “John Lee Malvo, another mass-murdering sniper.”
Blumenthal, freelance journalist Rania Khalek, and others have taken to labeling Kyle “#AmericanPsycho” on Twitter, alluding to the fictional serial killer who is the subject of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel of the same name.
In The New Republic, Dennis Jett contends that Kyle was clearly deranged: “His only regret is that he didn’t kill more. He laments that there were rules of engagement, or ROE, which he describes as being drafted by lawyers to protect generals from politicians. He argues instead for letting warriors loose to fight wars without their hands tied behind their backs. At another point, he boasts that the unofficial ROE were pretty simple: ‘If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. Kill every male you see.’”
And The Wrap quotes one member of the American Film Academy as saying, “He [Kyle] seems like he may be a sociopath.”
The way Kyle’s words have been distorted by these most vitriolic of his critics is astonishing. One can dwell on the details: As John Nolte points out at Breitbart, for instance, the apparently brutal ROEs Kyle mentions applied only to a very specific battlefield context; American soldiers were not simply gunning down Iraqi males on sight. But Kyle discussed at length in his own autobiography how careful he was about pulling the trigger:
You cannot be afraid to take your shot. When you see someone with an IED or a rifle maneuvering toward your men, you have clear reason to fire. (The fact that an Iraqi had a gun would not necessarily mean he could be shot.) The ROEs were specific, and in most cases the danger was obvious.
But there were times when it wasn’t exactly clear, when a person almost surely was an insurgent, probably was doing evil, but there was still some doubt because of the circumstances or the surroundings — the way he moved, for example, wasn’t toward an area where troops were. A lot of times a guy seemed to be acting macho for friends, completely unaware that I was watching him, or that there were American troops nearby.
Those shots I didn’t take.
You couldn’t — you had to worry about your own ass. Make an unjustified shot and you could be charged with murder.
I often would sit there and think, “I know this motherfucker is bad; I saw him doing such and such down the street the other day, but here he’s not doing anything, and if I shoot him, I won’t be able to justify it for the lawyers. I’ll fry.” Like I said, there is paperwork for everything. Every confirmed kill had documentation, supporting evidence, and a witness.
So I wouldn’t shoot.
Kyle understood the difference between murder and justifiable wartime killing. But his critics apparently can’t.
As for his sociopathy, which critics such as Jett base on his “boastfulness” about killing, here is Kyle “boasting”:
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.
I had a job to do as a SEAL. I killed the enemy — an enemy I saw day in and day out plotting to kill my fellow Americans.
In 2013, in an interview on Fox News, Kyle said, “The ideal thing would be if I knew the number of lives I saved.”
Kyle was not a serial-killing sociopath. It’s his critics who seem to be deranged.
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. fellow at National Review.