The movie, American Sniper, has re-introduced some stagnant controversy that started with the release of a book of the same name, co-written by Kyle himself, and authors Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice. Like many book to movie transitions, there are many inconsistencies from one to the other and this case is no exception. That lack of consistency, even though it isn’t solely responsible for the controversy surrounding Chris Kyle, still fuels the issue to a small degree, and serves to further divide the two camps. Before we delve too far into that, it something has to be clear up front. This article isn’t specifically about the war in Iraq, or any of the conversations around the legitimacy of that. It’s more of a study of character, and our wish to create heroes out of them.
A controversial issue can’t exist without having two opposing sides, with one side wanting to further explore an issue, or its possible outcomes. The circumstances surrounding American sniper Chris Kyle sees the two sides as polarized as our modern political and ideological system, and coincidentally enough, that system might come into actual play in this on some level in this debate. First, an examination of the two opposing groups, before considering the debate itself.
The first group mostly made up of liberals and progressives, are asking the questions, and creating the waves, so to speak. Their main assertion, is that Chris Kyle wasn’t the American hero that everyone perceives. They also say that the movie, and book that tells his story is little more than propaganda that does less of telling the truth, and more of promoting war and violence against the Muslim people in Iraq. This group does have an extreme side, with the most offensive people talking ill against the military indiscriminately or the war on terror in general. This group, in many instances, forgot the rule that both groups are guilty of forgetting. Insults don’t help prove your point, they just put the other side in a position to where they are less receptive to your point of view.
The other side of this debate sees a far more conservative crowd, as their arguments and actions would quickly display. They have been quick to respond to anyone that questions, critiques or opposes Chris Kyle, his actions, and the book and movie that detail his life. The conservative folks are easily more pro-military personnel and military action, and to that group, the actions of Chris Kyle are those of a true American patriot, and a hero. The most interesting part of their point of view is the extreme levels to which they are willing to escalate a situation, in order to solidify their point and assertions. On the more civil end of the conservative spectrum, they point out all the freedoms the liberal communists have to be thankful to the [insert military branch here]. A typical comment would sound like, “You can thank all the snipers serving for your freedom of speech and fighting and dying for those freedoms!” After that, the comments would escalate to insulting, and then to threats of violence and even death, ironically enough for practicing that very same freedom of speech. It becomes obvious at that point, that the freedom of speech only exists if you are willing to say what the conservatives wish, and anything else will lose you that freedom. With violence, if necessary. The reality of the comments left on this subject against the people speaking out against Chris Kyle have been stunning indeed, and point to a much larger problem.
There seems to be three major concepts that are at the center of this feud. The first accusation from these groups is that Chris Kyle engaged in vigilantism on American soil. Simply put, they claim that he enacted justice to criminals on his own whim. It should be noted that these situations do not appear in the book or movie, but nonetheless, the claims of their occurrence were made. Chris Kyle is on record as claiming that he had to kill two men that were trying to steal his car in Texas, and was cleared on the scene by the local law enforcement via the pentagon. Again, Kyle claims that the police let him go, because he had them call the Pentagon. His other claim, was that he was actually sanctioned by an un-named government agency to travel to New Orleans, sit atop the Superdome, and shoot looters. He claimed to shoot over 30 people. Again, we need perspective. He claimed that he was hired by the government to be judge, jury and executioner to people from a distance, through the scope of rifle. The most interesting part about these claims from Kyle is that there is no proof that has been brought forth to validate his story. Nothing at all. No families of the looters, the police officers in Texas, or the agency that endorsed his activities in Louisiana. You’d think that by now, if these claims were true, that the families of at least one of the slain criminals would have come forward and filed a civil suit against the Kyle estate for wrongful death. They would likely have a case. The point that the anti-Kyle groups are making is this. Either he is telling the truth, and he is guilty of violating the constitutional rights of over 32 Americans on American soil. Or he is lying about violating the constitutional rights of over 32 Americans. Considering the lack of evidence, most people believe that he is lying about these occurrences, and that he was trying to falsely promote himself as a hero.
The next point of contention from the liberal groups actually came to national attention, even though it didn’t end up in the movie, most likely do to the outcome. The core of this particular problem comes from the book however, and is the source for this part in the narrative. In the book, Chris Kyle asserts that he won a physical altercation with a former SEAL that was speaking bad about the military and a fallen soldier at his own wake. He was simply sticking up for the honor of a fallen soldier. Kyle didn’t identify the veteran in the book, but later on an appearance on the Opie and Anthony show, he gave the name of the soldier as the former Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura. Ventura always maintained his non-involvement and asked for a retraction from Kyle and the book’s publisher. When that didn’t happen, Ventura moved forward with a lawsuit. After Kyle’s un-timely murder, Ventura was advised to drop the suit and told that he would never win against the grieving widow of a veteran. However, when considering the extent that his reputation had diminished, Ventura elected to continue the suit, and he won. Not only did he manage to prove that he wasn’t in the situation, he also proved that Kyle made the whole thing up, with the intent to profit off the lie. Jesse Ventura proved his side to a jury of his peers, across the courtroom of the grieving widow of a veteran. Now that Ventura has won the case in court, the conservative groups have condemned him for taking money from a widow, which is funny considering that the publisher of Chris Kyle’s book paid the damages. Kyle’s widow did not pay a dime.
Now, considering that Chris Kyle was proven to be lying in a court of law, and that most believe him to be lying in his un-proven vigilantism claims, the anti-American Sniper groups have found a foothold to question everything that Chris Kyle has said. If he is willing to lie to make himself look better, what else would he lie about? Can his kills overseas be questioned? Were all his kills in combat actual insurgence fighters, or were some of them apart of the 500,000 dead Iraqi civilians? The main idea of the liberal groups in this is that if you lose credibility in one part of your life, you lose credibility in all the parts of your life. Obviously, the next area of inquiry along this line will eventually lead anyone to question, “How much of a hero is Chris Kyle, if I have reason to ask these other questions?”
The final main issue that people who are speaking out against Chris Kyle have, is the appearance of his character, his ethics, his morality, and his value for human life. In the American Sniper movie, Bradley Cooper portrays Kyle as “deeply and emotionally troubled” for his actions, and the decisions he had to make, which makes sense in keeping with Hollywood tradition for storytelling and drama. However, given the statements he made in interviews in real life, as well as quotes that can be found in his own book, Chris Kyle had a completely different view on his role in the war and the impact it had on him. Kyle always asserted that he enjoyed what he did, and that he only wished that he could have “done more”, including anybody “holding a Quran”. He made many anti-Islamic statements, that are well documented, and those of which, if said about any other race would be considered hate speech, but in these circumstances it is considered to be patriotic. Even worse is the mere possibility that a trained killer from the US is enjoying killing people on foreign soil, simply for being who they are, instead of the level of threat they are to his comrades or his homeland. This author doesn’t care where your bias lies, the situation warrants a few interrogative statements and an investigation.
So what exactly is at the root of this issue? Why are people threating violence on each other, calling each other traitors, and questioning their level of patriotism? It doesn’t appear to be a partisan as the parties mingle slightly on the party fringes. For example, there are many Democratic supporters of the movie, the book and Chris Kyle. Surely, there are members of the GOP who aren’t fans of the story, though surprisingly enough, none of them have come forward. If they exist. That still doesn’t answer the question. What is the major issue dividing these groups? The nearest I can figure out, is that is has to do with the people who we choose to follow. Our sources of strength, inspiration and motivations. I think the concept that is holding these people apart is that of heroism.
The other group wants the ability to question the person’s actions, analyze his motives, and perhaps seek other heroes. In short, they want they ability choose their hero, and share their information to others.
After breaking down this situation in this way, we have exposed this author’s greatest fears. I worry that not only are we losing the ability to question our heroes, but we are losing our ability to choose who our heroes are. When choosing those heroes, there are more heroes than exist beyond people in the military. To demand that our heroes be made up of people that excel at the job of killing others, is to demand that our lives and minds go down a very specific path. It is a demand that our motivation and inspiration comes from war. For example, a child could find a hero in fire fighter, and find inspiration in saving lives. Or find the hero in a police officer, fighting crime and protecting the innocent. Even in the rare case that a teacher becomes a hero, a child could yearn to learn, and spread knowledge to others. Instead, by demanding, even forcing a child to find a hero in a person who ends lives is sending a very specific message to that child. Is it our wish that our children listen?