American Sniper

I decided to read the American Sniper autobiography after reading movie reviews and seeing some quotes from the book. Since I was not sure if the quotations were out of context or not I decided just to take a few hours and read it for myself. Here are a few thoughts/questions I have regarding the book. These comments should not be read as anti-military (I have close friends and family who either have been or are in the military) nor am I attempting to demonize the author, Chris Kyle. Nor is this a movie review. After reading the autobiography I am not interested in seeing Clint Eastwood’s interpretation, although I will refer to it since I have talked to some who have seen it (second hand sources I know). I am more interested in pursuing the question of what type of Christianity we have in America that can produce believers who see no inherent contradiction between the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the aggressive patriotism lived out by Chris Kyle and supported by other patriotic Christians. Chris Kyle makes it very clear in his book that he understands himself as a Christian. These are ramblings of ideas that have come to mind so don’t expect a logical progression.

I can understand how someone with no interest in the Bible (although some of the reviewers who were troubled by the book make no claim to be Christians) but who is extremely patriotic could read American Sniper and come away saying, “Hell yeah!” For a person who strongly believes in America anything that our country asks its soldiers to do is only done in the interests of freedom, democracy, etc. This is the same logic that can justify the torture of alleged terrorists because of the information we needed. Maybe there has been polling on this but I would be extremely curious to know what percentage of people who identify themselves as Christian would have justified the techniques used on terrorists and alleged terrorists.

From what I have heard Eastwood’s artistic license has portrayed Kyle as somewhat conflicted about his sniper role. This Kyle is not in the book. From beginning to end he has no doubt about the legitimacy of his role. He is a killer; he takes joy in his role and everyone he killed deserved to die. He says, “I loved what I did. 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 (6).” Toward the end of the book he imagines dying and going to have his one on one discussion about his life with his judge, God. He says, “But in that backroom or what ever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I don’t believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die (376-7).”

I honestly don’t know if this is just Kyle talking or if this is how special forces people are trained. The people he is killing are all evil and deserve to die. Are all special forces taught to de-humanize their enemies as simply “targets” who deserve to be killed? In Chris Kyle’s case at least all his enemies are categorize as terrorists rather than wondering if some of them were simply defending their country against a foreign invader and they happened to be on the losing side.

Chris Kyle had to leave his Christianity behind (even though he would not admit this) or else he was raised with a Christianity that told him (implicitly probably) that whatever he was told to do as a soldier was permissible. These are just some of the blatant unChristian attitudes/actions that define him.

1. Revenge: the biography is full of revenge that goes far beyond what some might want to call justice. Aftermath of a story about how one of his team was shot, not killed but out of action… Hey a voice above me said. I looked up, it was Tony, my chief. You wanna go get some payback? He asked. Fuck yeah I do! I jumped to my feet. We planned our mission. I didn’t hardly have time for it though; I just wanted blood for my guy. (283)

2. Hatred:But 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. I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying fuck about them. (194)

3. Violence: Our company logo and slogan, “despite what your momma told you violence does solve problems” (in pictures section)

4. Love of killing: On re-enlisting…and I missed it. I missed the excitement and the thrill. I loved killing bad guys (220)

5. Christians justified killing Muslims: New tattoos…”On the front of my arm I had a crusader cross inked in. I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. I had it put in red for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I always will. “ (219)

So would I be satisfied with a kindler, gentler, morally conflicted sniper? No but at least I would have hoped that he could have seen the inherent contradiction between his identity as a follower of Jesus and his attitudes? Again, is Chris Kyle a normal American Christian that sees no tension between his faith and what he does for his country?

I see four basic positions:

1. I can’t because I obey God rather than man.
2. I can because my country tells me to; the enemy is evil. This is the basic just war position.
3. Jesus (Matthew 5), Paul (Romans 12), Peter (1 Peter 3) have nothing to say to actions when I am acting in a public role; they only speak to me as a private citizen. I am permitted to act in my public role in ways that I could not as a private citizen.
4. I should not but I do because I am choosing the lesser of two evils (Bonhoeffer). (I hesitate to include Bonhoeffer since he was a pacifist who finally after much struggle decided the evil of Hitler must be stopped.)

So does the Christianity of America justify Kyle’s actions or not? Obviously I cannot answer that question with any statistical evidence. My anecdotal evidence based on what I have read and conversations I hear say “yes.” They may be uncomfortable about Kyle’s enthusiasm for killing but they see no inherent Christian moral dilemma in being a sniper. If I am correct is it possible that our public Christianity is really Americanism and our “real” Christianity is relegated to our private lives (at least as much as possible)?