I read his book. The combination of courage, cool and sophistication it takes to be a successful sniper is reason alone to admire the career of the late Navy Seal Chris Kyle. It is with gratitude for his service and awe of his person that we take a harder look at the circumstances of his death.
Kyle was shot and killed this week when he went to help a fellow veteran through a bout of post traumatic stress at a Texas shooting range. The shooter, former marine Eddie Ray Routh, allegedly gunned down Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, at point blank range with a semi-automatic hand gun.
The book American Sniper is the autobiography of Kyle, who received no fewer than 14 medals and citations for his heroics over four tours in the Iraq war zone. In the book, Kyle claimed to have killed more than 150 insurgents. He was a true hero and sought to follow up his service with the book, the creation of a security firm and the establishment of a nonprofit called FITCO Cares, dedicated to helping returning veterans.
I have read a few books now about Navy Seals and other special forces, and all of them have left me with a painful contradiction. On one hand, I admired these men and—deep down—wondered if I had the stuff to have been such an extraordinary person. What does it take to be so exceptional and focused? How powerful must be the drive for excellence and elite recognition that such men are able to do what they do? We should be grateful that we have such people in our midst.
There was, however, a darker side to some of these stories. The camaraderie and patriotism that grows on the battlefield and in the uniformed services is not always a healthy thing. I hate what I have just written as much as I know it is true. We need such men and inspired courage if we are to stay a free and independent nation. We, as well, need and must regal our career military leaders who are drawn to the science of combat and who provide the very security within which we live. But what has been missing in recent years has been the humility and even reluctance with which the greatest generation and their predecessors went to war.
The great General Robert E. Lee once noted during a greatly fought battle in the Civil War how we should be mindful of how terrible war is, lest we love it too much. Indeed, when he became the head of Washington University in Virginia, after the war, he refused to march in lock step with military trainees—his way of saying that soldiering was for soldiers and we should take up arms only when necessary. As for individuals, Napoleon once said something to the effect that a man would do anything just for the hope of a medal on their chest. He understood ego, macho and patriotism very well.
Somehow, in the past few years, consistent with the political split in our country, and exacerbated by the election of an African American president, a small but powerful segment of our society has grown increasingly militaristic and embracing of the belief that only soldiers can be patriots, and our heroes can do nothing wrong. So far has it gone that some Special Forces members have forgotten their sacred oaths and missions by revealing proprietary black operations tradecraft and/or tactics because they don’t agree with or like the current president. Things that used to be secret are now coming into the public domain, accelerated by the bright lights of hero worship. An in-your-face culture has replaced confident humility. Guns have become the vitamin instead of the reluctant medicine.
All these things trouble me as I mourn the loss of a true hero and look for the meaning of such a tragedy. Funny thing is that it was right in front of me. For what I am sure were noble reasons, Chris Kyle thought the best way to help a troubled veteran was to take him out to shoot. Nancy Lanza, late of Newtown, CT, fearing the end of society, had similar misgivings about her troubled son.