Friday, May 29, 2015

"American Sniper" Chris Kyle

Because my son is in the National Guard and because he was pretty enthusiastic about it, I am reading a book called "American Sniper," a "#1 New York Times Bestseller" and "autobiography of the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history."

At 38, Chris Kyle was shot dead on a Texas shooting range in 2013 by a fellow combat veteran who had likewise served in the Middle East.

The book is ineptly written and poorly edited and I read it anyway. Along the way, I keep hoping there will be something to tell me about the man behind these words. The book manages to skirt that possibility by depicting a man who is content with a loyalty and patriotism and fervent courage. The American flag is enough to move him deeply. Friends, family, country and fellow SEALs are the touchstones of the identity Chris Kyle chooses to don in "American Sniper."

And I am reluctant to argue: There are more Chris Kyles out there -- more people content with what is approved by others -- than there are those willing to reflect. Finding fault does not interest me as much as trying to understand and sympathize: Who would not like a well-defended and warming persona, a dignity born of agreed-to values? Those who insist on sidestepping their own horrors may horrify me, but it doesn't horrify them and I am curious about the protective certainties ... do they pan out for the one espousing them? Fuck the mealy-mouthed moralists: Does it work ... for them?

Chris Kyle and wife Taya
I have only read 110 pages of a 400-plus-page book but I find myself harkening back again and again to some nature essay I once read in which it was observed that a wounded or sickened or weakened bird will puff up its plumage as a means of suggesting that it is still full of competence and protective vigor. The weak get savaged and killed and eaten -- better to look your best and keep dangerous predators at bay. Look ma! I have an Apple watch ... I'm in with the in crowd, hitting on all six, no flies on me.

"I yam what I yam," said cartoon character Popeye.

Chris Kyle probably would not have liked me. I'm one of those eastern sissies who can't break a bronc or lasso or cares much for the shooting I once did pretty well. Chris Kyle grew up in Texas and Texas is sui generis ... a sui generis which I am not. Chris Kyle wouldn't have liked me, I suspect, but I sort of like him. He's apparently straight as a string and, well, if that's what he wants to do, OK. There are more of him than there are of me, so ... I keep reading.

But much as I don't want to slip into some TED-talk, moralistic soup, I wonder as I read who the man is behind the man. Who is the inner fellow with whom Chris Kyle might once have gone to bed with? Yes, he is loyal and patriotic and combative and excelled in his training and sounds quite nice in some ways. These are all his choice and you can't fault a man's choices ... which is not the same as saying you can't notice them and wonder to what extent they are acknowledged as his choice or whether those choices and responsibilities were only a ticket to a social agreement and a warming, well-populated nesting place... a nook in the social fabric.

Asking a young (or even an old) man to think is probably too much. Patience -- or is it laziness -- is probably better: Life has a way of decimating all convenient boxes.

The sluggish announce, "I yam what I yam" or "it is what it is." And you can hear the unspoken addendum, "and that's that!"

A wholesome, hard-working, concerned, American patriot.

A man shot dead together with fellow veteran Chad Littlefield  by a fellow veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, who was said to suffer from a PTSD that followed in the wake of his deployment to an arena in which Chris Kyle throve, if his book is to be believed.

American Sniper -- I yam what I yam and I yam willing help someone with PTSD to see the world as I do. 

PTSD -- I yam what I yam, even if I might be lying.
"You took the lives of two heroes, men that tried to be a friend to you, and you became an American disgrace," Littlefield's brother Jerry Richardson said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Your claims of PTSD have been an insult to every veteran who served with honor, disgracing a proud military with your cowardice."
The moral platitudes rise up enthusiastically. But there are more of them than there are of me, so I keep reading.

1 comment:

  1. A sniper sees death through a scope. Did he ever have a friend explode next to him i wonder? How does he not have PTSD? And how again, can an allegedly xtian nation throw young men into carnage and then kick them to the curb?

    All I can figure is the continuous shouting of slogans has inured them to fellow feeling, that despising the enemy, a pack/herd instinctive behavior, overwhelms all other feelings and is then supported rationally by the social Darwinism and Randism adopted by the right wing that entirely misunderstood them, or at least redefined them to the agenda financing this nation.

    Does it work for them? It's hard to imagine anyone not being frustrated to the end by these positions, not engaging in some compensating behavior. Everyone i know who was ever in combat feels used. Those who served and don't feel used, probably were cooks or truck drivers or some other variety of long distance warrior. But even those flying drones 9 to 5 from Wyoming are experiencing PTSD.

    I don't know. All i can say for sure is that i cannot kill insects without emotional pain. And i know some folks who enjoy killing animals at least, and maybe their social Darwinism defines anyone within their sights as less than human. All of my choices went somewhere else.

    Maybe our species, that can imagine abstracts like justice, and can even participate in reasoned investigations, is just too fucked up to claim the moral high ground of what we imagine to be human rather than dismiss ourselves as animals who think too highly of our dream lives.