Why Did Chris Kyle Call Himself an "American Sniper," and Why Were We Cool With It?

Categories: Schutze

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The killing Saturday of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle at a gun range near Fort Worth prompted a call to my office phone from a retired Dallas police officer. He was upset by use of the word "sniper" to describe Kyle's specialty as a soldier, pointing out that "sniper" was never used to describe American soldiers during World War II.

He's right. I wasn't alive during the Big One, but I saw the movies. Snipers were insidious Japanese or perfidious Nazis, shooting from trees and church towers, sneaky bastards, the lot of them, afraid to come out and fight like men.

As late as 1987, when Stanley Kubrick made Full Metal Jacket, the only sniper was a skulking sadistic enemy shooter -- and a girl at that! The VC were little people who fired from concealment. Americans were like the character "Joker," big guys who walked in shooting.

Of course that was never true, because it would have been stupid. The skirmishers who sneaked in ahead of major troop movements on both sides in the Civil War had dual missions -- spying and also shooting any high value targets they could get close enough to kill. America had long-shot killers in towers and killers in trees, too, in World War II, but ours were called "sharpshooters" or "marksmen." Never "snipers."

Until fairly recently, anybody who called an American soldier a sniper would have been condemned for it. During Viet Nam, Kyle's book title would have earned him profound opprobrium from supporters of the war. What has changed?

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"Sniper" is Kyle's own word for what he was. I haven't read his book, American Sniper, but the title almost trades on the change in usage, doesn't it? It banks on shock value at the juxtaposition, "American" with "sniper." Somewhere near the top of the book reviews and even in news stories about his death, the writers almost never fail to point out that Kyle felt no regret or shame over his role. It's interesting that the point even needs to be made.

Why does it need to be said, exactly? If a regular combat Marine veteran of Afghanistan wrote a memoir, would the reviews all point out somewhere near the top that he or she felt no shame or remorse for having fought and killed people in the war? No, not unless the reviewer was dealing specifically with sentiments for and against war.

Otherwise, a typical reader would assume that any soldier sent to Afghanistan was obeying orders, doing his duty by shooting people and generally acting out of courage and patriotic commitment.

Again, it's not the sniping that's new. We always did that. Warriors probably have sniped since the invention of the bow and arrow. What's new is that we now use the same word for it when we do it as when our enemies do it. That is new.

I don't know what the change says culturally or politically, but in terms of straight-up verbal usage, it obviously conveys an equivalency. We do what they do. They do what we do. In that we are the same. At least in the specific form of the shooting, we are not better or worse than our enemies. I don't remember coming across that notion in John Wayne movies. Do you?


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102 comments
termiteofthewoods
termiteofthewoods

You people need to stop. He was a hero, and the word,'sniper' used to be bad. Id it were that much of and issue, something would have been done. And it isn't just Chris that has prided himself before. Go pick on someone that isn't an international war hero.

gmcconley
gmcconley

Carlos Hathcock was a sniper in Vietnam. He wrote books about his tours. Never hesitated to refer to himself as a sniper. Does it matter or are you just nitpicking a bit too much.

sharon_short
sharon_short

Chris Kyle lived by the gun and died by the gun. He was so used to them, he did not take into account that people have to be responsible and competant to handle a gun. He died by a fellow veteran that was clearly not  as OK? for lack of a better descriptive, with his role in war. This young man needed help but not with a gun range. Some are ok with being snipers and killing, some are shocked out of their minds and can never be OK again.

roadsidecouch
roadsidecouch

If sniper is such a bad word in liberal bed wetting land, why does the course they must take called the United States Army Sniper School?

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

While snipers might do incredible long range shots, most of their training is about operating in a very small team getting into places that are very hazardous to get to their target. It is really one of the most dangerous roles in the military. I do not get the so-called equivalency argument made by the author. Our troops are not picking off women and children to create a disruption or terrorize a populace, a typical militant action.  His prominence does make clear what a military's roles is.  It is not to build levees or give vaccinations or build up a resume.  The job is to go to places and commit violent acts on our enemies at the express order of our elected President as financed by our elected Congress.  Thank goodness our men and women are very, very good at their job.

sharon_short
sharon_short

@bvckvs I am in complete agreemant. Chris Kyle was a killer and loved it. And I guess we somehow need people like that in our military. But he died by the gun shot he loved so much to hear, but this time it was him that was the target by a fellow veteran that was not as well adjusted to killing as he was. You are right with your belief about this.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

There is the guilt all soldiers feel for having broken the taboo against killing, a guilt as old as war itself. Add to this the soldier’s sense of shame for having fought in actions that resulted, indirectly or directly, in the deaths of civilians. Then pile on top of that an attitude of social opprobrium, an attitude that made the fighting man feel personally morally responsible for the war, and you get your proverbial walking time bomb. - Philip Caputo (b. 1941), U.S. author, journalist, Vietnam veteran. Playboy (Chicago, Jan. 1982).

I think Chris Kyle performed one last selfless duty for us all. He disarmed a human IED and paid for it with his life. The full measure.

But he saved many others.

I've posted this before, so I will just provide a link this time however, you cannot read it without getting emotional over just how much we owe Chris Kyle, and those he now stands with.

http://tinyurl.com/9odltyo

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

The no. 2 cause of U.S. KIAs in Iraq, after IEDS, are by snipers.

"One shot one kill." That's the sniper's creed. US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock became a military legend with 93 confirmed kills in Vietnam. His amazing feats have been written about by many others in the past. The Hathcock biography "Marine Sniper" sold over a half million copies since it was first printed in 1986.

• A 5 day engagement that wiped out an entire company of Vietcong guerrillas 

• Hathcock's 2500 yard confirmed kill with a .50 caliber Browning rifle-longest sniper kill ever documented. 

• Insights and tips from two of America's fo

There have been many Marines, and there have been many snipers, However with 93 confirmed kills, over 300 probable kills, and many more enemy WIA's, there will never be another Sergeant Carlos Hathcock.

Carlos Hathcock's early education in sniping occurred in Hawaii, under the tutelage of Lt. (later Major) E.J. Land. This school was intended, in part, to help justify the continued existence of the Hawaii Marines rifle team. As Carlos described it, "It was a one-week school, with no field tactics or anything. We learned mostly shooting, to try to hang on to the Hawaii Marines team there." Where did Hathcock learn to stalk? "I learned it from being a hunter as a kid, and the rest I taught myself." Did the snipers use ghillie suits in the early days? "No, heavens no, we hadn't even thought about 'em, to tell you the truth. We used natural camouflage, not artificial. I had little holes in all my uniforms for that." 

From that humble beginning, Hathcock added much to his skills of fieldcraft and tactics during his tours of duty in Viet Nam. His exploits are well chronicled in the book, Marine Sniper, and won't be recounted here. Several sniper schools were operated in Viet Nam by the Marine Corps and U.S. Army, with varied training and success; Hathcock served as an instructor while overseas, helping train a sniping component that later proved extremely effective in action. However, after the war, these schools were discontinued. Prior to the Viet Nam War, sniper training had traditionally been virtually non-existent in the U.S. Armed forces during peacetime, with isolated exceptions. Now, the military appeared bent upon returning to the old status quo amidst the postwar drawdown.

However, Carlos Hathcock, Major Land and others involved in sniping in Viet Nam had demonstrated clearly the worth of snipers as a cost-efficient and highly effective tool in combat. An organized effort was made to push the establishment of snipers and sniper training as a permanent part of U.S.M.C. organization, and Carlos went on to become the N.C.O. in Charge of the newly-founded Marine Corps Scout/Sniper School at Quantico.

snip!

your piece is wide and to the left.  Maggies Drawers, my man.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

'we do what they do'....? hope we are being very specific. Thank you Kyle for your service.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

I remember "coming across that notion" in a 1930 American film, although John Wayne wasn't quite ready for the lead at that time. Lew Ayres did okay, though. You see, this whole idea about them being the moral equivalent of us isn't all that fresh.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb topcommenter

I agree, this just shows our ambiguous feelings about war/killing.  Hate war, admire the soldier.  Maybe book could have done that - "Soldier" instead of Sniper.


Don't begrudge Kyle.  Seemed to be an honorable guy.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

I'd be very surprised if  Chris Kyle came up with the title for his book. More likely it came from a markteer at HarperCollins, his publisher, because it would sell books. And it has.

"Sniper" is a loaded word, of course. That's what you'd want in a title. It catches the eye on the bookstore table. But it is not a shameful word and never has been when used in a military context. (I do remember "The Big One.") It is mildly shocking when used outside the context of war; nobody wants to sit through an office meeting and watch a sniper shoot down his ideas, much less students on a college campus. The word does necessarily raise the prospect of killing and death, always squeamish subjects. (Imagine, by contrast, a book titled "American Assassin.")

Reviewers have expressed some queasiness over Kyle's lack of shock or shame. (He does experience, in fact, a moment of shock at his first kill; it's a woman with a child -- and a grenade. But the feeling leaves him almost immediately and from then on he never looks back.) You don't have to be what so many commenters here mistakenly call "liberal" to find that at least a little disturbing. Most of us have not be through combat training where the purpose is to inure the recruit to the necessity of killing. I think we can all be thankful that most of us do not have a casual attitude toward taking lives, however necessary that may be in combat. The command Thou Shall Not Kill still wields its old power.)

Have attitudes towards the military shifted since Vietnam?  Thank God, yes. But I don't think this book nor its title is any kind of evidence for that. Do the movies distort the reality of combat? They sure do, most of them. (Though veterans of The Big One tell me "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" got it right; that's very high praise.) Are most Americans sheltered from the realty of war? They are unless they have to serve or send a son or daughter to serve. Does war change those who fight it and return? Only a fool would argue otherwise. If readers don't get that from Chris Kyle's book, they've missed the point.  

 

 

  

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

Why are liberals cool with Obama doing things on a massive scale when liberals howled in rage when they were proposed under Bush? 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Unfortunately, what Kyle did is a necessary evil when we have fanatics out in the world who want to destroy us.  Bragging on what he did is unseemly.  Furthermore, I have to seriously question his judgment in taking Routh, a very disturbed Vet suffering from PTSD, to a gun range.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Does everything now have a "back in my day" slant with you, Jim?

BigDave
BigDave

The legendary Carlos Hathcook was called a sniper as far as I know.

Jimmy, you should stick to writing about the Occupy Movement, bedwetting liberals, liberal bedwetters, puppetry, and what a big deal you are.

John1073
John1073

My brother didn't brag about what he did in Fallujah. Most soldiers don't. Of course my brother wasn't trying to sell a book and make money off of his job.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

To get back to the original question, "Why Did Chris Kyle Call Himself an "American Sniper," and Why Were We Cool With It?"-- 

He did it because that is what he was.  We were cool with it because that is what he was, and scout snipers have been referred to as snipers, both in the military and in common culture, for 50 years.  The only people that seem to be soiling their trousers over it are a single talk radio caller and Establishment Media members.

blowmetone
blowmetone

Who is the one who can't read?

761 - SCOUT-SNIPER  


An especially trained Rifleman (SSN 745) who engages in scouting and patroling activities to obtain information concerning strength, disposition, and probable intentions of enemy forces; disrupts enemy communications; destroys enemy personnel by rifle fire.


May perform supervisory duties involving the control, coordination, and tactical employment of other Scout-Snipers. Must possess all of the qualifications of SSN 745. Must be particularly skilled in employing the principles of camouflage to conceal himself. Must know how to move over various kinds of terrain without being detected. Must be skilled in the use of the rifle, with and without telescope sight.


Must know techniques of searching terrain for signs of enemy activity. Must be able to read maps, make sketches, and use compass and field glass.

THAT'S FROM 1945. 

BenS.
BenS.

Chris Kyle was one of the finest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was the best.  The loss is tremendous and shattering to anyone who knew him. He exemplified honor, courage and service on a level that few contemporary men ever reach.

According to his book, Kyle's job duties with SEAL Team 3, Sniper Element Charlie often involved oversight of friendly troop movements in urban areas. His unit would get a high vantage point and protect convoys moving through cities that often had staged ambush sites on rooftops and alleys. He saved many lives by ridding those who sought to detonate bombs and rockets on streets filled with soldiers and civilians alike.

It would be wrong and offensive to tie his tragic death to anything regarding the current political gun control debate. Attempts to do that in the local media thus far only reflect poorly on those attempting to connect dots, when there are none.

There was no "two OO's in goose boys" bravado with Chris Kyle. He was never that way. Don't cheapen him thinking he ever was.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I was prepared to read typical Schutze style ranting and raving over a subject about which he knows little.  Refreshingly, Schutze stuck to the things he knows (language) and avoided those he does not (the military).

I may be incorrect on this Jim, but I believe the military has never been under the notion that our snipers were anything but.  The use of the terms sharpshooter and marksman (in the Army those are qualification levels, not job descriptors) is probably a political or public relations ploy.  If there was a shift in the usage, I'd be interested in knowing how it came about.  I know growing up in the 70's and 80's I saw nothing sinister or derogatory in the term sniper. 

Historically, I know Carlos Hathcock revived the Marine Corps Scout/Sniper program and is largely responsible for the world-leading training at the scout sniper school.  I think that is when the military realized that being a sniper is a job in and of itself, not just something that a good shot can be tasked with when not doing something else.

blowmetone
blowmetone

Maybe you shouldn't base your thesis off watching a movie about fresh out of boot camp Marines, directed by a liberal expatriate(At least Kubrick had the balls to leave) 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

blowmetone and whitewhale below both assume that raising the question about usage of this word is anti-military. Is it not possible for it to be the contrary? How much of PTSD has to do with coming home to a culture that cannot and will not confront the reality of the  wars fought for its preservation? If the military has always been OK with the term but Hollywood not, is Hollywood reflecting a kind of refusal on the part of popular culture to acknowledge and respect the real experience of soldiers?  

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

If you don't remember it from John Wayne movies, you should go watch The Green Berets again.  Sniper school (with that name) goes back to the fifties and Carlos Hathcock made the role famous in Vietnam. 

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

I do not know what you consider new Jimmy.  The first US sniper school was established in 1956 and the current one used for Army Training in 1987. 

blowmetone
blowmetone

Clueless liberal writes article about soldiers based on movies he saw.. expects to be taken seriously.


I guess you are too old to be a college no nothing know it all. Movies will have to take the place of taking a semester of classes to be an expert on shit you don't know shit about. 

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