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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105 comments
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.

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

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.

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.

whoisjohnwilson
whoisjohnwilson

@bvckvs  You are an ignorant fucking POS! Chris Kyle is a hero for what he did for this Country. It matters not what his job was in the military, whether it be a Navy Seal or a cook.  He is a hero along with all active and retired service men and women. Tell us how you served this country.  If you read his book and you somehow got out of it that what he did was wrong, get the hell out of the United States of America and go live somewhere else.  Your comment defines the fact that YOU are the ignorant one and probably a coward, hence the name "bvckvs".

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@ozonelarryb 

Absolutely. If anything, it seems to me Kyle kind of clears the air by explaining what he does and explaining how it protects others. Bill Marvel is certainly correct below in proposing that the title, "American Sniper," was the creation of a marketing person, although Kyle could have put is foot down about it. If anything,  in some of the chest-thumping here by all these guys who want to be on Kyle's side, I smell the very thing that betrays soldiers when they come home, which is the compulsion of the armchair warriors to gloss everything with romance and zealotry while refusing to really see or acknowledge what the soldiers have really been through. Language is powerful. Its all in a word. 

fistofsouth
fistofsouth

@bmarvel There is a difference between killing and murder.  One figures that's why God put one (MURDER Ex 20:13) in the 10 Commandments and the other he left alone.  Veterans like myself have no problem seeing the difference.  One act serves a higher purpose and is done for the benefit of others often times to the detriment of the soldier asked to carry out the mission, the other is one of the most selfish acts a human can commit, they do it only for themselves and are not inclined to think of doing much for anyone else.


fistofsouth
fistofsouth

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz So cat girl, with all of your years of experience in dealing with PTSD how do you propose to turn off the kill switch?  I mean one might think that disassociating firearms from soldiering alone would be of benefit.  I know it helps me to go to a range and pop off a few rounds.  Still if you have a better solution this Combat Veteran would like to know what it is.  

James080
James080

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz 

 "I have to seriously question his judgment in taking Routh, a very disturbed Vet suffering from PTSD, to a gun range."

Hell has officially frozen over. Cat girl has finally posted an intelligent opinion.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Scruffygeist It does as long a certain commenters here think there's something unique about themselves and their times.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@whoisjohnwilson @bvckvs 

That was quite a tantrum.  You represent the militant extremist side of the issue quite well.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bvckvs @holmantx It's a quote directed at those who wrestled with PTSD upon returning from Vietnam.  

And you are an idiot.  Kyle wasn't a machine.  He handled it (killing) well.  Some don't. What he did to help those who didn't defines him.

And your lowbrow idolatry defines you.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

@JimSX @ozonelarryb Well said too.  Couldn't the over-romanticizing of the soldiers' roles in war help prevent their acclimatization back to our society?  In other words, not making a break.  I certainly have no blanket answer, but i suspect there i sno 'one size fits all' answer.  One guess is that a healthier economy here would keep everyone busier and help get these kids by better.

It's just a damn shame all around.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@fistofsouth Not sure what point you're making, fist. But I think we agree. Even when it's done in defense of one's buddies on the battlefield, killing is "often times to the detriment of the soldier asked to carry out the mission." I think one can see that reading Kyle's book. 

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz@WhiteWhaleTargeted killings of anyone Obama designates as a terrorist threat including American citizens.  Where Obama determines who gets terminated and how many non combatant losses are acceptable.  When this was even suggested under Bush the liberals howled in rage.  Now it barely gets a mention.  

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@James080 In truth, I hesitated saying anything negative about Kyle, being a war hero and all that.  He was "programmed" to do an extremely difficult job for a civilized human being to do.  He had his faults as well, and they included this lapse in judgment.  We're all saddened by this awful tragedy.  I just hate war!

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@holmantx @whoisjohnwilson @bvckvs 

No, the best defense against any offense is to simply not be there.

Had those soldiers not gone into someone else's neighborhood to shoot up the place and kill folks  - they wouldn't have needed a bloodthirsty killer like Kyle to back them up.

whoisjohnwilson
whoisjohnwilson

@holmantx@bvckvsWell said holmantx!  bvcks is an idiot.  As for his comment above saying, "Kyle wasn't a hero - he was just a man who enjoyed killing humans... from a safe distance."  Kyle was a hell of a lot closer than you were bvckvs, you POS.  Kyle was on the streets moving from building to building taking fire.  Your memory must be the equivalent of a goldfish if you read his book and pop off "from a safe distance"  Now go somewhere outside the USA and just die.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

@bmarvel So? what point are you making? that war is Hell?  Duh.  That we as a people are shallow turds who can't look beyond the 'rahrah gungho, kill the bastards' to respect the soldiers? Duh.  Or that we are just idiots who drink the KoolAid of our 'best and brightest' bullshit artist leaders and allow ourselves to go along with their idiot schemes, to the detriment of our youth?  DUH.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ozonelarryb When the troops got back from Vietnam, they had to endure two kinds of "welcome." There were those openly opposed to the war and who treated the returning veterans like scum. And then there were the Vietnam wannabees, guys who had never been near a draft board or combat who nevertheless affected fatigues and a hangdog look and talked a good game and liked to hang around and pick up sympathetic chics. The guys who were really been over there were too sick of it all to call attention to themselves. 

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

@blowmetone   I will venture a guess: about within 1 or 2 of the total of you, that dick Cheney, Jorgito Borracho, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ron Dumsfeld combined. 

blowmetone
blowmetone

@JimSX @blowmetone @ozonelarryb So that's none.. which is about the same as most of the other demographics you love to lecture us on. Have you even so much as sent a care package to a deployed soldier?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@blowmetone @JimSX @ozonelarryb 

Really great thought, Blow Me. Thanks for chiming in. You might have some employment ideas of your own: is that how you got your name?  

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@ozonelarryb @JimSX 

It's unthinkable that we let we these guys come home and go jobless. 

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @WhiteWhale Myrna Myrna where do you think Limbaugh and Beck their shtick from?  Going back to the original question where does the current policy of targeted killings lead to?  When did it switch from being totally unacceptable to merely disappointing?  What is the success and what is the cost?

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@JFPO When compared to the screaming under Bush yes it does barely get a mention.  The same groups that were demanding war crimes tribunals are now disapointed in Obama.  Thanks for proving my point.  Every policy discussion is viewed mainly in the context of does it help or hurt the liberal cause.  

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Myrna, you fell for it again. When you let them define what a "liberal" is, you lose.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@WhiteWhale If you think "liberals" are cool with these drone attacks, Whale, then you really haven't been paying attention. There was a report on the pushback on Public Radio tonight. It's been all over Salon. Please, Whale. Make an effort to learn what you're talking abut before you click that mouse.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@WhiteWhale The Liberals, the Liberals.  I don't know any Liberals who "howled in rage".  I thought "howling in rage" was the domain of right-wing assholes like Limbaugh and Beck.

JFPO
JFPO

@mavdog @WhiteWhale @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz People who think this "barely gets a mention' obviously don't pay attention and explains much of their ignorance. These programs have massive bipartisan support (the NDDA, for example). For the ignorant redneck, it's always easier to blame President Blackenstein.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@WhiteWhale @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz 

the fact is there is a large amount of controversy, the release of the White House memo outlining the legal basis for the killings was a result of an ACLU lawsuit against the US government and the program that killed Al-Alwaki.

to portray it as "barely a mention" ignores reality.

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