Chris Kyle, the “American Sniper” who Clint Eastwood has immortalized in his latest blockbuster film, is widely being heralded by die-hard Iraq War supporters—i.e. neoconservative Republicans—as an unqualified “war hero.” Some thoughts:
(1)Given that we ordinarily reserve the distinction of war hero only for those whose cause we value or share, Kyle is a war hero only if his cause was just. Were German and Japanese soldiers in World War II war heroes? After all, they too were fighting and dying for the sake of their respective countries? But if, in spite of putting their lives on the line for a cause greater than themselves, these soldiers are not to be regarded as war heroes because that cause was unjust, then neither is Kyle to be regarded as a war hero—if the American cause in Iraq was unjust.
And yet this is precisely what’s in question: Was the Iraq War just?
(2)That Kyle killed some evil people is beyond dispute. But even if every single person of his 160 or so confirmed kills was evil to the core—they may very well have been—and even if, as I have no doubt, Kyle saved the lives of many of his comrades-in-arms, this still wouldn’t warrant celebrating him as a war hero.
Those media pundits on Fox News and on “conservative” talk radio who champion Kyle as a “war hero” don’t mean simply that he wasted bad guys and had other soldiers’ backs. And they admit as much: Kyle was a war hero because he did all of this to protect our freedoms.
In other words, those singing hosannas to Kyle are to a man and woman the Iraq War’s staunchest defenders. By praising Kyle as a “war hero,” a soldier who did as much as anyone to “defend our freedoms,” their implication is clear: the Iraq War wasn’t just a just war; it was necessary in order to, well, protect American freedoms.
(3)We need heroes, but hero-worship—and that’s exactly what we witness in this case with the Iraq War’s staunch defenders and their obsession with Kyle—can be dangerous. That this is hero worship can be gotten easily enough by the refusal of the worshippers (idolaters?) to engage in civil discourse with anyone who doesn’t share their own estimation of Kyle. Anyone who doesn’t extol Kyle’s virtues as a great American patriot and war hero is dismissed, usually angrily, as an ingrate, a coward, or even anti-American.
This is bad.
(4)And this is bad because Kyle cast his own character, and his own motives for promoting himself as “the most lethal sniper in American military history,” into question.
Kyle, you see, told some brazen lies.
Upon his return to the states, Kyle said that he killed two would-be carjackers at a gas station in Texas. However, attempts to verify this with the local police have proven as fruitless as attempts to verify Kyle’s claim that he was hired to shoot—and, in fact, did shoot—(some 30 or so) armed rioters in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Both stories have been discredited by sheriffs and military personnel.
Yet it was Kyle’s claim regarding his confrontation with Jesse Ventura that was verified—or should we say, falsified.
Contrary to what some Kyle worshippers would have us think, one needn’t be a fan of Jesse Ventura—and I certainly am not—to face the fact and embrace the truth that Chris Kyle lied about knocking out Ventura in a bar, and he lied about Ventura loudly expressing his desire for the deaths of more American soldiers in Iraq.
Those in the “conservative” media who deny this are guilty of intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy. Mike Gallagher is one host who really ought to know better. When the Eric Garner jury decided against indicting the officer in question, Gallagher rightly took to task those who pretended to know more than the grand jurors who spent months canvassing exponentially more evidence than anything to which the rest of us were privy.
But a jury of ten people spent considerable time evaluating Ventura’s claim that he was defamed by Kyle. In spite of the enormous bar that Ventura—a public figure—had to hurdle in convincing the jurors that Kyle had “actual malice,” i.e. that he knew that what he alleged was false and/or that he acted in “reckless disregard” for the falsity of his allegations, Ventura ducked the odds and did it.
The jury awarded him 1.8 million dollars in damages: $500,000 dollars for “defamation” and the remainder for “unjust enrichment” (Kyle, it was determined, monetarily benefitted from defaming Ventura).
Kyle, here, acted neither honorably nor honestly.
None of this, of course, is meant to suggest that Kyle didn’t act heroically while defending his fellow soldiers. Much less is it meant to suggest, as some self-styled deep thinkers in some quarters would have us think, that Kyle was nothing but a liar and, worse, a “psychopath.”
Yet the man, who was doubtless damaged by both his own actions as well as the horrors that he witnessed in war, was flawed.
The Kyle worshippers—the Iraq War’s strident supporters—shouldn’t pretend that this isn’t true, let alone significant, for in doing so, they reveal themselves to be dishonest, self-interested ideologues.