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A Partial Review of "American Sniper" (the Book) or: Good Luck to Anyone Who Wants to Slog Through It

(To read the rest of our posts on the 2015 Oscars, please click here.)

The theme of this week’s posts about the Oscars (well, mostly Chris Kyle and the film based on his memoir American Sniper) is an ongoing apology for not giving American Sniper the Lone Survivor treatment. Based on the title of the post, you’ve realized I (Eric C) didn’t even finish the memoir.

I just couldn’t get through it. Life’s too short to read books like this. Nearly every other page had something offensive or inaccurate in it. For example, Kyle writes, “Southern California is the land of nuts. I wanted to live somewhere with a little more sanity.” I’m from Southern California, so I know that this line’s not only insulting, but also inaccurate: Coronado is a medium-sized commute from Orange County, one of the most conservative counties in the country.

Kyle filled his book with page after page of observations like this. Here’s an incomplete selection of Chris Kyle assertions that we’ve written On V posts debunking:

- His stance on the rules of engagement in Iraq is abysmal. (“Our ROEs when the war kicked off were pretty simple: If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. Kill every male you see. That wasn’t the official language, but that was the idea.”)

- As a kid, he goes around looking for ways to get into fights without getting into trouble. (Because that’s what good sheepdogs do.)

- He wants to go to war “to experience the thrill of battle”.

- He complains about his commander.

- Of course, he refers to Iraqis as savages throughout the book.

- Later in the book, he hints to the reader that he shot innocent Iraqis to up his kill count. (If you think this joke is funny, more power to you. I can’t laugh, because he killed real people.) From Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:

(The most disturbing passage in the book to me was the one where Kyle talked about being competitive with other snipers, and how when one in particular began to threaten his "legendary" number, Kyle "all of the sudden" seemed to have "every stinkin' bad guy in the city running across my scope." As in, wink wink, my luck suddenly changed when the sniper-race got close, get it? It's super-ugly stuff).

- We could go on and on, but here’s one last example: Kyle believed Saddam had WMDs. (Based on what I’ve read, this scene didn’t make the movie. But I’d love to see the alternate version of history where the film included this tidbit.)

I found most of these examples just thumbing through the book and picking a page at random.

If you want to know if American Sniper is the book for you, let me ask you a question. Do you think the following passage is funny?

A British unit flew in in the morning. By then, the battle was over. of course we couldn’t resist needling them about it.

“‘Come on in. The fight’s over,’ we said. ‘It’s safe for you.’

"I don’t think they thought it was funny, but it was hard to tell. They speak English funny.”

- American Sniper, pg. 88.

Uproarious! What a zinger!

For some reason, this little joke about the British accent symbolizes everything I hate about American Sniper. Chris Kyle’s pretending to be uneducated down-home country boy for comedic effect, as if he can’t even understand British English.

What’s worse is that I can imagine most of the target demographic of American Sniper reading this line and laughing, which is really sad. (I’d guess that demographic consists of older, male, pro-military, conservative Fox News viewers. I’m not just making this up. According to court documents, that’s the demographic HarperCollins targeted.) Not only do conservatives have a sad anti-intellectual provincialism, many actively embrace and celebrate it. (Though, unlike many pundits, I don’t think it’s limited to the South.) Mike Huckabee just wrote a book about it.

After that joke, I stopped reading the book. There’s just no point.

I felt like I was re-reading Lone Survivor, or at least the Iraq war/sniper version of Lone Survivor. A super-Christian, super-conservative Texan Navy SEAL was pushing all of his ideologies--especially his hatred of the rules of engagement--on me. So I’m not going to finish the book, and this is as much of a review as you’ll get from us. (Fortunately, as will share with the reader tomorrow, multiple mainstream critics have criticized Kyle’s ideology.)

I’ll close with this. Kyle, from page two on, delights in killing Iraqis. Just delights in it. Doesn’t regret a single death, doesn’t think he fired a misplaced shot. “I don’t shoot people with Korans--I’d like to, but I don’t.” “I don’t give a flying f*** about the Iraqis.”

It’s just not a world I feel like travelling through. But like the “jokes” throughout this post, I’m sure plenty of Americans will agree with Kyle.

nine comments

Thanks for this – as a non-American and liberal Muslim looking in I have a couple of disturbing thoughts coming from seeing the whole American sniper debate (I read the book, haven’t seen the movie);

1. Americans are becoming the caricature of themselves – shoot first, kill’em all cowboys. Everyone I meet daily (Arabs, Europeans, Indians, Iranians, Pakistanis) all joke about how destructive America is. These are all people who support the GWOT but also look at America and say cowboys..the American sniper movie will only reinforce this.
2. SEAL’s are everywhere and every time they are shown or say something, why is it all ‘kill’em all’ rhetoric? If these are the elite troops why do they seem so hell bent on just slaughtering everyone? I though Spec Ops guys were more immersed in local cultures than anyone else (Hence the Special).
3. I know in the movie and the book, Chris claims to have only killed ‘terrorists’…yeah, well outside America no one is buying that. So when someone sees Chris shoot kids or moms, they aren’t thinking it was a terrorist regardless of what the movie shows, they’re thinking American propaganda (fairly or unfairly).
4. Is there something in US military culture that holds it back from winning these kind of wars? Ex-colonial armies (French, British) have reputations of being better at soft war than the US (Who conversely would be great at fighting Nazis…everyone else not so much). Whether this is true or not, its an image that is being built.

The biggest fear for this sort of movie is not that it bombs in the International box office (In fact I think it may do surprisingly well). But that it’ll just reinforce the image that Americans are deluded cowboys while American’s walk around thinking…yeah Team America.


SEAL’s are everywhere and every time they are shown or say something, why is it all ‘kill’em all’ rhetoric?

I have no idea about the range of opinions amongst SEALs, but as a group they actually have the reputation of being fairly low key and for not oversharing. The Special Forces (aka, Green Berets) have a similar reputation. Army Rangers (in the sense of members of the 75th Ranger Regiment) do have a reputation for being a little loud. Obviously there is going to be variation amongst individuals, though.

I though Spec Ops guys were more immersed in local cultures than anyone else (Hence the Special).

As I understand it, that’s the why of the existence of the Special Forces (aka, Green Berets). Not sure how much of that part of their capability (or is it capacity? I always confuse the two…) has been put to good use post-9/11.


@ Mateo – The SEALs used to have that reputation, but post-bin Laden killing, post-Lone Survivor, post-American Sniper, post-countless appearances on Fox News, that’s not the case anymore. They also filmed a movie, with them as the stars.

As for your second point, fingers crossed we have an article on that soon.


@Mateo

SEALs have never really sold themselves as guys who specialize in immersion in a foreign culture. The higher ups have tried to imply that, but that has been a running joke in SOCOM for a while. Working with a foreign culture has always been Special Forces claim to faim. SEALs have always been fans of being a straight DA SOF force.

As for SEALs being in the spot light, no one seems to remember how much SF was doing that in Vietnam. Are the fact that every SOF force has guys who write books are went on TV. Just thanks to the Bin Laden raid, and Lone Survivor and American Sniper that the media is preferring SEALs to the other SOF these days.

As for Marcus Luttrel and Chris Kyle. Luttel has one of the worst reputations in the teams while Kyle’s isn’t the greatest either. Kyle’s claim to fame upset a lot of people who knew the truth about it. And for the two involved with the Bin Laden raid, most people don’t know that they were already getting a slap on the wrist for their actions on the Bin Laden raid before they ever spoke out.


adil; SEAL teams have been building a reputation for not being THAT elite after all. Their tactics depend heavily on outnumbering the enemy locally (in a building) and be quick. Little actual finesse.

The “special” forces in general have been so very much inflated over the last decade and more that the only thing special you can count on is often times the physical fitness, shooting training and them having a low share of men who participate little in a firefight or hesitate to move under fire.
In many countries the regular infantry was bled white of talent for NCOs and “special forces” have become the new infantry for intentionally sending into combat since former normal infantry actions are increasingly being considered as requiring special forces.


This question may stir up some flak, but why does the USA need the SEALs as they are currently organized? I get the need for an organization that can do beach reconnaissance, clear obstacles in preparation for an amphibious landing and so on, but since SOCOM already has Rangers and Green Berets, why the need for another group to do DA? Why not have the SEALs revert to their UDT roots, and then draw on them to flesh out a maritime counter-terror capability in Delta (which might as well become a joint unit)?


F.
The simple reason why the SEALs are still needed is that they have performed far better in the SOF DA role than the Rangers and SF. SF as much as they try does not do well with DA due to the set up of the A team in SF, and small size DA hits are not what the Ranger Batts are for. Which S.O. might not think is that hard, but conducting multiple DA raids again and again while not taking casualties is extremely difficult and requires a large amount of skill.
And the best reason to keep them separate Delta is that having two separate lines of thinking. The way that CQC has been taught in the Army the last couple decades is almost criminal, due to trying and copy Delta’s tactics but dumbed down.
If you look at the Deltas and Damnecks operational history, Delta ran almost a 50% casualty rate one year in Iraq while Damnecks were in the single digits due to different sets of tactics.


at the risk of going completely off topic . . .

seans – ok, I’ll buy that for now. So the SEALs are good at DA – which demonstrates a certain capacity to evolve TTPs and structures given that the SEAL community apparantly did a lot of soul-searching after Op JUST CAUSE when 4 SEALs were killed and 8 wounded in a raid on Noriega’s plane. I’ve read that they criticised that type of mission, but now it seems they’re good at that kind of mission. So here’s my next question: why have Rangers, SF and Delta not adjusted accordingly? Isn’t adaptability one of the claims the SOF community makes about being so special? Doing the same thing over and over and taking heavy casualties in the process (whether it be recycling a mission set in Somalia until your helicopters get shot down, or taking 50% casualties on raids in Iraq) sounds like the kind of bureacratic sclerosis that conventional forces are criticised for having. For example, is the A-Team structure really that sacrosanct? Why can’t Ranger battalions be reorganised to do small size DA hits (and possibly shift battalion-sized ops like airfield seizure to conventional parachute battalions)?

There’s an organizational culture issue here that I’m just not wrapping my head around.


F.
First understand that air field seizure is the Ranger Batts specialty. That is what they specifically exist for. It’s the mission they specialize in. The air field seizure in Panama is a op that was some reason pushed on the Seals. I don’t know the specifics why it was taken but one of the Seal OICs was fired and relieved of his command for his objections to the mission, specifically that the Rangers should have done it. Airfields require a large number of bodies unfortunately. The SEALs at the time were still using the older platoon model. And they were initially denied from somewhere in the chain of command that would have allowed a much more risk free mission. It wasn’t that SEALs didn’t do DAs back then. More that specific type required a certain set of skills/men that another unit was designed to do.

Most people critique Operation Gothic Serpent without realizing just how unique the situation was. A lot of new ground was covered and a lot of information and TTPs/SOPs came from that.

As for why the Army SOF hasn’t been as adaptive. Well the Rangers have. But they have never been setup as a small unit organization. They TTPs/SOPs are excellent and they ability to kick underperformers out is best in SOCOM. But they are crippled by a selection process that allows individuals to show up and deploy before their 19th birthday. They are vastly underrated as a whole by both the public, and most of SOCOM. But they have their limitations none the less.

SFs biggest problem is there lack of size when it comes to the A team. Seal Platoons grew in size of over 25% for the War on Terror and often plus up on deployments from other platoons doing FID in other countries.A teams still work in their traditional size which is more than adequate for FID and UW, but becomes very lacking in DAs. Plus the integration of support elements has been easier for NSW than Army SF. You see a dog handler on a SEAL Platoon, he is a Seal, on a SF A team who knows where he came from.

As for why CAG took such casualties, it comes down to the core personality of the units. CAG still has its core personality of being a Hostage Rescue unit. There tactics represent it. HR tactics do not benefit the Assaulter. While Damneck itself started as the maritime HR element, it’s core element is still that of doing DAs. CAG adapted, just not the same way and speed that Damneck did. Both units are needed due to the balance they exert on each other.