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Debunking (Or Not Debunking) “American Sniper”

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

When I started reading American Sniper, I didn’t get past the first sentence without reading something inaccurate.

In the author’s note, Chris Kyle opens the book by declaring, “The events that happened in this book are true.” The American legal system disagrees, since it gave Jesse Ventura an award for defamation and HarperCollins announced they’d pull the subsection from the book where Kyle claims he attacked Jesse Ventura from future editions of the book.

So, no, not all of the events that happened in this book are true. (Chris Kyle also claimed that Saddam had WMDs, as we’ve written about before.) He also made up other stuff in interviews, including...

- In interviews promoting American Sniper, Chris Kyle claimed he shot two men who tried to carjack him in Texas. When the police arrived--according to Kyle--they ran his name, and a phone number for the Department of Defense popped up. When the cops called it, they were told to let Kyle go. After the New Yorker fact-checked this assertion--by calling every police station where the event could have happened--it’s pretty clear it didn’t happen.

- Kyle also claims he went to New Orleans after Katrina and shot looters from a rooftop, something pretty much everyone agrees never happened.

So four ridiculous stories, four debunkings. And if you think the way I think, you’ve probably drawn the same conclusion as me:

Chris Kyle might have made up other stuff in American Sniper (the book).

Which brings me to the over-riding question, something we’ve been bombarded with since the announcement of the film: Eric C and Michael C, when are you debunking the military portions of American Sniper?

Not anytime soon. Aside from the WMD claim, the debunked anecdotes all took place in America. It’s much easier to fact check things that happened at home. When we extensively fact-checked Lone Survivor, things were easier mainly because it was just one story--so the details could be debunked--and frankly, Ed Darack had written the best history of the region at the time. Darack also had access to the after-action reports. The facts were written down, and one could find when they were changed (including the Medal of Honor citations). American Sniper is a collection of anecdotes. How do you debunk that?

The first way: have a skeptical soldier or veteran (like Michael C) read the book and highlight the most ridiculous portions. (For example, this website pretty convincingly argues that Chris Kyle didn’t encounter war protesters with baby killer signs on his way to Iraq.) This is how we started with Lone Survivor. Eric C read the book and hated its politics, so he made Michael C read it. Then Michael C responded with, “Yeah, the politics are bad, but something doesn’t sound right about this mission. Especially the number of kills.” (I’d specifically look at the section in American Sniper during the battle of Fallujah.)

But this wouldn’t “prove” anything. Critics could just say, ‘You have no proof he made that up” and they’d be right. (Like that link above. There’s no way to prove Kyle didn’t see those signs; it just doesn’t make sense that he did. Unless he took a detour from the airport to a local college campus. And even at college campuses, most peace protests are, well, polite.)

So we would have to find hard proof. On to our second idea on how to fact check American Sniper: Go to the Iraq War Logs--famously released by Chelsea Manning via Wikileaks--search for specific incidents from the book, and see if they match up. Unfortunately, this appears to be impossible, since the Iraq war logs don’t include soldier’s names, and it appears Special Operations reports aren’t included. Also, if Kyle changed anything for his memoir, this would make it virtually impossible to search for in the Iraq war logs.

So that would be a dead end.

There’s still another way. If an enterprising reporter has the time and will, they can FOIA request documents about Chris Kyle. Someone could request his “kill log” the Navy allegedly used to confirm his record setting number of kills. Then they could compare that to events in the book. (Or compare their reporting in Iraq to details in the book.)

We doubt this would work. The Navy could/would stone wall for years--especially if they knew why the reporter made the request--and claim security concerns for not releasing the information.

In some ways, this post is an apology, because we didn’t try to debunk the facts in American Sniper. The cynical note, which I’ll end on, is why: when we debunked Lone Survivor, no one seemed to care. Certainly not the mainstream press.

Had Lone Survivor achieved the success of American Sniper, this might have been a different story.

And still, anyone who criticizes American Sniper, prepare for death threats from any and everyone including random people on Twitter, Medal of Honor winner and a former candidate for Vice President. In some ways, it’s just not worth it. You can’t criticize veterans, even if you’re right.

(That said, if any reporters experienced in FOIA requests out there would like our input/help/team-up to analyze the Chris Kyle story in-depth, we would love to.)

four comments

One group who not only criticizes veterans, but also beats, arrests and kills them often for trivial reasons or no reason at all are the Police Of America. Particularly the NYPD. They are above the law and have been for at least the last 100 years.
Watch the last 10 minutes of Peter Davis’ Hearts & Minds. There is a scene showing an “All American” parade in support of the Vietnam War. On a side street blocked by police is a group of Vietnam vets with a sign stating “We want jobs, not parades”. As the NYPD march by they shout at the vets; go back to Russia you commie bastards, and other assorted pleasantries.
However I doubt they would criticize Chris Kyle, he’s their kind of Merican.


“And still, anyone who criticizes American Sniper, prepare for death threats from any and everyone including random people on Twitter, Medal of Honor winner and a former candidate for Vice President. In some ways, it’s just not worth it. You can’t criticize veterans, even if you’re right.”

So true. I’ve slipped away from certain topics simply because it would have been pissing in the wind and I deemed it not worth it.


id be interested in seeing the oft-referred to Silver Star that’s not in the the Military.com Valor site. There was a surprising (to me) wide spectrum of veteran or serving readers of the one that are underwhelmed as its merit.


@ Don – Hopefully, we have an article on this topic this week. Also, just yesterday, Michael and I decided not to pursue investigating something—a pretty big something in our opinion—because we feel we’d burn too many military bridges.

We don’t doubt the importance of the topic; we’re afraid of the blowback.

What’s sad is that’s how powerful and respected the military is…often it’s beyond criticism, even if it is legitimate.