In the memoir that Chris Kyle wrote that became the blockbuster movie, The American Sniper, Kyle referred to the people he killed as “savages”, claiming that what we were fighting in Iraq was “savage, despicable evil.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Review and Outlook (February 5,, 2015) thinks that the images released by ISIS of their burning to death a caged Jordanian airman proves Kyle was right. From the article:
‘Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq.” Those were among the words the late Chris Kyle, of “American Sniper” fame, used to describe the enemy he and fellow veterans of the Iraq war faced. After seeing images this week of Islamic State jihadists murdering a caged Jordanian pilot by burning him alive, can there be any real doubt that Kyle was right?
Soldiers in combat have to demonize their foes. They have to imagine their adversaries to be something other than human to overcome the innate revulsion that all species have for unnecessarily killing their own kind. But a newspaper’s editorial staff hasn’t the need to demonize its foes. Nobody is asking the pencil-necked editorialists to become savages in the service of their country. Review and Outlook should be ashamed for its endorsement of Kyle’s dehumanization of Iraqis. Kyle had an excuse. Review and Outlook did not.
But the paper didn’t stop there. It went from mere demonizing Iraqis to mythologizing Kyle’s heroism for killing so many of the same sort as ISIS, trying to connect the rather tenuous dots between our enemy in Iraq circa 2005, and our enemy in Iraq a decade later:
The account of this killing—one of thousands carried out by AQI—continues this way: “The kidnappers then tied the Egyptian’s hands behind his back and asked him to state his name. . . . After complying, he was about to apologize for his acts, but a man gave a sign to the ‘executioner’ standing behind the hostage, who grabbed the man’s tongue and cut it off, stating that the time for excuses was past.” The man was then beheaded.
It was on such executioners that Chris Kyle trained his sights. Messrs. Maher and Moore may want to hold up the Iraq war as evidence of American perfidy, but as the atrocities of Islamic State are again reminding us, the moral balance in that war was exactly the opposite. No wonder millions of Americans admire Kyle and are flocking to see the movie that treats him like a patriot in full.
It’s all nonsense. We have no evidence that Kyle trained his sights on the sort of killers described here as al Qaeda operatives in Iraq.
Part of the reluctance to afford Kyle full American Hero status is that he was a sniper who killed people from afar. The rebuttal is that he killed people to save the lives of American Marines. If the Wall Street Journal is to be believed, he also killed to save the lives of random Egyptians. Chris Kyle is not The American Sniper but The American Superman, swooping in to save lives wherever they might be threatened by savages perpetuating despicable evil. At least he’s got the initials (CK, i.e., Clark Kent) for it.
The real Chris Kyle had a rather complicated relationship to the truth. He lied about beating up Jesse Ventura (proved in court). He lied about killing two men at a convenience store south of Dallas who were trying to steal his truck. He lied about climbing to the roof of the Superdome in New Orleans and picking off thirty or so looters after Hurricane Katrina. If Chris Kyle is the New American Hero, a Patriot in Full, as the Wall Street Journal claims with such alacrity, it must be the case that our standards for creating mythological heroes has precipitously slipped. From George Washington, the military genius (not really, but facts around the margins matter little in mythology) and penultimate Founding Father, who could not tell a lie, not even about chopping down the cherry tree, to Chris Kyle, with a proven pattern and practice of lying about his exploits, but whose myth nonetheless arose out of his own self-aggrandizing tale. This must be what a devalued currency in mythology looks like.