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Review of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U. S. Military History by Chris Kyle
What would you think of a guy who is officially labeled as the top sniper in American history and has broken the record by racking up 160 confirmed kills? The guy who fits this description is Chris Kyle, who amassed ten years as a sniper with the US Navy SEALs. From 1999-2009 Kyle protected fellow SEALs and other US soldiers with death-dealing accuracy from roof tops and other covert settings. He actually claims 255 kills, but only 160 have been confirmed by the pentagon. The previous record of 109 was set by Army Staff Sgt. Adelbert F. Waldron during the Vietnam War.
40 of the kills occurred in the Second Battle of Fallujah. Seven of those were fired through an apartment window while lying on an upside-down baby crib. Kyle proudly maintains he never accidentally killed an innocent person. Kyle acknowledges tremendous skill is required to be a sniper, but doesn’t discount the importance of opportunity and luck.
Kyle, 37, has just published an autobiography recounting his hair-raising military exploits. The book provides an insider’s view into modern warfare and the secret world of the Special Ops that few have been privileged to get a glimpse of until now. Kyle says he did not want to include the number of kills in the book but was apparently pressured by the publisher to do so, which is no surprise, since publishers like to sell as many books as possible
In his ten year career (1999-2009), Kyle was involved in every major battle in Iraqi Freedom during his numerous combat hours in Iraq. Initially, he was nicknamed “Tex” by his fellow combatants. Once the kills began to accrue, his fellow SEALs began to refer to him as “The Legend.”
At the same time, the enemy insurgents in Iraq began calling him “The Devil of Ramadi” and placed an $80,000 bounty on his head. Instead of filling him with the slightest suggestion of fear, Kyle said the notoriety made him feel important—as though he was actually having an effect on the war. Reflecting on the many occasions in which he came so close to being shot, Kyle has stated both in his book and publicly that he feels he was Divinely protected.
A fellow sniper in a sister platoon eventually had a higher bounty on his head by the insurgents in Iraq. Kyle confided that this actually made him jealous. He didn’t mind it a bit though when the insurgents put up a wanted poster on his behalf, but put a picture of the other sniper on it by mistake!
Appearing on the Bill O’Reilly show recently, the humble correspondent asked Kyle if he had any regrets. He maintains he has absolutely no regrets about killing the ‘savage’ enemy because it was his duty; he only regrets were for the people he was unable to save: fellow soldiers and innocent bystanders. He says he wishes he could has killed many more—not for bragging rights, but simply out of duty for the service of his country.
O’Reilly asked him why he called the enemy “savage.” He said it was because of the “violence they commit on American troops, the beheadings, the rape of innocent villagers and townspeople, just to intimidate them. They live by putting fear into other people’s hearts. Civilized people just don’t act that way.”
Kyle’s longest kill was at a distance of more than one mile. It occurred in a village near Sadr City in 2008 when he spotted a man aiming a rocket launcher at an Army convoy. Kyle credits the Almighty with directing that bullet from his computerized .338 Lapua Magnum rifle to its target 6300 feet away.
Kyle grew up in Texas hunting and horseback riding. He got his first gun—a rifle—when he was only eight years old. He was born into a strong Christian family in which his parents were active church members. Before joining the Navy he was a professional rodeo bronco rider. He never realized he was a good shot until he joined the SEALs.
Following his four combat deployments in Iraq with the SEALs, Kyle became chief instructor for training Navy snipers and wrote the first Navy SEAL sniper manual. He retired from the SEALS as a chief petty officer after amassing a collection of awards—two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals, and on Navy and Marine Corps Commendation.
Nowadays, Kyle is president of Craft International, a military contracting firm he created that provides sniper and security training for the US military. He teaches the factors involved in achieving the perfect shot: knowing the terrain, considering elevation and wind, and factoring in the Coriolis effect. The Coriolis effect, named after French engineer-mathematician Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis who discovered it in 1835, takes into account the effect of the Earth’s rotation on the trajectory of the bullet.
Along with enjoying family life in Texas, Kyle devotes much of his energy to helping disabled veterans. He has launched his own charity called Task Force Legacy to help vets. He is also on the board of a charity called Fitco Cares the Heroes Project which provides gyms for vets inside their homes. The idea behind this program is that if the body gets in shape, the mind will be more likely to follow.
I recently read Kyle’s book (listened to it actually—I downloaded the auditory version from Amazon’s Audible.com). Kyle book provides a very personal look into the man’s life as a sniper. He discusses the strain it placed on his wife and children as well as the pain of being shot twice and experiencing the death of two close friends. He doesn’t give a lot of details pertaining to the missions he went on and the circumstances surrounding each of his kills. This will probably be a major disappointment to many male readers interested in this kind of information, though he does give considerable space to describing each of the weapons he used.
In retrospect, I would say that this is probably not the ideal book for auditory listening. Kyle does not hold back at all on the use of profanity. Many people would probably be offended by the language in this book.
I am aware that the prolific use of profanity is part of the military culture and Kyle most likely wanted to paint as realistic a picture as possible of his experiences, but I have to confess I was rather shocked at the amount of foul language in the book. He even used it frequently when describing his thoughts. This was especially surprising to me because Kyle stresses in his book the importance of faith in his life and is outspoken about being a Christian and the importance of living by Biblical principles.
I don’t judge the man for this though. Other than that, I am actually quite impressed with his character. He stated his repeatedly in his book and also does in public that he absolutely loved being a SEAL and serving his country in Iraq and would go back in a heartbeat if it weren’t for his commitment to his family.
Kyle left the service in 2009 to save his marriage. He says 95% of all SEAL marriages end in divorce. He realized the precious gem he had in his wife and he didn’t want to succumb to this gloomy statistic. It was quite apparent throughout the book that Kyle’s wife is as tough as he is (not physically, but mentally and emotionally). And it was truly heartwarming the way he describes his joy at being a father and how much he wanted to be there to play a major role of influence in the lives of his children.
As tough as Kyle was (and is), he presents a very humble attitude in the book. He exhibits no sense of superiority toward those less capable than he. It’s clear he never looked down on ordinary soldiers or anyone else for not being as skilled or tough as he was while in the field. He continually praises the efforts of every single U. S. soldier--except for one he refers to as “runaway” in his book—a soldier who deserted him on several occasions when they were in the heat of battle. His deferential demeanor apparently won him deep respect with the other branches of the military he had to work with on the front lines.
His gallantry and compassion for others is manifested when he describes how one of his buddies was shot and how he wished he would have been the one shot instead. He was devastated and wept. He deeply regretted that he had positioned the soldier where he had and wished he had positioned himself in that spot instead. The man miraculously lived but was permanently blinded in both eyes.
He talks at length about the importance of his faith in the days following the shooting of this man and another of his friends. Whereas he had not been reading the Bible regularly, he now found himself seeking comfort from its hallowed pages.
In spite of the repetitive verbal expletives, I have to admit that I came away from the book with a lot of respect for Kyle and the Seals. I was amazed by the fact that Kyle loved every minute of war and loved killing bad guys. He never felt like he was sacrificing in any way while fighting in Iraq. In fact, he looked forward to every deployment. He never wanted to leave the SEALs. That’s why I think it is especially praiseworthy that he was willing to give it up after 10 years to save his marriage. I definitely recommend the book, but don’t go with the auditory version if the coarse vernacular will offend you or anyone else within earshot.