The Sniper and Sanctity of War

by James E. Miller
Feb. 06, 2013

Now that he is totally unleashed from the burden of campaigning for a seat in the den of thieves known as Congress, former representative Ron Paul recently took to the social media network Twitter to speak on the death of two men at a shooting range in Texas. One of the men, Chris Kyle, was considered an expert sniper in the Iraq War and, by many news accounts, an "American hero." His tour in the Middle East was documented in "The American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History." Following his deployment, Kyle advocated on behalf of better mental health treatment for returning veterans. It is one of these instances that ultimately resulted in his death. While taking vet Eddie Ray Routh out to a shooting range as treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder, Routh ended up turning his gun on Kyle and 35-year-old Chad Littlefield and fatally shooting them at point blank range. In response to the incident, Paul tweeted "Chris Kyle's death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’" Treating PTSD at a firing range doesn't make sense."

The tweet, which invokes the Gospel of Matthew, was universally condemned. Because of his anti-interventionist views, Paul's message was taken as slander in the spirit of "he had it coming." But like everything that has to do with military reverence, emotion and pride get in the way of reason. Paul’s words were correct. Not only did Chris Kyle live and die by the sword, he reveled in it.

In his autobiography (which was actually ghost-written), Kyle details his journey on killing at least 160 humans while in the throws of war. By the end of the U.S. military occupation, the number of lives he had taken was irrelevant. As he wrote,
People ask me all the time, `How many people have you killed?'… The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives."
How could a soldier take such satisfaction in gunning down those whose land was invaded? By claiming that Iraqis were no more than "savages" and "cowards." It was through his valiant courage of treating the people of Iraq like sub-humans that Kyle was able to sweep their lives from the Earth in the name of Uncle Sam. This included one woman who pulled a grenade on a platoon of American soldiers. The woman, according to Kyle, was "blinded by evil" and "wanted Americans dead." He declares this despite the relevant truth that had those soldiers not taken part in the invasion, they would not have been put in that dangerous situation.

As Will Grigg points out,
Of course, if the Marines hadn't invaded that woman's neighborhood, she wouldn't have been driven to take such desperate action -- but Kyle either cannot or will not understand the motives of an Iraqi patriot.
There was never a legitimate or moral reason for the invasion of Iraq. The United States was under no threat from Saddam Hussein's regime. Supporters of the war were quick to invoke the sacred duty the American government has in ousting repressive tyrants from power. Yet, dictatorships in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain remain protected, armed, and supported by Washington. The Wilsonian battle cry of "making the world safe for democracy" is both a pathetic excuse and a mistaking of mob rule as a superior form of governance.

The fealty given by the public to a standing army is at best misguided and at worst, a demonstration of total moral apathy. There is nothing good or ethical about total war. The unjustness of the Iraq War, which Chris Kyle actively and enthusiastically took part in, is intensified by the fact that it was an invasion instead of a legitimate defensive operation. As veteran Jacob Hornberger pointedly writes,
Since the U.S. government was the aggressor in the war on Iraq, that means that no U.S. soldier had the moral authority to kill even one single Iraqi. Every single soldier who killed an Iraqi or who even participated in the enterprise was guilty of murder in a moral, religious, and spiritual sense.
The worst aspect of the Kyle murder has been the overwhelming praise he has received from those claiming to be devout followers of Jesus Christ's teachings. The enthusiasm toward Kyle, and war more generally, that many in the evangelical community are displaying is, in a word, wretched. Here are followers of the Gospel of Christ loudly defending the sanctity of armed conflict carried out by organizations of violence. The fact that such grotesque practices directly contradict the doctrine of peace and love for fellow men is totally ignored by these self-righteous apologists for murder.

In his famous tract "The War Prayer," Mark Twain satirically points out the absurdity in praying for the supreme victory of the soldier:
O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst...
The devastation wrought from war is still venerated by many modern-day Christians. Their praying for victory means praying for the unleashing of man’s inner-evil. No person who firmly believes in the commandments of God can look upon aggressive war in a positive light. As Tolstoy noted, "How can you kill people, when it is written in God's commandment: Though shalt not kill?" The answer is one can't. Murder is never condonable- not in the service of the state, the service of the church, or in the service of self. Kyle attested that his duty was for the "greater good." That was lie. His actions were inspired by hate. And Christ's words from which Paul quoted remain as accurate today as they did when spoken many centuries ago.

In the end, Kyle's death still remains an unfortunate loss. His advocacy for veteran's health was commendable. However, none of that excuses his actions in Iraq. No honor should be paid to someone who commits murder by taking part in a country-wide onslaught. The foreign policy of the U.S. government actively stokes the flames of anti-American sentiment and thus guarantees future danger to the very people it claims to protect. One day, men such as Chris Kyle will not be looked upon as gallant idols but rather killers in the state's mercenary squad. Only then will the world will be closer to the eternal law of Providence; not before.
James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada.

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