The Pseudo-Courage of Sniper Chris Kyle (William Norman Grigg)
Wednesday February 8th, 2012
That kind of courage, which is conspicuous in danger and enterprise, if devoid of justice, is absolutely undeserving of the name of valor. It should rather be considered as a brutal fierceness outraging every principle of humanity.
~ Cicero, The Offices, Book I Chapter XIX
As a sniper with the Navy SEALs in Iraq, Chris Kyle was shot twice and wounded on several other occasions. He is credited with 160 confirmed kills. He received several commendations. Of his fierceness there is no reasonable doubt. Whether his exploits display courage is an entirely separate question.
American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, the ghost-written memoir for which Kyle claims primary authorship, offers convincing testimony that Kyle not only failed to display genuine courage in Iraq, but was incapable of recognizing it when it was exhibited by desperate patriots seeking to evict the armed foreigners who had invaded and occupied their country.
The insurgents who fought the American invasion (and the few "allied" troops representing governments that had been bribed or brow-beaten into collaborating in that crime) were sub-human "savages" and "cowards," according to Kyle.
"Savage, despicable evil," writes Kyle. "That’s what we were fighting in Iraq…. 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."
None of the American military personnel whose lives were wasted in Iraq had to die there, because none of them had any legitimate reason to be there. From Kyle’s perspective, however, only incorrigibly "evil" people would object once their country had been designated the target of one of Washington’s frequent outbursts of murderous humanitarianism.
The insensate savagery of the Iraqi population was supposedly illustrated by the first kill Kyle recorded as a sniper, while covering a Marine advance near Nasiriyah in March, 2003.
"I looked through the scope," Kyle recalls. "The only people who were moving were [a] woman and maybe a child or two nearby. I watched the troops pull up. Ten young, proud Marines in uniform got out of their vehicles and gathered for a foot patrol. As the Americans organized, the woman took something from beneath her clothes, and yanked at it. She’d set a grenade."
Kyle shot the woman twice.
"It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it," Kyle attests. "The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn’t take any Marines with her. It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn’t care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child…."
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.
"She was … blinded by evil," Kyle writes of the woman he murdered from a safe distance. "She just wanted Americans dead, no matter what. My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul."
Were Kyle just a touch more literate, he might recognize the term untermenschen, a German expression that encapsulates his view of the Iraqis who took up arms to repel foreign invaders. From his perspective, they were incurably inferior to their "liberators" and possessed of an inexplicable hatred toward their natural betters.
For some reason many Iraqis resented the armed emissaries of the distant government that had installed Saddam in power, built up his arsenal and apparatus of domestic repression, and then conferred upon the inhabitants of that nation the unmatched blessing of several decades of wars, embargoes, airstrikes, disease, and the early, avoidable deaths of hundreds of thousands of children.
"The people we were fighting in Iraq, after Saddam’s army fled or was defeated, were fanatics," Kyle insists. "They hated us because we weren’t Muslim. They wanted to kill us, even though we’d just booted out their dictator, because we practiced a different religion than they did."
Actually, most of them probably wanted to kill Kyle and his comrades because they had invaded and occupied their country. They were prepared to use lethal force to protect their homes against armed intruders who had no right to be there. Ironically, Kyle’s book offers evidence that he understands that principle; he simply doesn’t believe that it applies to Iraqis.
In one incident described by Kyle, he and several other U.S. personnel raid an Iraqi home, in the basement of which they discover a mass grave containing the bodies of several soldiers and Marines. For several panic-stricken moments, Kyle is understandably terrified by the thought that he might find the lifeless body of his younger brother, a Marine who had also been deployed to Iraq.
With obvious and vehement disgust, Kyle cites the "murdered young men whose bodies we had pulled out" of that basement grave as evidence of the bestial nature of the enemy. He exhibits no interest at all in the fact that tens of millions of Iraqis have seen friends and family meet violent, avoidable deaths as a result of the wars and sanctions imposed on their country by Washington.
Untermenschen, apparently, aren’t entitled to experience grief and rage – much less the right to defend their homes and families against aggressive violence.
After returning from his first combat tour in Iraq, Kyle recalls, he was rudely roused from slumber one morning when the burglar alarm went off. Although this was a malfunction rather than a real emergency, Kyle’s reaction was revealing.
"I grabbed my pistol and went to confront the criminal," he recalls. "No son of a bitch was breaking into my house and living to tell about it."
Why was it "evil" for Iraqis to feel exactly the same way about the foreign sons of bitches who broke into their country and wrecked the place?
Later in the book, describing a stalking exercise during his training to become a sniper, Kyle recounts how he "heard the distinct rattle of a snake nearby."
"A rattler had taken a particular liking to the piece of real estate I had to cross," Kyle recalls. "Willing it away didn’t work…. I crept slowly to the side, altering my course. Some enemies aren’t worth fighting."
Exactly: The only enemies worth "fighting," apparently, are those who aren’t capable of hurting you when you trespass on their turf.
The Gadsen Flag – featuring a coiled rattlesnake and the directive "Don’t Tread On Me" – was, and remains, the best symbolic expression of authentic American patriotism. Genuine American patriots can understand why patriots of other countries would feel similar attachments, and be similarly inclined to repel foreign invaders. This is why they will never support any war that puts other Americans in the position of killing foreign patriots who are defending their own homes.
A rattlesnake defending its territory earns Kyle’s respect; an Iraqi patriot fighting on his home soil with his back to his home and the face to his enemy, however, is "blinded by evil" and not truly human.
"They may have been cowards, but they could certainly kill people," observes Kyle of the guerrillas. "The insurgents didn’t worry about ROEs [Rules of Engagement] or court-martials [sic]. If they had the advantage, they would kill any Westerner they could find, whether they were soldiers or not."
If that charge (made on page 87 of Kyle’s book) is accurate, it night reflect the fact that the Iraqi resistance (as well as the tactics of foreign guerrillas who joined the fight) was playing according to ground rules established by the U.S. early in the war.
On page 79, Kyle describes the Rules of Engagement that his unit followed when they were deployed to Shatt al-Arab, a river on the Iraq-Iran border: "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." (Emphasis in the original.)
Those orders were of a piece with the studied indifference to civilian casualties that characterized the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign that began the war. In preparing that onslaught General Tommy Franks and his military planners were guided by a computer program that referred to civilian casualties as "bugsplat." Franks had no compunction about ordering bombing missions that would result in what the computer projections described as "heavy bugsplat." After all, aren’t the lives of American military personnel "clearly worth more" – to use Kyle’s phrase – than those of the Iraqi civilians, who were mere insects to be annihilated?
In one of her occasional contributions to Kyle’s book, his wife Taya rebukes people who criticize the bloodshed wrought in Iraq by her husband and his colleagues: "As far as I can see it, anyone who has a problem with what guys do over there is incapable of empathy." The trait she describes isn’t empathy; it’s a variation on the kind of pre-emptive self-pity described by Hannah Arendt in her study Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Referring to those who killed on behalf of the Third Reich, Arendt observed:
"What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique ('a great task that occurs once in two thousand years’), which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did...."
This was true even of those who belonged to the SS: Even those in the Reich’s killer elite were not able to suppress their conscience entirely. Thus the "trick used by Himmler – who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself – was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: 'What horrible things I did to people!,’ the murderers would be able to say: 'What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!’"
Kyle’s memoir is remarkable chiefly for the complete absence of the kind of moral anguish Arendt describes among the SS. Kyle eagerly participated in a patently illegal and entirely unnecessary war of aggression against a country that never attacked, harmed, or threatened the United States. He killed scores of people, terrorized thousands more. As Kyle tells the story, he reveled in the experience, and regrets only that he wasn’t able to slaughter more of the "savages" who surrounded him.
During Kyle’s last deployment to Iraq, his unit – Charlie Company of SEAL Team 3 – assigned themselves the nickname "The Punishers," appropriating as their insignia the Death’s Head logo used by the psychotic comic book character of the same name.
Interestingly, a group of police officers in Milwaukee had exactly the same idea. They also adopted the "Punisher" logo, which they displayed on their police vehicles and wore on knitted caps as they prowled the street in search of asses to kick.
The most memorable exhibition of what they regarded as valor came in October 2004, when a thugscrum of "Punishers" beset a male dancer named Frank Jude, who was nearly beaten to death because he was suspected of stealing a badge.
After throwing Jude to the ground, the Punishers severely beat, kicked, and choked him – then put a knife to his throat and jammed a pen into one of his ears. The victim survived the assault, but was left with permanent brain damage. The officers later claimed that this amount of violence was necessary to "subdue" Jude – who was never charged in connection with the incident. The jury in the criminal trial accepted that claim and acquitted the officers – who were later found guilty of criminal civil rights violations.
During his service in Iraq, Kyle occasionally functioned as a law enforcement officer of sorts. He was involved in dozens of raids against the homes of suspected "insurgents," many of whom were arrested on the basis of uncorroborated accusations by anonymous informants.
He allows that many of the people dragged off in shackles were entirely innocent, but maintains that he wasn't ever troubled by that fact; he was just doing his "duty."
Shortly before the war began, Kyle was part of a SEAL unit tasked to enforce UNsanctions against Iraq by intercepting tankers leaving the country with unlicensed oil deliveries. On one occasion, he boarded a tanker commanded by a commercial sea captain who "had some fight in him, and even though he was unarmed, he wasn’t ready to surrender."
"He made a run at me," Kyle continues. "Pretty stupid. First of all, I’m not only bigger than him, but I was wearing full body armor. Not to mention the fact that I had a submachine gun in my hand. I took the muzzle of my gun and struck the idiot in the chest. He went right down."
If Kyle had been a warrior, rather than a bully, he would have admired the authentic courage displayed by the smaller, unarmed man who fought to protect the ship and cargo entrusted to him.
How would he act if the roles were reversed – if he were the over-matched man trying to defend private property from a group of state-licensed pirates claiming "authority" from a UN mandate? We’ll never know the answer to that question, because Kyle’s "courage" is of the sort that only manifests itself in the service of power, and in the company of those enjoying a prohibitive advantage over their victims.
Kyle’s "service" continues, even though he’s retired from the military. He is president of Craft International, a Homeland Security contractor involved in training domestic law enforcement agencies. It’s quite likely that Kyle’s outfit will soak up a considerable portion of the roughly $1.5 billion dollars the Obama administration seeks to hire military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to work as police, emergency personnel, and park rangers.
William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
Copyright © 2012 William Norman Grigg