American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History - Scott McEwen, Chris Kyle, Jim DeFelice Given that there's a ridiculous amount of controversy surrounding this book and the associated movie, I am going to do my best to phrase this review in a way that makes my intended meaning as clear as possible. That said, I am going to open this review with a qualifier: If you do not approve of the military or support war as a tragic but oftentimes unavoidable way to protect our nation, you will not like this review, and you certainly will not like this book. I am, and always will be, a staunch supporter of our troops, and I am consistently inspired and humbled by the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve this country. I recognize that war is not pretty or glamorous, and recognize the damage that can be done by pursuing violence as a policy, but I believe that it is often the best of a set of less-than ideal choices and, more importantly, is unavoidable in the long-term. Simply put, I believe there will always be war, because violence is an unfortunate part of human nature, and if you are going to be in war, I see nothing wrong with ensuring you are equipped to be the winner of that war. I understand these are not views that are shared by everyone, and I accept that. Neither opinion makes someone a bad person, and there are plenty of strengths to be had in either viewpoint.

Given the above qualifier/disclaimer, here are my opinions of American Sniper.

I really enjoyed this book, for the most part. I generally give autobiographies (and nonfiction works in general) the benefit of the doubt when it comes to reviewing the actual writing style. Chris Kyle was not an author, and, even though he did write this book with the help of a professional writer, it would be unreasonable to expect the writing to be perfect. That said, I was largely impressed by the quality of the writing, and, for the most part, this story flowed very well and had a very novel-like feel to it, which I appreciated. My personal reading taste means that I am often bored when reading a nonfiction book, even when it is about something I find very interesting, but Kyle's story managed to remain interesting from beginning to end. The writing was relatively simple, and I appreciated the efforts that were made to explain complicated military procedures or describe the various types of relevant weaponry and tools. From a civilian perspective, the explanations were perfect: simple enough to be understandable but direct enough not to seem patronizing.

As for the content of the book: for the most part, I am impressed and inspired by Chris Kyle and the work he did. Yes, his enthusiasm for killing and his usage of less-than-politically-correct terminology (e.g. "savages") was a bit jarring at times, but I don't believe either makes Kyle a bad person. He was facing circumstances which the majority of us can never begin to imagine, and I don't think it is logical or fair for us to judge his reaction to them when we cannot possibly know what our own reaction would be. And yes, Kyle may have enjoyed killing a bit more than the average person would be willing to admit, but he was killing those who would have happily killed him, his fellow servicemen and women, or other innocents. As he repeatedly notes, Kyle acted in strict accordance with the rules of engagement he was given. He explicitly stated at one point that he refrained from shooting a child, even though that child was retrieving a potentially destructive weapon, and also clearly states that he only killed one woman, and that the woman in question was in the process of dropping a live grenade. I don't find killing wrong in that context, and I don't judge him for taking pride in his service. As for his use of terms like "savage" as directed at those he was fighting against, I find it important to point out that he never uses the term as a catch-all for all Iraqi, middle eastern, or Islamic people. Yes, there is a very good chance that his views on religion were not the most inclusive, and no, I don't agree with anything that promotes an idea of Islam and its practitioners as inherently violent or evil. But Kyle never actually gives his position on Islam as a religion, and confines his hatred fairly narrowly to those who are armed and committing acts of violence against the United States. I find it unfair and illogical to criticize someone for views which they don't ever actually say they hold, and so I can't find fault with Kyle from this perspective. If someone reads the book as a criticism of or declaration of hatred towards all Islamic people, then that is their opinion, but I do believe they are extrapolating far more than they should from the textual evidence provided.

All in all, if you are a person who shares my opinions, or similar ones, on the military and on war, and are looking for a fascinating, heartbreaking, and occasionally exciting memoir from one of our nation's greatest warriors, I highly suggest reading this. If not, I would suggest you avoid it.

Finally, having not seen the movie American Sniper I cannot comment on how it compares to the book or whether it promotes racist, xenophobic, or otherwise harmful views. I do believe that it is an unfortunate fact that people will sometimes manufacture hate out of something which is not meant to be hateful, and those who hold bigoted views would likely have those same views regardless of whether or not this movie or book existed. If the film is, in fact, harmful, then that is unfortunate, and I hope that people are willing to take the time to read Kyle's own perspective before judging opinions or actions based on a Hollywood interpretation.