Auto Ads by Adsense

Friday, December 07, 2018

Review: American Sniper

American Sniper is Chris Kyle's autobiographical memoir of how he came to be the SEAL sniper with the most number of confirmed kills in the American military. It falls in the same genre of post Vietnam veterans narrative like No Easy Day. There's a huge difference between such modern day narratives and narratives of past military ventures written by Tim O'Brien, or the non-fiction fiction, Matterhorn.

This difference can be traced to the change in the American military from conscripted troops to an all volunteer army.  Now, you can argue that many participants in the all "volunteer" army are those driven by economic factors, and that the American military is an alternate welfare program. But there are two important factors here: first of all, the American military is unique in that you will see action if you ask for it. There are many militaries (including countries like Taiwan, Switzerland, and Singapore) where you mostly will not see action. That means that it attracts people like Chris Kyle, who did went to college and could have gotten good jobs if they wanted to without military action or the risks that go with it. The excitement and joy of battle comes clearly through the narrative. Not only are soldiers like Kyle excited, enthusiastic, and well trained for the job, they're also paid well enough to supplement the equipment the military provides them with their own gear if it would make a significant difference to their on-the-job performance.

Not only that, in a military where not everyone is a volunteer, there would be a rush to get away from the battlefield into administrative or strategic positions. Not so as far as Chris Kyle is concerned: he would try to avoid promotions so he could stay in the field and shoot bad guys. Certainly, I could imagine the terror the Iraqi conscripts would feel when faced with soldiers like Kyle, who would at times abandon his position as a sniper to lead a marine unit directly in building-to-building fighting, city block style, simply because he thought that leading that unit would provide fewer casualties than if he were to stay in his sniper position. This was a guy who didn't want to take the navigation course because by becoming too important to risk in a firefight he would be kept out of the action!

There's a flip side to becoming so addicted to action. Kyle is aware, for instance, of the rift that occured between him and his wife over his military deployments. Yet despite her obvious unhappiness he re-enlisted after his first term was up. After all that unhappiness and marriage counselling he finally relented and left the military after his second term. More insidiously, Chris Kyle never questioned what the USA was doing in Iraq, and never questioned President Bush's approach, going after Iraq when going after Osama Bin Laden clearly should have been a higher priority. You could read throughout his narrative that he thought Iraq was a messed up country that required lots of violence to bring their leaders to the table to organize the country, but didn't consider that the use of American military force was what led to some of his fellow team members losing body parts or dying. I guess he thought that any excuse to get out the weapons and shoot bad guys was good enough.

In recent years there are serious political debates about the tribal nature of American politics. While I have no interest in understanding say, the parents of Tara Westover, I don't find people like Chris Kyle unsympathetic. So I think it's worth while for liberals to read this book. And unlike Educated or Hillbilly Elegy, this one is fun to read. Recommended.

No comments: