Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Chris Kyle: An American hero

Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” has generated both incredible praise and incredible controversy since its wide release on Jan. 16. Many praised Bradley Cooper’s performance as the late Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in U.S. military history, as well as the film’s depiction of the mental health issues faced by returning veterans. Still, others dismissed it for its factual inaccuracies, a manichaean worldview and lack of historical context. The legacy of Kyle has received fresh attention since Feb. 24, when Eddie Ray Routh, a veteran with PTSD and schizophrenia, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for shooting to death both Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, at a shooting range on Feb. 2, 2013.

Last week, an old friend of mine and University of Massachusetts alumnus posted a Facebook status which stated, “F*** Chris Kyle and f*** calling anyone who kills over 100 people a hero, especially any asshole that enjoyed himself shooting down fathers, sons and incidental civilians without question. If you live in a country where your heroes are murderers, you live in a f***ed up country.”

This inflammatory statement garnered nearly 300 likes, over 1800 shares and 1100 comments, ranging from outrage to praise.

As it happens, I ran into Evan the next day and we discussed his status. Although he admitted that it was phrased crudely to draw attention and foster discussion, he explained it was intended more as a critique of Kyle’s status as a cultural symbol and “hero” celebrated for his capacity to kill and less as an attack on his actual character. He noted the hypocrisy evident in taking two men, both trained by the U.S. military, and lauding one for killing insurgents while condemning the other for killing an American.

First of all, I’d like to thank the enlightened people who took a Hollywood movie and ripped it to shreds because of its dramatic license and altering of details in order to create a more suspenseful and entertaining narrative. Thank you for informing the uneducated, myopic masses who only see red, white and blue that we never should have been in Iraq, that there was no man named “the Butcher” ruthlessly hacking apart innocent Iraqis, and that many of the people fighting against American troops were not in fact evil terrorists but just normal men and women trying to defend their families.

As far as I’m concerned, criticism of “American Sniper” in this vein is the same as that of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Say what you will about the portrayal of problematic issues in both movies, but the fact of the matter is that they both raked in millions and entertained audiences. Believe it or not, Americans can think for themselves, and I don’t think anyone is walking out of a movie theater as a newborn misogynistic masochist who now supports nuking the entire Middle East.

However, apart from the stupidity of criticizing a Hollywood movie on factual grounds, the criticism of Chris Kyle is real, widespread and understandable. At the heart of both my friend’s Facebook status and the general controversy surrounding Kyle is the same question: Is he, a Navy SEAL with 160 confirmed kills, a hero?

The answer is an unequivocal yes.

In an ideal world, no one would be killed in war. In an ideal world, the U.S. would not invade countries in which it has no business. The world in which we live, however, is not ideal. Regardless of the motives of a woman throwing a grenade at American troops, if she is attempting to take American lives, I don’t protest a sniper doing his job. This is where the idealists say, “A life is a life no matter what,” and that this woman’s life was no more or less important than that of an American soldier.

That’s a fair point, but please spare me the self-righteous objectivity. If you’re telling me that you wouldn’t call a sniper who saved your brother or mother or best friend from a woman wielding a grenade a hero then you’re a liar. Chris Kyle is a hero because he saved American lives.

Those decrying the actions of Kyle are probably the same people protesting the waterboarding of terrorists complicit in the 9/11 attacks, the same people claiming that the death penalty for the Boston Marathon Bomber is inhumane.

The general argument has been made that torture is morally wrong. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a young, impressionable young man at the mercy of his radical older brother. And that man pointing an RPG at American troops – he was just trying to protect his family. If you want to fly two planes into the World Trade Center, if you want to place pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of a marathon, and if you want to point a weapon at a soldier who could be my father, my neighbor, or my schoolteacher, then your fate will be a direct consequence of your actions. I don’t care what your reasons are.

It’s also self-serving and inaccurate to characterize all enemy combatants in the Iraq War as normal men and women forced to fight off invaders. Despite the state into which Iraq has fallen as a direct result of the removal of the Hussein regime, the American troops did, early in the war, fight to remove a tyrant and his sons who greatly oppressed their own people. Critics of Kyle also seem to conveniently overlook the presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq whom American troops were also actively fighting.

Critics contend that Kyle enjoyed killing, that he viewed all Iraqis as savages who deserved to die, but those of us who have never served in combat have no right to discuss things we know nothing about, and it’s quite possible that Kyle’s apparent passion for killing was more a result of defense mechanisms than callousness or psychopathy. I don’t think the words of any man who served four tours of duty in Iraq should be taken at face value. For a cold-blooded killing machine, he sure spent a lot of time helping veterans suffering from PTSD.

Those criticizing Kyle need to be more aware of the discrepancy between the government’s policies and the individual soldier’s own beliefs. When Kyle signed up for the Navy, he didn’t know where he was going or what he would be doing – he signed up because he wanted to serve and protect his country, and I respect him for doing his duty and defending his brothers in arms.

You can disagree with the actions of the U.S. government all you want, but you cannot single out and attack an American service member simply because he did his job exceptionally well. While I disagree with many of the decisions made by the government – the atomic bombings of Japan, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War to name a few – you’d best believe I respect the men and women who carried out the orders. I respect Chris Kyle because I know that if it were me looking through the scope of a rifle with a young kid in the crosshairs, I would never be able to pull the trigger, even if my fellow soldiers’ lives were at stake. Chris Kyle is a hero not because of the people he killed, but because of the people he saved.

Three Brooklyn men have been caught planning to join the Islamic State and discussing plans to bomb Coney Island. Al-Shabab is calling for attacks on Western malls. If you’re sitting at a keyboard bashing Kyle, but relying on sheepdogs just like him to protect you from these wolves, take a long look in the mirror and realize that serving in the armed forces – regardless of where you fight or if you even fight at all—takes amounts of fortitude, selflessness and loyalty that not everybody has.

In other words, it takes heroism.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • R

    RichardMar 12, 2015 at 9:58 am

    How could one condemn Nagasaki and Hiroshima, or the firebombings of Germany? Those actions saved countless U.S. lives by shortening the wars in their respective theaters considerably. These nations deserved, rather earned, every corpse. The carried out the most brutal savagery then known to man. In fact, ISIS is taking a few things from the playbooks of the Germans and Japanese of WWII. Let’s not shed too many tears for two nations of zealots who got what was coming to them. Every American man or woman who volunteers to fight these animals all over the world is a hero in my book. Yes, many have personal flaws just like anyone else. But to put yourself through what it takes to reach Kyle’s position and to eliminate enemies who are hell-bent on killing as many Americans and terrorizing civilians, THAT’s a hero. Not to mention that this heroism comes at great personal cost while snot-nosed kids get to debate the morality of it on leafy college campuses. In case you haven’t noticed, the world is a bad place. Even Europe, as beautiful as it is, is quickly becoming a museum where Europeans used to live. There are 9 billion people on a planet with a capacity of less than half of that. Every day, there is a life and death struggle for ideology, resources, and POWER. For the last 100 years, we’ve been winning that war due to the commitment of people like Chris Kyle. That is the important part and what automatically qualiifies him and his brethren as heroes.

  • I

    InformedMar 6, 2015 at 10:38 am

    You should look more into the background of an individual before posting such an ignorant rant. There are so many discrepancies with much of what Kyle wrote about in his biography (which you obviously did not read) and stories from other soldiers and his family. Chris Kyle was not a hero- an efficient and remorseless killer, yes, but no hero. It’s unfathomable that a college student could be so mindlessly “patriotic” about the issues of war and death. You contradict yourself when you say you condemn the actions taken by the American government such as the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but you respect the soldiers who carried them out. That’s straight up ignorance… you clearly just worship anyone in a uniform. True patriots question their country when it asks them to do fucked up things. too bad you have such a public forum to unleash your close-minded drivel.

  • J

    JohnsonMar 5, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    If there’s one thing that can be said about Steven Gillard, it’s that he knows how to get a good comment section going. I’ll be watching and waiting for this baby to get started