We went to see the film American Sniper about a month ago. Since then, I’ve talked about it with a lot of people, and was encouraged to read Chris Kyle’s book American Sniper, to get his perspective. The film is, as you might expect, one of those typically American nationalistic God-is-on-my-side sort of affairs, so I was interested to see what the sniper had to say for himself. It wasn’t all that different from the film, in terms of action, as you might expect since the film was based on the book. What was shocking was the way Kyle talks about his experiences. He says he has a hierarchy of ‘God, Country, Family’ but I think perhaps ‘Country’ should be first.
Let’s talk God: his account of Christianity is not one I recognise or teach as Christianity (though obviously I know of its existence). Kyle calls himself a ‘strong Christian’, but I’m not quite sure he knows what he’s saying. Historically, he says Christianity ‘evolved from the Middle Ages’ – well no doubt it evolved through the Middle Ages (and before and after) but what I think he’s getting at is the emphasis on fighting for your religion. It seems to me as if Kyle believes he is a modern day crusader, fighting for God. As I said, not a version of Christianity you find in Religious Studies these days (though having been part of #rechatuk last night about religious diversity, perhaps we should recognise it in our teaching so we can engage critically with it).
So, God aside, Kyle talks in the last few pages about sin and judgement. He does not believe that his kills as a sniper are sins. So much for ‘do not kill’. I realise, of course, that many Christians think war is justified (I’ve taught Just War Theory enough times) so perhaps you might argue that in the sense that he was fulfilling his role as a soldier as part of a just war (was it? that’s not for him to decide, I guess, but the government), the killing was not wrong. Fine. The worst bit for me, though, is the fact that he revels in killing people – killing becomes a game. Well, that and the fact he calls the people he killed ‘savages’. Perhaps this is a means of unhumanising them to make it acceptable to kill them. He also has a guardian angel, looking after him and helping him kill others. He writes about ‘evil people’ that he has killed – though surely it is actions that are evil, and not people. Yet he claims to have black and white ideas about justice…
That’s the first part of his motto dealt with. How about country? As you might expect from a SEAL, patriotism run deep in his thought. America is more important than his family. Moreover, the lives of American people are worth more than the lives of others. God bless America. His patriotism is at work even after he leaves the army, and motivates him to help other ex-military people who are in need.
And lastly, family. Undoubtedly, they get a bit of a tough deal, relegated by Kyle’s duties to his country. I think it is incredibly sad that just when they are starting to enjoy time as a family, Kyle is killed. It certainly is ironic that, having fought and survived four tours of Iraq, Kyle is killed on American soil by another veteran he was helping. And incredibly sad. Which reminds us that all life, no matter where or when, is valuable.