Tuesday, 23 June 2015

American Sniper - Chris Kyle

I have recently finished reading bestselling autobiography American Sniper about US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, purportedly the most lethal sniper in US history. (It says so on the cover.) I was interested in what was described as the most accurate picture of what actually happens on the ground in a war zone. My brother handed over the book, saying to me, "Tell me when you get to the bit with the beach balls whether you think any of it's true."

I started reading with an open mind. I love biographies. A good biography enables the reader to explore the world from within the subject's point of view. After about a hundred pages, I began to question Kyle's motives. His thirst for killing and general disregard for the value of human life didn't sit well with my values, but I pursued. About halfway in, the beach ball scene arrived and any credibility for the rest of the book went entirely out the window for me.

Despite its promises, the scrappy narrative heavily peppered with jargon never really painted a coherent picture for the lay man of what wartime action actually involves. Kyle's descriptions of clearing whole cities reminded me of a shoot-em-up video game, where insurgents would pop out behind random innocent children left behind in deserted homes. Shooting (and killing) them from distances of up to 200 metres away would earn the sniper more (and better) weapons to use in the next level. I'm sure that wasn't intended but it's certainly how it came across to this reader.

There are few autobiographies I have read and ended up disliking the subject even more than when I started. (The only other one I vividly remember is Scar Tissue by Red Hot Chili Peppers front brat Anthony Kiedis. Ergh.) I think that is what surprised me most about this autobiography. I could only feel empathy for Kyle's poor wife and family, who are presumably living with the fallout from his tall tales. There may be elements of truth to some of the scenarios that could even resemble how he remembered them, but the events as they are described are a stretch of the imagination at best. One has already led to a retraction after a lawsuit. I imagine there will be others.

There were moments of humanity provided in the form of interludes written by Kyle's wife, Taya. They were sprinkled throughout and some urged me to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I think what disturbed me most were the repeated comments about "an infestation of insurgents" and others along the lines of "I couldn't wait to get out there are start killing again." I don't doubt that Kyle sincerely believed in the cause he was engaged in. His patriotism, passion and commitment to his beliefs can't be doubted. But his view of humanity really disturbed me.

Much fuss has been made about the movie of the same name, probably due to its star studded cast and director as much as its patriotic themes that will strike a chord with certain viewers. I'm interested to to see whether Kyle is portrayed with the redeeming qualities his wife insists he had.

Unfortunately, this book has stayed in my mind for all the wrong reasons.

No comments: