"American Sniper" by Chris Kyle (2012)
"I realize that a lot of the problem has to do with the screwed-up culture in Iraq. These people had been under a dictatorship for all their lives. Iraq as a country meant nothing to them, or at least nothing good. Most were happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein, very happy to be free people, but they didn't understand what that really meant - the other things that come with being free."
Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL. He was originally from Texas, and later served four tours of duty ("deployments") in Iraq during the early 2000s. His service as a sniper earned him several medals, and the number of his recorded kills earned him the nickname "The Legend." Clint Eastwood later directed a film adaptation of this book, and this film - starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle - was released in 2014 to both critical acclaim and commercial success.
American Sniper is a straightforward autobiography, with Kyle recounting his early years in Texas, his SEAL training, his years in Iraq, and his eventual return to home and family. His ethos of "God, country, family" will probably rub many liberal types the wrong way, but I must say I found his honesty refreshing. Even if I don't share many of his priorities, I found much of American Sniper to be a fascinating glimpse into everything from military training to American strategy in Iraq.
If you're looking for moral ambiguity, however, look elsewhere. Kyle frequently describes the insurgents he fought as "savages," and never questions either his need to kill them or the broader military objectives in Iraq. This is obvious from the very first chapter, in which he guns down a female insurgent.
If you enjoyed the movie, the book adds a lot of dimension to that story. If you didn't enjoy the movie, you probably won't like the book. For my part I enjoyed Clint Eastwood's take on American Sniper, and I think that those able to suspend judgement on guys like Kyle will find his story very engaging. In the age of Trump I'm sure a lot of people will read American Sniper and see everything that's wrong with America, but if you can really hear him, and give him the time to explain what he's about, you might learn to like him and understand some of his motivations. In this time of national division, developing that kind of empathy might be the most important thing you could do.
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