2019 Reading List: American Sniper by Chris Kyle

This is the second time I’ve read American Sniper, by Chris Kyle. If you know me at all, you’ll know that’s highly unusual for me – I don’t read books twice because there are way too many other books in the world that I haven’t read yet.

In this case, this book was chosen as the book for my book club at my new place of work. I started the book club here when I started my new job at the end of November, and I was thrilled that a few people said they wanted to read with me.

If it were any other book, I might not have picked it up again. I might have said, Oh, I’ve read that, so I’ll just wait till you all are done and talk about it later. But this was American Sniper. I remember loving this book the first time I read it. I remember feeling like my eyes were opened to this whole new perspective on war and combat and service – things I’d never truly considered before.

Many people have seen this movie, but I never have. I would love to, just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But now that I’ve read the book twice, I can say that it was definitely a different experience each time.

The first time I read it, I was just floored by the descriptions of Chris’ deployment, his experiences in Iraq, his close calls with death. This time, I felt more critical of his choices. Maybe I’ve learned a few things since the first time I read it, or maybe I am just in a different place in my life, but this time, I sided with with wife. I judged him. I didn’t accept his justification 100% for killing people. I saw more gray areas, and it was harder for me to grapple with.

The first time I read it, I was like, okay yes, we need to kill the bad guys and wow you’re amazing at it. This time, I’m wondering if it really was so black and white like Chris says in the book. How could he not feel more remorse? How could he be so nonchalant about taking so many lives, even if they were evil people?

Also, how could he put his country before his family so many times? I understand he felt he had a duty, but his wife and children needed him and he just left them. I felt that part of the book had more detail with Taya’s input, and his struggle with that decision came through more. If I were in Taya’s place, I don’t think I could understand the choices he made. I don’t think I could be as strong and committed as she was.

This time I knew the tragic ending. I knew that he was killed on American soil. I knew that his life with his family and friends was cut short. It was still terrifically sad, to know that he gave everything he had to his country, his family, his friends and he died, not in battle, but at home. He survived so much, but life is unpredictable.

I appreciate this memoir in the way that it felt real and honest and revelatory. It depicts a side of the military that few people ever think about or understand.

But it did not make me take the side of war. It did not justify the decisions that our government makes to invade other countries and fight their people. It did not make me believe that those decisions are always the right ones. I think that war and and conflict are too complicated for there ever to be any one answer. There are too many nuances, too many implications, too many side effects, too many casualties, no matter what the decision is. Maybe there is no right or wrong answer and there’s no one to know whether the right choice has been made, even after the fact.

Chris Kyle found a way to draw the line between black and white and he was strong in his convictions that he was doing the right thing and killing the right people for the right reasons. But I just can’t draw those same lines, even after reading his book. However, I understood that he made the decisions he had to, and for that he was a hero in every sense of the word. No one can dispute that.


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