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Book Review: American Sniper

In a world where somebody who has killed more than 250 people on the battlefield must either be PTSD addled suicide victim in waiting or an inhuman psychopath, Chris Kyle defies all logic.  There is no doubt that 4 SEAL deployments to Iraq, each one more intense than the last, is going to have an effect.  You will be changed.  But earning the distinction of the US Military’s most lethal sniper…in history is not the soul crushing, serial killer making deed that many civilians perceive it to be.  It’s actually kind of fun.  Most of the time.


Chris Kyle is a highly decorated West Coast Navy SEAL, king of all US snipers, and author of American Sniper.  I have been looking forward to diving into this book ever since I heard he had written it because even though I don’t know Chris, I have heard dozens of his harrowing combat stories from many of the guys he served with.  Unlike Marcus Lutrell who has one big crazy SEAL story, that I essentially live blogged at the time and has already been a bestselling book and now Peter Jackson movie, Chris Kyle stories are legion in the Teams.  He truly is a living legend, and he is just one of those guys whose initiative met with skill in the presence of opportunity and he made the most of it. 


Thankfully, Chris touches only briefly on SEAL training as just about everybody has seen the Discovery Channel specials already, and if you want to dig deeper than that you should probably just enlist and find out for yourself.  His book reads more or less like a combat diary as he breaks each deployment down into individual operations and sometimes individual shots with little effort spent on orienting the reader to the larger context of the war or even the major objectives of the operation.  Some of this is to keep OPSEC issues at bay, but by the end of the book it is clear that he isn’t in Iraq for some typical reason like “fighting for our freedom”, he’s there because he enjoys killing savages.  That’s it.  Sure he likes being a SEAL.  He’s probably ten times as patriotic as your average American.  But at the end of the day, he feels that his personal ministry (he doesn’t use that term) is to destroy evil from 600m out. 


When I went on the Horses for Heroes trip last summer, there were two amazing young soldiers named Mongo and Ryan who had both been badly wounded and highly decorated in Afghanistan.  Those two guys would easily and readily comprehend Chris’ point of view, but most readers will not.  I understand it from the cultural standpoint of being a SEAL with some minimal combat experience, but not in the way Mongo and Ryan and Chris live it.  That is the true value of this book aside from reading some amazing tales of combat and long range shooting.  If you want to read a brutally honest exposition of what it is that drives warriors to do what they do, told in an informal and conversational manner this book really cannot be beat.  I have to warn you though, because his motivations and perspective are so foreign to most people that it will be very difficult to comprehend or to place yourself in the story as I like to do when I read.  On the other hand, you will come away with a much deeper appreciation for the sacrifices that our warriors make, and that is certainly something that all of us can benefit from.