This is probably the hardest book review I’m going to write all year, because it’s complicated by several factors. The first is that I recognize that I am not Kyle’s demographic that he’s writing to. I mean, a proud Texan who likes chewing tobacco, guns, and the military? Yeah, this white Yankee liberal feminist is not exactly gung-ho about guns. So that complicates my response. And then there’s the fact that Chris Kyle killed a lot of people over in Iraq–was he right to kill people that were suspected or known insurgents? I don’t have the answer to that, but I would not call him a coward, as others on the internet have done. And then this whole discussion is complicated by the fact that Kyle was killed by a vet suffering from PTSD–he was actually shot to death. I don’t believe in speaking ill of the dead, but there were several parts of the book that I did not care for and would like to address. I’ll tread carefully, but I’m not going to be timid, is what I’m saying.
So, if you have never read this book, here’s the scoop: Chris Kyle was a good ole Texas boy when he decided to quit college and join the Navy, specifically to become a Navy SEAL. He endured grueling and rigorous training in order to become a SEAL. He met his wife Taya and then 9/11 happened. He and Taya got married before he shipped out to Iraq, and that’s where his training and life as a sniper began. He is credited with the most sniper kills, and he describes a lot of them, as well as the action he saw in Iraq. Meanwhile, his home life suffered, and he and Taya had to deal with the fallout of his many absences while trying to raise their two children.
It’s an interesting and compelling memoir. Kyle is a compelling narrator, and he doesn’t try to pretend he is a writer. As far as rhetorical ethos is concerned, he is who he is. And from that standpoint, the memoir is interesting.
But let’s talk about some things that bothered me. I have long admitted a prejudice towards military “types,” and I realize to a certain extent that I carry a bias. But Kyle doesn’t exactly do a lot to counteract my prejudice, particularly when he talks about all the barfights he gets into and gets arrested for (dude, seriously? YOU DON’T HAVE TO DECK SOMEONE BECAUSE THEY THREW SHADE), as well as all.the.hazing that happens. I mean, come on.
And then, there’s Kyle’s not-so-subtle racism that’s embedded in his own memoir. The most memorable is when he’s in the middle of a training exercise, when a “thug” (his words) enters the scene, and it turns out to be a drug dealer who gets himself beat up and arrested by Kyle. Kyle glibly states something like, “He was so stupid, lolz, that’s why he became a drug dealer!!!” and my response is this:
We won’t even discuss the dehumanizing of the Iraqis in his text. Or when he says that his fighting had nothing to do with buying the Iraqis freedom and everything to do with protecting his beloved US of A. He actually says that he didn’t give a f**k about Iraq. Awesome.
Why did I read this memoir? Because several of my (male) students read the book, and several more saw the movie and looooved it. I’m glad I chose not to go see it in theaters. When I read about the military and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, I’m looking for nuance: not a screed as to why This Country Is Better Than Others!!!!! Sigh.
And just a disclaimer: I really do appreciate the service and sacrifice of the armed forces members. I do. But I guess Kyle’s demands that I appreciate it make me a little upset–I never asked him to sacrifice his family for a war that I am still ambivalent towards. Put that on the politicians who got us in this war, not the men and women going about our everyday lives.