The controversial film “American Sniper” has sparked debate across the country and the flames have been fanned by incendiary remarks on each side.
I had the opportunity to meet with Chris Kyle on a handful of occasions while on the nonprofit fundraising circuit, including once in Baton Rouge only months before his murder at the hands of a veteran whom he was attempting to help. Chris Kyle the man, not the character, came across as extremely genuine and personable. He struck me as someone who didn’t let his legendary career inflate his ego. He was someone doing all the right things for all the right reasons, even in the face of his own personal challenges. His rifle range served as a healing ground for many veterans in need of peer support while struggling with post-traumatic stress and reintegration issues.
As a result, I was curious when I learned “American Sniper” was being made into a film. I was hopeful the film would explore the depth of Kyle’s character, but the real force behind the movie has been an extraordinary storytelling of not only enemy contact in Iraq, but also the issues facing our military, veterans and their families.
Many have attempted to demonize Kyle for the shots he took and for expressing satisfaction at the taking of enemy lives. This point of view demonstrates a military-civilian divide, which has expanded over the last 13 years of American warfare.
Kyle, and the scores of others who have donned our uniforms, are trained to accomplish a mission. Kyle’s mission was to protect American and civilian lives with a weapon that happens to minimize collateral damage like no other. There is no way of knowing how many lives Kyle saved by taking those shots, but there is a fundamental truth to his service: the enemy lives taken by his rifle held a direct correlation to the number of men in his company that would live to return home.
Hollywood has had a number of individuals questioning and even condemning the portrayal of a man like Chris Kyle in such a favorable light. People questioning the integrity of Chris Kyle’s military service have thankfully been in short supply, but such comments, however idiotic I believe them to be, do serve a purpose. I believe that inflammatory remarks drive conversation, promote reflection and hopefully serve as an engine for more public engagement in solving issues such as those our veterans face every day.
Chris Kyle was never comfortable in being called a “hero” and he never sought such status, but he was unquestionably a man worthy of our admiration and respect. His service as a Navy SEAL may have been extraordinary, but his legacy may very well become contributions off the field of battle.
secretary, Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs