American Sniper | Study Guide

Chris Kyle

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American Sniper | Themes

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War Solves Problems

Kyle presents war as a necessary vehicle for eliminating evil. In his view, it is not something to be avoided. It is not inherently bad. Indeed, he sees fighting as an ideal way to eliminate evil in the world. In fact, in his estimation the United States should have been more aggressive and more committed to killing during the war on terror. In Kyle's view, the war was the only way to subdue the enemy.

Furthermore, war energized Kyle. He constantly seeks to jump into combat. He had little patience for the bureaucratic red tape that characterized military leadership. Kyle views war as exciting, necessary, and "badass." Therefore, his perspective on war can cause the reader to question his motives as a soldier. Was his commitment to war strictly that of a patriot defending the ideals of his country? Was his primary motivation, as he states on more than one occasion, to protect his fellow American fighters? Or did he simply enjoy the sport of killing those he considered evil, as his commentary sometimes made it seem?

Perhaps the language chosen by Kyle for Craft International best summarizes his feelings on war. Based on Ryan Job's comments in an interview, Craft International professes that "despite what your mama told you ... violence does solve problems." Kyle and Spicer make it their company motto, but it could just as well serve as a motto for Kyle's military service and his view of the war on terror. In his eyes, violence solves more problems than it causes. He would have liked to take a more heavy-handed approach to eliminating insurgents. As it stands, his record as the most prolific sniper in military history supports this idea.

Machismo

In the introduction to the book, Kyle states that the story is about being a man. Kyle is a self-proclaimed "badass" good old boy from the heart of Texas. He identifies as a SEAL because of his work ethic, the comradery of military brotherhood, and a love of combat. Throughout the narrative, Kyle demonstrates examples of his own macho attitude and that of the military. In his view, aggression—including fighting—is simply a SEAL character trait. In fact, SEALs bond and develop relationships through sometimes-intense hazing. In some ways this aggressive behavior serves as preparation for the rigors of war and at times a survival mechanism in times of difficult combat.

Kyle's macho attitude means that he never admits defeat or injury. He demonstrates this repeatedly in training, hazing, and his response to being injured in war. He is always first to volunteer for the most dangerous assignments. He also takes on more and more dangerous roles within those assignments, like sweeping rooms (breaching and clearing) with the marines. However, once at home and away from the dangers of war, Kyle continues to seek out danger and excitement by drinking too much and instigating fights, often in bars. This leads to arrests.

Kyle's macho facade puts a barrier between himself and his wife, Taya, who longs for him to show his love and commitment. She becomes irritated by the situations Kyle finds himself in as a result of his thrill seeking and hotheadedness, like being arrested in bar fights and coming home with new tattoos.

Nevertheless, Kyle's narrative demonstrates that he matures over time. In many ways, he matures out of the macho attitude later in the war. He reconnects with his wife through marriage counseling and bonds with his children. During his last deployment, he admits to needing medical help, accepting medication and even the opportunity to return home early. While Kyle never discusses his own difficulties in terms of trauma, that might be because the book is written only about a year after Kyle left the navy. He hadn't yet had time to process his war trauma. Still, machismo remains key to Kyle's identity throughout.

Country versus Family

A central conflict in the narrative is the order of priorities that Kyle and his wife had. While both agree that God comes first, Taya believes family comes before country. Kyle's actions, however, show that his commitment to country comes before his commitment to family. Especially after having children, Taya believes Kyle should be loyal first to his family's needs. She resents his reenlistment, feeling he had performed his duty for his country and now someone else could take that turn. Throughout the course of the narrative, she repeatedly begs Kyle to put his family first. Yet, he disappoints her time and again when he instead prioritizes the needs of his country.

Kyle writes candidly about the excitement of deploying to war and admits to feeling guilty when he stays at home. If there was a war to be fought, he feels he should be the one doing the fighting. By staying home, he believes he lets down his country and his fellow SEALs.

It could be argued at points that Kyle does place family above country—but his military family, not his wife and children. Several times he explicitly states that he fought mostly to protect his brothers in combat. During Marc Lee's service on the base, the SEALs sit in the first row. This is the row typically reserved for family. Thus, the incident reflects the notion that those with whom they serve make up a SEAL's true family.

Regardless, by the end of the novel, Kyle seems to have reorganized his priorities. He professes that while many people can fight for the country, only he could be there for his family. After his fourth deployment, Kyle changes his primary duty to that of a husband and father. Still, the prioritization of God, family, and country continues to be an unresolved conflict in the text. Kyle and Taya discuss whether they would encourage their children to join the military. Kyle admits he would like his son to consider enlistment when the time is right and after understanding the changes war can cause. Taya, however, feels resolute that her children should not have to serve. She continues to believe Kyle gives more than enough, earning the right for their family's next generation to be excused from duty.

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