Thursday, August 20, 2015

American Sniper

I am pretty old.  I don’t always feel it, but I am.  There are a couple ways I can tell this.  First, in high school and college, I played a lot of basketball and volleyball.  The first year home from my mission I played a lot of basketball.  I remember playing for hours on end on the courts at BYU’s now-demolished Deseret Towers.  I could do that every day.  Nowadays, on the rare occasion that I even get to play decent basketball, my skills have atrophied and I feel the effects of a couple hours of running around when I wake up the next day.  Second, I remember sometimes running around the neighborhood with friends carrying plastic machine guns.  We were often policemen or soldiers as we stole around a corner or pushed or way through low-growing brush in an empty lot.  Nowadays, guns kill people, not the person pulling the trigger, and helicopter parents everywhere try to keep their kids from touching anything even remotely gun-like.  My current, mundane desk job is a far cry from the excitement imagined as a kid on the NBA hardwoods or as an elite soldier racing down a zip line suspended from a helicopter in enemy territory, but sometimes it’s interesting to re-visit those day dreams.

Book cover image.American Sniper by Chris Kyle (ISBN: 978-0-06-223886-3) is a book that does just that.  It also visits, in a very personal way, the other realities of being a soldier, such as separation from friends and family, and the stress that comes from that and from always being in such high-adrenaline situations in war zones.  The book is the first-hand account of a Navy SEAL and his experiences throughout his time in the service of his country and his fellow man.  It follows him from high school to his helping form a company to train other security professionals once he got out of the military.  Most of the details in the book come during his time as a sniper in Iraq.  He explains how the American soldiers went about their business in the hostile areas where they operated.  He explains what goes through a soldier’s mind before, during, and after action.  He goes through the extremely painful process of losing a friend in battle.  The book also describes the heroic efforts of those who were seriously injured to work hard to overcome their new disabilities and make something of their lives.  Readers are let in, to a certain degree, to the psyche of the author as he describes, mostly in general terms, his philosophy on life and on some of the things he did while in the Navy.  There’s a little fun along the way, but the journey is mostly hard work, a lot of sweat, and quite a bit of blood, too.

I remember hearing about the book a couple years ago, but not being super interested at the time.  Then someone decided to make a movie.  Books are always better than movies, so I got a copy of the book.  For the most part, it was pretty gripping.  It’s pretty much all action all the time (and includes all the typical foul language of a modern soldier’s memoir).  Even the parts where Kyle tells about being at home and dealing with his wife and children have an edge to them because he was on edge and not always dealing with his struggles in the best way.  In the end, he learns a lot from what he goes through and definitely becomes a better person, especially in his family life, and that was neat to read.  The war sequences are very interesting.  They are fascinating to me because I have never experienced anything like them.  Kyle makes a simple case for his belief that what he and the rest of the U.S. military were doing was right, and that was interesting to read, too.  It really had only two points.  First, by engaging America’s enemies on their home turf, they had little to no opportunity to engage us on ours.  Second, the people America was fighting against were people who wanted to kill Americans and subject others to their will.  The soldiers felt they were protecting Americans and helping the Iraqi people be able to live according to the desires of their consciences.  It was really that simple for him.  It’s that simple for us, too, and I am thankful that men like Chris Kyle were willing to put their lives on the line for the rest of us.  It is a sad subscript to the book that Kyle was killed a few years after writing the book by a former soldier he was trying to help, using his own experiences as something to learn from, re-adjust to civilian life.

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This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXIV John Pruess.

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