A few thoughts about “American Sniper”

I saw American Sniper last night. Let me add my voice to the chorus of others saying that this is a great movie. When the credits began to roll at the end, every person in our theater sat in stunned, admiring silence. No one said a word. Eventually, we all began to file out with a lump in our throat and a full heart.

The movie was hard to watch. It was very violent but successful in evoking in some measure the real horrors of war. And maybe more than anything, it portrays how wicked Al Qaeda in Iraq really was. Somehow that fact seems to have been lost on many Americans ten years ago when popular support for the war waned. But there really was a “Butcher of Baghdad,” and he really did kill children with a power drill. And there really were torture chambers where unspeakable atrocities occurred. In other words, there really is good and evil in the world, and that fact comes out clearly in the movie. You end up loving Chris Kyle because he looked that evil in the face and charged toward it without flinching. He was an unabashed patriot.

Chris Kyle comes across as a bona fide hero in this film. He is a man’s man, a father, a husband, a soldier, and deeply broken by war. He is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But he was an amazing figure, no question. I think David French’s review of the film is spot-on:

The movie gives America something it’s lacked since the start of the war — a war hero on a truly national, cultural scale. Yes, we’ve learned the stories of Marcus Luttrell and others who’ve achieved great and heroic things, but with the success of this movie, Chris Kyle has entered the pantheon of American warriors — along with Alvin C. York and Audie Murphy — giving a new generation of young boys a warrior-hero to look up to, to emulate. After all, our kids’ heroes can’t be — must not be — exclusively quarterbacks, rappers, or point guards.

No one is claiming that Chris Kyle is Jesus. Every human being has flaws. And he risked no more and no less than the thousands upon thousands of anonymous soldiers and Marines who fought house-to-house during their own turns downrange, but he undeniably did his job better than any man who came before him — or any man since — and he did that job as part of his selfless service to our nation. I’m thankful that my own son counts Chris Kyle as a hero.

You don’t come away from this movie thinking, “Wow, that Bradley Cooper is awesome.” Really, the dominant feelings are evoked by the story of Chris Kyle’s life. But still, Bradley Cooper turned in an amazing performance. He so inhabited that role that you don’t even think about the fact that he’s just acting a part. He became a rough and tumble Texan through and through. It is too bad that the message of the movie may prevent Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper from getting their due by left-leaning Academy Awards voters.

This movie takes its place on my short list of all-time favorite war movies, which includes “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers,” and “To Hell and Back.” But like those other movies, I don’t know if I will see this one again. It’s just too hard. But still, it is so good.

[Content Warning: This is not a family movie. There is no explicit nudity or sexual activity, but it still has some highly suggestive scenes with Chris Kyle and his wife. The language is as salty as you might imagine from Navy Seals in war. And of course the violence is intense.]



  • Greg Mills

    Agreed. It was a tough film to watch. A very true representation of the horrors of war. On the family, on the countries and individuals involved and the soldiers that fight. Please come soon Jesus.

  • Ian Shaw

    Watched this Friday night with my wife. You are correct Denny. During the real tribute to Chris Kyle at the end, you could have heard a pin drop on the floor and nobody got up. This movie “should” get an academy award and definitely be in the conversation. I really appreciated how they showed the difficulty of getting reconnected back home when returning and how difficult that got after multiple tours.

    Sat with two friends from church that are both active Army and have been deployed overseas. I asked when it got done, “how accurate was that?” His response: “that was petty legit”.

  • pauljacobsblog

    I cried at the tire store scene. The humility displayed there was unlike any other that I have imagined. I agree with the reviewer’s assessment. Chris Kyle is our generation’s Audie Murphy / Alvin York. I thought of these things last week after seeing the movie. I am glad to know that others feel the same way. As for seeing the movie again, I did not watch a movie. I experienced segments of a man’s life. Would I like to experience this again? Absolutely!

  • James Stanton

    I haven’t seen this movie and I’m not sure I will have time to see it anytime soon. I think Kyle’s book better represents who he was as a person. He was a Christian with flaws, like all of us, who saw his duty as part of a crusade. He really did see himself as a Christian warrior.

    Since Denny hasn’t resisted from taking potshots at the left-leaning types I will point out some issues in this review.

    ” And maybe more than anything, it portrays how wicked Al Qaeda in Iraq really was. Somehow that fact seems to have been lost on many Americans ten years ago when popular support for the war waned.”

    Popular support for this war did not hinge on a lack of awareness of the wickedness of Al Qaeda. Popular support waned because the war was poorly managed and the predictions and expectations behind the war turned out to be very wrong. Al Qaeda became a presence in Iraq because the US decided to go in and take out the ruling regime and in doing so allowed a civil war to break out between competing ethnic groups. You don’t get to rewrite history and blame lack of support from Americans. Al Qaeda was not the reason we invaded Iraq but their continued destructive influence was certainly a byproduct of that unfortunate decision.

    • Denny Burk

      They made strategic mistakes in the beginning that led to the insurgency: disbanding the Iraqi army, pursuing de-Bathidication in a way that Sunni’s felt excluded from new govt., and reducing troop presence after the initial toppling of the regime. All of these events led to the bloody insurgency that was only reversed after the “surge” in 2007. Those were mistakes, and people can argue about how predictable they were. To be sure, hindsight is 20-20.

      Eroding support for the war at home was a problem. Americans by and large did not understand why we were there in the first place. Many Americans were under The impression that we were there because Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Of course, that is not why we were there, and Bush administration never argued that it was. The opponents of the war were able to spin that ignorance into a “Bush lied, people died” narrative–which ultimately have rise to the Anti-war candidacy of our current president.

      Having said that, the insurgency depended on the belief that Americans would eventually turn tail and run if the going got tough. And the American left was trying to get President Bush to bring the troops home before the surge. Thankfully, he did not do that.

      • Ian Shaw

        Denny, I would agree that the book is better (from what I have heard as well).

        I think if those that had no inclination as to how wicked Al Qaeda is, can just turn on the news from the past 8 months. Executions, beheadings, et at. No claiming ignorance anymore.

      • Richard Klaus


        I’m a “just war” guy but I have some serious doubts about the Irag war. You are correct that many Americans were under the impression that the war had something to do with 9/11. I’m less sure about your statement that the Bush administration “never argued that it was.” They did make comments that come close to that. I’ve written a paper “The War with Iraq: Unjustified Endeavor” and I mention some of the evidence for this. https://independent.academia.edu/RichardKlaus

        • Chris Ryan

          True. Both Bush & Condi Rice argued that unless we invaded Iraq the next Arab attack on us would be a mushroom cloud. Bush may *technically* never have said Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 but he did everything possible to fudge the truth. Our invasion of Iraq was anything but just. It wasn’t even smart, it actually has undermined our national security by stretching our military and treasury too thin. Bush didn’t just blow up Iraq, he blew up our deficit.

  • James Stanton

    Thanks for engaging, Denny. I enjoy reading your blog even though I don’t always agree with your non-theological commentary.

    i think we have to get out of the left-right media narrative. Most can’t accurately portray a consensus of left opposition to the war and I can’t speak for all American right sentiment for the war. I actually supported the war in the beginning but later agreed with the criticisms offered in media outlets such as the American Conservative.

    President Obama is not an “Anti-war” politician nor did he run an anti-war candidacy and you know that. There are very few anti-war people in the United States and they are electorally insignificant. There is a reason that Americans supported President Bush with 90% approval ratings after 9/11. There was broad support for the Afghan war on Al Qaeda.

    Obama, who I do not support, ran with the smart and obvious campaign strategy against the party of the President that mismanaged the war. It was not an anti-war campaign. He ran on ending the Iraq war and focusing resources on the Afghan war.

    I think you have a mistaken idea of what the surge actually was. The actual success of the surge was due to paying off the Sunni tribes and getting them to turn against Al Qaeda. The breakdown of the hard-won stability in Iraq was entirely due to the failure of the new Shiite government of Iraq to continue to work with their ethnic rivals. There was no amount of troops that could prevent another outbreak of civil war. The mistakes that you excuse as “hindsight is 20-20” were catastrophic errors that led to a lost war. Everything that is currently happening in Iraq, including the near-destruction of the Christian community, can be directly tied to these errors.

    Anyway, that’s my opinion on a war of choice in Iraq. You have yours and we can respectfully disagree.

    • Denny Burk

      I didn’t mean “anti war” in a pacifist sense but in an “anti Iraq war” sense. And Candidate Obama was decidedly anti Iraq war. He used it to great effect against Hillary Clinton in the primaries because she had voted in favor of it when she was in the Senate. In other words, he was the quintessential anti war candidate of the 2008 cycle.

      We will have to agree to disagree about whether or not the Iraq War was a just war. I’ve have written about it extensively on this site. I wish the American people understood better what that war was about. And I wish that the Bush administration had done a better job defending it. They made a strategic decision not to defend it, and it was an enormous blunder that they didn’t. In his memoir, Karl Rove says not defending the original rationale for the war was the biggest failure of the Bush presidency.

      • James Stanton

        Yes, I’ll agree with you that Obama was decidely anti Iraq war but that still doesn’t reach the level of being an anti-war candidate. There are true anti-war politicians on the far left and far right (Ron Paul, Ralph Nader) and anti-war voters would be loathe to vote for establishment politicians like Obama who are quite comfortable with using military force. Voter discontent with the Iraq war was not due to being anti-war but rather opposition to the conduct and handling of the war.

        I think the angst you feel that the American people didn’t truly understand what the war was about probably means that the justifications for the war were fairly weak. It reminds me of Jonathan Gruber’s comments on Americans being too stupid to know what was in the ACA. If Americans can’t understand it then maybe the policy wasn’t very good. The trouble with Karl Rove’s statement is that its a cover-up for the failure in policy.

        • Lynn B.

          James: Full disclosure: I am a huge G.W.Bush fan and I have high regard for his integrity. Was he a perfect man sitting in the oval office, no, but then of course none ever have been or will be… but he surely is an American Patriot through and through who presided over our nation through some very difficult times. He did not make decisions based upon polls and elections but based upon conviction and moral/biblical principle. That is a big part of the reason he did not spend more time explaining/selling things to the public he was doing what he believed was right without regard for public sentiment. Karl Rove is correct that they should have been better communicators but President Bush was correct to do the right thing (what he believed to be the right thing) no matter the political expediency.

          • James Stanton

            Lynn B,

            Sorry for the late response. I appreciate your thoughts and why you have them. That being said, no President is immune from criticism even if he simply did what he thought was right and did it based on principle. There is a much higher standard for such a significant decision like taking a nation to war against another nation than there is for say offering a Presidential pardon.

            Also, President Bush did not offer a biblical principle for his Iraq war action and that war produced a number of immoral results such as the use of torture. Denny mentioned that he thought there was a just war justification for the invasion of Iraq. I would be very interested in reading more about that.

  • Esther O'Reilly

    I saw the film and read the book this week. Impressed and moved, but I think it could have been better. I’m currently working on a thorough FAQ from a Christian perspective, to be posted this week at my site. I hope to enlighten anyone who’s interested in learning a bit more about the real Chris Kyle, how the facts of his life square with the movie, and some questions and accusations various folks have raised in the wake of its popularity. In my opinion, the book is even better. As others have said, it’s somewhat grittier and more confessional in revealing just how dark things got for the Kyles’ marriage before they finally reconciled. It’s also more explicit about his Christian faith.

    Another cautionary note: Much of the sex in the film is pre-marital. Unfortunately, this is true to real life. I’m guessing Kyle was nominally Christian, but didn’t come to a true knowledge of Jesus Christ until later in his life.

  • Chris Ryan

    I don’t see a lot here to venerate. Thousands of soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines served admirably and heroically in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Clint Eastwood chooses to showcase a guy who brags about killing 30 people in New Orleans? He seems to have a loose affiliation with the truth as well since no one other than himself saw either the incidents or the victims. Other incidents he claimed happened similarly can’t be verified. This was as bizarre a choice of subject matter for Clint Eastwood as his bewildering performance at Mitt Romney’s GOP Convention. Truly bizarre. Let’s showcase a real American hero, there are thousands of them out there.

    • Esther O'Reilly

      Chris, I’m not in a position to give a verdict on some of Chris’s stranger claims, although I’m wondering if the one about Katrina was a dark joke he tossed off in a late night drinking binge that got misinterpreted to be literal. All that aside, I disagree that there’s nothing notable or compelling about his story. I think Eastwood correctly recognized the tremendous dramatic potential in a character study of a guy who’s literally addicted to war and has to somehow make his way back to his family. The purpose is not so much to whitewash Chris Kyle as it is to show how profoundly war changes a man, and how much his family has to sacrifice in the process. We can celebrate the fact that Chris and Taya were able to drag their marriage from the edge and be the exception to the 90% divorce rate among Navy SEALS. That’s the real triumph of the story—these two people beating the odds to stick together for better or worse. And as part of that process, Kyle was able to help a lot of other servicemen through his charitable work. He never wanted to be put on a pedestal. As another soldier put it when recalling a cathartic conversation with Kyle, where they swapped memories of friends lost, “People put the Devil of Ramadi on a pedestal, like a god, but here we were, crying on each other’s shoulder. I would take a brother like that over a god any day.”

      Also, if you actually read Kyle’s own book, the most stirring portions are where he is honoring the memory of his fallen comrades. He made it clear that the book was written in large part to highlight their heroism and sacrifices.

  • Greg Gibson

    Chris Kyle said, “I HATE the damn savages,”

    “I couldn’t give a flying FUC_ about the Iraqis.”

    Kyle reportedly described killing as “fun”, something he “loved”

    Is this hater really a hero that we want our kids to follow?

    Kyle was caught telling 4 big lies…

    1. Beating-up Jesse Ventura:

    “Once the trial actually began, however, the truth began to emerge. For instance, Kyle, who sat for a lengthy video deposition prior to his death, was inconsistent in his story, described by one local reporter with the following headline: “In video deposition, author trips up on fight details in Ventura libel suit.” The Minneapolis Star-Tribune describes the testimony:

    Afternoon testimony may have shifted some sympathy to Ventura’s side. In the deposition, videotaped a year before his death, Chris Kyle said he could not remember who told him that Ventura had hit his head when he fell to the sidewalk, could not recall how he learned that Ventura had a black eye, and conceded that tables did not go “flying” during the 2006 confrontation in a bar near San Diego, which he described in his book “American Sniper.” http://www.nationalreview.com/article/384176/justice-jesse-ventura-was-right-his-lawsuit-j-delgado

    2. Shooting dozens of looters while he was on the Superdome top:

    “A spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, told me, “To the best of anyone’s knowledge at SOCOM, there were no West Coast SEALs deployed to Katrina.” When I related this account to one of Kyle’s officers, he replied, sardonically, “I never heard that story.” The SEAL with extensive experience in special-mission units wondered how dozens of people could be shot by high-velocity rifles and just disappear; Kyle’s version of events, he said, “defies the imagination.”

    3. Shooting 2 men who tried to carjack him in TX:

    Tommy Bryant, the sheriff of Erath County, told me that he could “guar-an-damn-tee it didn’t happen here.” Greg Doyle, the sheriff of Somervell County, said that he had “never heard” the story, which he found “kinda shocking,” and added, “It did not occur here.” Bob Alford, the sheriff of Johnson County, told a local reporter, “If something like that happened here I would have heard of it, and I’m sure you all at the newspaper would have heard of it.” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/06/03/in-the-crosshairs

    4. Finding WMD’s in Iraq:

    “Another lie Chris Kyle tells in his book is about those pesky missing WMDs. Here is the passage: At another location, we found barrels of chemical material that was intended for use as biochemical weapons. Everyone talks about there being no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they seem to be referring to completed nuclear bombs, not the many deadly chemical weapons or precursors that Saddam had stockpiled.”

    If he really found WMD’s, the CIA and George Bush, Jr. would have publicized it to exonerate themselves for attacking Iraq based on false evidence.

    Kyle was such a big liar. Can any of his claims be trusted?

    If you want to see an honest war hero, search: General Smedley Butler, author of “War is a Racket” (free online).

    • Lynn B.

      Greg: There was someone on Fox a few years ago, an Iraqi Doctor of some sort, I forget the details, that had written a book about the WMDs being moved to Syria. I was amazed at the time that it did not become a bigger media story but he did seem credible. I do not agree that President Bush would have publicized it; he did not believe he had to exonerate himself from anything only to do right to the best of his ability.

    • Esther O'Reilly

      Greg, I’m sorry you feel this way, but there is so much misinformation, bad argumentation, and taking things out of context here that I’d like to respond to each of your points one at a time, just to clarify things for any folks who are still following this thread:

      1. The isolated quotes you’re referring to are being interpreted inaccurately. Kyle did not have a special hatred for “brown people,” and in fact he often protected Iraqi civilians from insurgents. In his book, the longer quote is “I hated” (not HATE) the da*n savages that I was fighting.” Emphasis on “that I was fighting.” He also tells some skin-crawling stories about the despicable evil he witnessed. This was not racial animus, it was a righteous anger at evildoers. Yes, he had no qualms about the people he shot, but only because he took great care that the people he shot were definitely bad guys. The quote about not caring for the Iraqis is also part of a larger context where he’s expressing frustration about how the Iraqi campaign was handled. He says that he thought it was a waste of energy to try to establish a democratic government and that his main motive was to protect his brothers in arms. We can agree that his language was unduly harsh and careless in saying he couldn’t muster feelings for the Iraqi people, but he has also stated that he was angry at what he saw insurgents doing to innocent civilians. So to say that he had no compassion whatsoever is simply false.

      Furthermore, he said repeatedly in interviews that he wished he could be known for the number of people he saved and that he was now quite content to be retired from killing. It was Bill O’Reilly who tried to press him into a sweeping statement to the effect that he just loved to kill people. Kyle very sensibly replied that it was simply his duty, and that he didn’t see a moral problem with protecting his guys from clearly militant combatants. He’s also stated in interviews that he took pleasure in doing his job well, and he loved the brotherhood he shared with his men. But this is not the same thing as loving to kill people just for the heck of it. Also, he did not “boast about slaughtering women and children,” as some people have exaggerated. He shot ONE woman who was clearly charging with a weapon. He never shot a child and expressly writes in his biography that he never would shoot a child.

      He also repeatedly said he wished he could be known for the number of people he saved, not the number of people he killed, and that he was quite comfortable with having retired from killing to be a husband and father.

      Don’t believe everything you read. Try watching some interviews with the man himself.

      2. The “inconsistencies” in his story about Ventura are extremely minor. If you watch video of him telling the story on a show like O’Reilly, it has the ring of truth. O’Reilly says, “So you knocked him out?” and Kyle corrects, “Well I knocked him DOWN.” O’Reilly also asks whether Ventura was drunk, and Kyle reports sincerely that he never saw Ventura with a drink in his hand, which fits the fact that Ventura in fact doesn’t drink. If Kyle were making up a story, he would be likely to say Ventura was drunk. The criterion of embarrassment also comes into play here because Kyle says he hit and run, which reflects a little bit poorly on him in the story.

      Also, Kyle had multiple witnesses on his side, and the fact that their stories didn’t exactly match each other is, if anything, a mark of their authenticity. Exactly matching stories signals collusion. The jury was also impressed by the fact that Ventura was on blood-thinner but showed no bruising in photos, yet it’s not guaranteed that he would have been punched in a manner that led to bruising. And in fact, the verdict of the jury was not unanimous, with two out of ten maintaining Kyle was telling the truth.

      All of which is to say that it’s not at all clear that Kyle was lying about the Ventura incident. We certainly have reason to think that he wasn’t.

      3. Kyle has also been misquoted as saying he personally was deployed to Katrina, when in fact primary source Brandon Webb says that Kyle merely revealed inside knowledge of the operation. Webb told Kyle that a number of SEALS he knew had been part of Blackwater and had racked up a few dozen kills among themselves, but he didn’t claim to be among the snipers deployed. Read Webb’s exact quote here. Amazingly, this anti-Kyle author manages to start twisting Kyle’s words in the very article where he shares the exact quote:


      4. There doesn’t in fact seem to be much evidence for the car-jacking claim. Then again, the way Kyle told it, it sounds like anyone who did have knowledge of the incident would have been advised to make it go away. So if it did happen, it’s not the sort of thing we should expect to find a whole lot of people talking about. We’ll never really know, but all we have to go on is an argument from silence. It’s certainly possible that Kyle was making it up, but to say that it’s been “proven false” is an exaggeration.

      5. The attacks on the WMDs claim and the “baby killers” story rely solely on especially bad arguments from silence. People are simply assuming that a, b and c would have happened were these stories true, but since they didn’t, we can just dismiss all of it as untrue.

      Incidentally, this is very reminiscent of the tactics skeptics use to try to discount biblical accounts. (For example, surely we would have an outside source discuss the murder of the innocents by King Herod, but we don’t, hence it didn’t happen.) Arguments from silence are weak in that context, and they’re still pretty weak in this one.

  • Greg Gibson

    Hi Lynn,

    If that WMD story was true, hundreds of people would have used it to justify the war…

    1. Bush (or his defenders).
    2. Blair
    3. CIA
    4. Pentagon
    5. Conservative bloggers.

    So we are left with 2 alternatives: Either Bush/CIA/Pentagon had an incompetent accident or a sophisticated plan.

    Before the war, several experts warned Bush that there was no evidence of WMDs there:

  • James Rodgers

    Hi Denny,

    I’m using a pseudonym because of the nature of my missionary work. As a missionary working among Muslim peoples groups, I have found myself perplexed when coming back to the states to speak to churches. Many conservative evangelicals (and I identify myself as one – theologically conservative, calvinist, evangelical) that I have talked to about my ministry find it hard to square these two narratives: 1) Muslim extremists are evil and need to be killed, and 2) Muslim extremists are sinners who need the gospel.

    Politics aside, how do we square these narratives? If the congregants that I speak to about my work among Muslims want to pick up a gun with Chris Kyle and shoot extremists, how do I talk to them about missions work among Muslims? If you would answer that I need to differentiate between extremist and non-extremist Muslims, would this not entail that non-extremists don’t deserve the gospel? And if you would answer that I need to differentiate between Romans 13 government action and Matt 28 church mission, what would you say to the de facto mentality of the average conservative church-goer who would rather pick up a rifle with Chris Kyle than give a Bible to a Muslim?

    Could it be a disservice to the church to so drive home the Romans 13 government authority in Chris Kyle’s actions (and I do believe the government has the sword for punishing the wicked) that it entirely obscures the individual Christian’s duty to love his enemies and share the gospel with Muslims – even extremists?

  • James Rodgers

    Apologies for a typo in my comment that I need to correct: “would this not entail that extremist Muslims don’t deserve the gospel?”

  • Jamie

    Thanks for writing this. I went and saw the movie tonight and immediately came home to see what others had written. Appreciate your insights.

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