“Savage, despicable evil,” writes Kyle. “That’s what we were fighting in Iraq…. People ask me all the time, `How many people have you killed?’... The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.”
None of the American military personnel whose lives were wasted in Iraq had to die there, because none of them had any legitimate reason to be there. From Kyle’s perspective, however, only incorrigibly “evil” people would object once their country had been designated the target of one of Washington’s frequent outbursts of murderous humanitarianism.
After returning from his first combat tour in Iraq, Kyle recalls, he was rudely roused from slumber one morning when the burglar alarm went off. Although this was a malfunction rather than a real emergency, Kyle’s reaction was revealing.
“I grabbed my pistol and went to confront the criminal,” he recalls. “No son of a bitch was breaking into my house and living to tell about it.”
Why was it “evil” for Iraqis to feel exactly the same way about the foreign sons of bitches who broke into their country and wrecked the place?
Later in the book, describing a stalking exercise during his training to become a sniper, Kyle recounts how he “heard the distinct rattle of a snake nearby.”
“A rattler had taken a particular liking to the piece of real estate I had to cross,” Kyle recalls. “Willing it away didn’t work…. I crept slowly to the side, altering my course. Some enemies aren’t worth fighting.”
Exactly: The only enemies worth “fighting,” apparently, are those who aren’t capable of hurting you when you trespass on their turf.
“They may have been cowards, but they could certainly kill people,” observes Kyle of the guerrillas. “The insurgents didn’t worry about ROEs [Rules of Engagement] or court-martials [sic]. If they had the advantage, they would kill any Westerner they could find, whether they were soldiers or not.”
If that charge (made on page 87 of Kyle’s book) is accurate, it might reflect the fact that the Iraqi resistance (as well as the tactics of foreign guerrillas who joined the fight) was playing according to ground rules established by the U.S. early in the war.
On page 79, Kyle describes the Rules of Engagement that his unit followed when they were deployed to Shatt al-Arab, a river on the Iraq-Iran border: “Our ROEs when the war kicked off were pretty simple: If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ‘em. Kill every male you see. That wasn’t the official language, but that was the idea.”
In one of her occasional contributions to Kyle’s book, his wife Taya rebukes people who criticize the bloodshed wrought in Iraq by her husband and his colleagues: “As far as I can see it, anyone who has a problem with what guys do over there is incapable of empathy.” The trait she describes isn’t empathy; it’s a variation on the kind of pre-emptive self-pity described by Hannah Arendt in her study Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Referring to those who killed on behalf of the Third Reich, Arendt observed:
“What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique (`a great task that occurs once in two thousand years’), which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did....”
This was true even of those who belonged to the SS: Even those in the Reich’s killer elite were not able to suppress their conscience entirely. Thus the “trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: `What horrible things I did to people!,’ the murderers would be able to say: `What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!’"
Kyle’s memoir is remarkable chiefly for the complete absence of the kind of moral anguish Arendt describes among the SS. Kyle eagerly participated in a patently illegal and entirely unnecessary war of aggression against a country that never attacked, harmed, or threatened the United States. He killed scores of people, terrorized thousands more. As Kyle tells the story, he reveled in the experience, and regrets only that he wasn’t able to slaughter more of the “savages” who surrounded him.
“He made a run at me,” Kyle continues. “Pretty stupid. First of all, I’m not only bigger than him, but I was wearing full body armor. Not to mention the fact that I had a submachine gun in my hand. I took the muzzle of my gun and struck the idiot in the chest. He went right down.”
If Kyle had been a warrior, rather than a bully, he would have admired the authentic courage displayed by the smaller, unarmed man who fought to protect the ship and cargo entrusted to him.
How would he act if the roles were reversed – if he were the over-matched man trying to defend private property from a group of state-licensed pirates claiming “authority” from a UN mandate? We’ll never know the answer to that question, because Kyle’s “courage” is of the sort that only manifests itself in the service of power, and in the company of those enjoying a prohibitive advantage over their victims.