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American Sniper
The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History
Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice

Harper Collins
January 3, 2012 / ISBN: 9780062082350
Non-Fiction/Autobiography / Military / Government / History

Reviewed by Elise Cooper

American Sniper, currently on the NY Times Bestseller list, is an action packed book that reads like a political thriller. Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in his autobiography allows Americans into his fighting world. Along with co -writers, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, Kyle take the reader on a journey from being raised in Texas to becoming the most lethal sniper in American military history.

His story starts off in his native Texas, where he learned to proficiently shoot while on hunting trips with his father. After touching on how he became a part of SEAL Team Three, Kyle jumps to combat during the Iraqi war. The author, as with other recent books about the SEALS, depicts them as highly competitive, true patriots, who believe being a SEAL is more important than anything in the world, including family. Unlike other SEAL books, Kyle's wife, Taya, offers her observations on the difficulties imposed on spouses of those called to duty. These passages do not distract from the narrative and actually enrich it.

His story is at times funny, scary, sad, and intense. Perhaps this is because he sees Vince Flynn as one of his writer role models and "loves to read Vince Flynn with ol' Mitch Rapp. Vince gets it right. The enemy are savages and should not be humanized. I was trying to make that evil go away. I stand by my quote in the book, '… I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives…I don't worry about what other people think of me.'"

He commented that a distinction has to be made between the terrorist Jihadists and all Muslims. While in Iraq, Kyle met an Iraqi interpreter who is now an American citizen and is "a devout Muslim who served with us." We fought side by side against the enemy. I would trust him with my life."

There is something for everyone in the book: technical details including why a certain gun is preferred in a certain situation, types of guns used, plenty of combat action, and a discussion on relationships with fellow SEALS as well as his wife and children. Taya commented that she "sometimes questioned how he could constantly put his life on the line, knowing that he was leaving his wife and children behind. At times I felt hurt and anger that he willingly wanted to do it. Especially since the children became very sad when he left. Our son was especially protective of the relationship he had with Chris."

Kyle sees himself, not as a "killer," but as a "Guardian Angel for our troops on the ground. I never took shots I should not have. The enemy rules by fear. They will cut a person's head off in a family so the rest of the family will bow down to them. They dragged our captured guys by their hair down the street. Little kids got their teeth knocked out and eyes burned out. This is savagery."

During the interview he was asked to reconcile his views of the enemy, being evil and not fighting for a cause, and SEALs having been waterboarded in a training exercise, as mentioned in the book. He directly commented that he "found it funny that you can't do it to the terrorists but it can be done to our own guys. Most of our military has been waterboarded."

If you are a member of "Code Pink" you will definitely not like his opinions on his adversaries, the Iraqi fighters. Throughout the book he makes the point that the Iraqi terrorists were cowardly fanatics, "one part terrorists, another part criminal gangs," who hated Americans because they believed in a different religion. When asked about this he directly commented, "The Iraqi troops are definitely not on par with the US troops. I was very upset with how lazy they were and two faced. It is hard to train someone who does not want to be trained. They have no pride in country, just pride in their tribe. As far as the insurgents they used drugs like heroin to make themselves better warriors. They would not realize they were injured or fatally shot. I am glad our guys are out of Iraq. We went in there and won the fight and now it is up to them."

Kyle is unapologetic in his assertions. He goes into great detail and leaves nothing to the reader's imagination about the battles fought in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Sadr City. After reading these portions of the book a conclusion can be made that his sniper successes are due in part to his fatalistic attitude toward death, his keen observation skills, and his willingness to be daring. He directly described a sniper's skills, " One of the biggest skills is observation. Taking a shot is just one small piece of being a sniper. Our main objective is to be the eyes and ears, like an early warning system that reports all the details. You observe by learning what is normal in that situation. If you are sitting there watching and the enemy does not know you are there they will act out of character. We are trained in guerilla warfare."

In American Sniper there is a very touching scene where he describes how his wife Taya had to react to his nightmares. Does he have any regrets about all the killings? He responded, "I definitely have my nightmares but not for the people I killed but for the people I could not save: my brothers who died next to me, on top of me, or in my arms. When one of those guys was brought out on a stretcher I felt like a failure for not giving them the protection they required." His wife Taya felt that it is important to allow him to take the lead as she has seen that at times his experiences are too painful to pry into.

There are a lot of insightful passages. For example, in reading about the rules of engagement it appears that the US soldiers are guilty until proven innocent. In the book he was upset that he constantly had to worry about his own back since if you "make an unjustified shot you could be charged with murder…if I shoot him, I won't be able to justify it for the lawyers. I'll fry…Every confirmed kill had documentation, supporting evidence, and a witness…The way I figure it, if you send us to do a job, let us do it…not some fat-ass congressman sitting in a leather chair smoking a cigar back in DC in an air-conditioned office, telling me when and where I can and cannot shoot someone…Do you want us to conquer our enemy? Annihilate them? Or are we heading over to serve them tea and cookies?"

He noted that he highly resents the politicians who interfere and lawyers who draw up the rules, both tying the soldiers' hands. He thinks that rules are needed but the theater commanders that know the overall picture should draw up the rules, not those that have never been in combat. "They should not be telling me when I should feel threatened and when I am allowed to shoot back."

The book does have a happy ending in that after almost eleven years of service; defending the country he so dearly loves, he retired to be a loving husband and father. Today Kyle is the President of Craft International, a leader in sniper and security training for law enforcement and the US military. American Sniper is a compelling book with amazing stories about contemporary warfare from a true American hero, Chris Kyle.

Reviewed 2012
© 2012