Early March 2003:  I remember speaking to my father about how many people alive that day would not be in the coming year, due to the impending invasion of Iraq.  I was against the war, because I believed Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, there was no convincing evidence of weapons of mass destruction, starting wars was a lot easier than ending them, we would create terrorists by being there, and we would have an influx of refugees.

2015: my father is no longer alive, I still am, and every one of my concerns was correct.  Several thousand Americans and perhaps more than a million Iraqis died; the consensus recently was that the war was a mistake.  Really? Those who made the mistake are alive and rich; incredibly, some of them are still being considered for high level governmental jobs:  Mssrs. “the war will pay for itself” Wolfowitz and Bolton, the latter one of the nastiest men on earth.

With that background, I read American Sniper, by Chris Kyle.  I had some misgivings about whether I really should or wanted to read the book, but did so.  Not surprisingly, there were  things I didn’t like.  He and I were from two different worlds, generations and belief systems.  But we were both Americans, and we both served.  There were areas where I found myself nodding assent.  Mr. Kyle was a warrior, not a writer.  I am a writer, not a warrior. He was a warrior like Patton, for he loved being at war.  He loved it more than family, he and his wife both admitted it.  He had a chance to quit the military but stayed.

What Mr. Kyle wrote should be discussed every time we go to war.  He de-humanized the enemy, referring them as savages.  This is not wrong; it is how people bring themselves to kill other people.  We used “gook” in Vietnam.  He referred to killing simply as “got him.”  He was a superb warrior and sniper who lived for action, had incredible luck, much of which he made, whereas literally millions of others did not have the luck or live.

While Mr. Kyle said he had only one brief “flashback,” he was changed by the war.  I don’t know how he couldn’t have been. Diving for cover when a car backfires is not normal.  I don’t know how any individual can live through war and remain normal.  He and his fellow warriors fought in bars over minor issues and got drunk often.  It doesn’t make them bad; they were young men at war.  Being at war makes such behavior more likely in young men.

We glorify warriors; mankind always has.  When we need them, we want good ones, and Mr. Kyle was the best of the best.  He was humble in his story, lavished praise upon others, and had many narrow escapes.  One man next to him was shot in the eye and was permanently blind.  He lived, but not long.  Another died in Mr. Kyle’s arms. Every person “down” ended up either in a body bag or in the hospital.  This was an ugly war in an ugly place fought by an ugly enemy.  The smells of Iraq cannot be described.  I have smelled similar places.  The smell of blood, the sight of bad trauma I know, although not like what occurred in Iraq.  Mr. Kyle survived an IED and just missed another one; several hundred Americans did not; thousands survived mutilated and beyond repair.  Many are homeless today. Having video games extolling fighting and killing disturbs me deeply.  War is horrific.

Mr. Kyle was a patriot.  Sadly, he fought in a war started by old men who had never been warriors and who had no business starting this one.  He spoke out strongly against politicians giving rules of engagement, lawyers wanting to know if a “kill” should have been done.  Mr. Kyle wrote that once the military is in place, it should be allowed to do its job.  He was dead right.  That is why going to war must be carefully thought out, for the military’s doing what it should do is ugly, often based on misleading intelligence, and many will die unnecessarily. That is war.

The run-up to the Iraq war was a lot of flag-waving and jingoism.  It was “Mission Accomplished,” when 3 years later, the country was nearly a failed state and in 2015 may become one.  The war was illegal and marketed to the American public. The strategy was flawed by men who chained warriors like Mr. Kyle, so he could not be as effective as he could have been.  It made contractors like Blackwater rich for shoddy work, frank murder and showed an uncaring nation in our handling of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Walter Reed, and care for veterans.

I laud the late Mr. Kyle for including comments by his wife, her experiences.  She built her own walls against pain, walls against a person whom she loved.  She did not enjoy war action, for she was raising children and wondering if she would be visited by two men, informing her that her husband was dead, which happened to thousands of others.  As bad as death is, having a husband come home who is blind, had his legs blown off, or his brain damaged in a way that can never be made whole again may be worse.  It is an ongoing hell, and those who go to war leave behind those who worry and deal with “boring,” tedious, necessary day-to-day life.  Warriors fight and have glory, thinking they are immortal, until something happens that ends it all….forever.  Their spouses must bring up children who don’t know a parent.  Some are widowed mothers at 19. That tragedy visited Tucson after Fallujah.

Mr. Kyle’s death at 38 was at the hands of someone he was trying to help, who turned on him at a range, shooting him six times, so sad and ironic.  Mr. Kyle no longer feels, but his wife does and has her own hell to go through, alone.

I’ve served in the military, but I’ve never been a warrior.  Nor have I been or ever will be a hero.  I’ve fired a rifle exactly ten times, 40 years ago.  I never have touched another firearm.  Not once. I don’t shoot bullets.  I write words, try to help people understand the world we live in, and give of myself to causes I believe in.  I won’t be famous, and when I die, few will grieve.  I have lived as an imperfect human being, done some good, seen more of the world than many, been blessed with skills others have not, and tried to speak out against injustice, evil, and wrongdoing.

Had we stayed out of Iraq, the late Chief Kyle would likely be alive today, as would perhaps a million others.  In 2003, few knew Mr. Kyle.  In 2015, most of the country knows of him.  I salute both his memory and his wife, for what she had to do.  I cry out against the injustice, the lies, the waste, my being labelled a traitor, and all the other things the Iraq war did to individuals and to us collectively.  It was wrong, and in 2003, I was in the 16% who said it was wrong.  I wasn’t prophetic.  I’ve read much about war, from the Romans, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and every word Samuel Eliot Morison published.  I walked on Corregidor; I’ve seen Pearl Harbor, the Memorial Cemetery in Manila, gone ashore on Okinawa and Inchon, seen rusted hulks on Eniwetok.

In 1970, we seniors at Dartmouth were asked to answer a question:  “Is there a war that you would want to fight in?” I never forgot the words one of my classmates wrote, back when we were involved in another wrong conflict.

“I can’t imagine there ever being a war I would want to fight in.  I can imagine one I ought to fight in.”


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