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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 463

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This is the grave of Chris Kyle.

Born in 1974 in Odessa, Texas, Kyle wanted to become a rodeo star. But as happens in that utterly insane sport, he suffered a severe injury that basically crushed his arm and had to give it up. So he chose another very common path for a young Texas man–the military. Kyle, like so many white men in the United States, grew up in a stew of toxic masculinity, where killing things and not talking about the pain that caused was the way to live. Moreover, doubling down on that toxicity through engaging in violence as healing for men would come back to haunt him.

Kyle became a Navy Seal and a sharpshooter. In fact, when the United States invaded Iraq to make up for W’s anger that Saddam was mean to daddy twelve years earlier and, of course, the business opportunities such an invasion would create once that nation voluntarily became a quasi-colony that eagerly embraced the fundamentalist vision of free market capitalism that the 27 year old Milton Friedman worshipers implemented from their powerful reconstruction positions, it turned out that we would need good murderers. Amazingly, the Iraqi people were not happy to be that fundamentalist capitalist quasi-colony. Who could have guessed. One of those people really good at murdering people was Chris Kyle. He was a great sharpshooter and he was deeply involved in the American male culture of violence that made such behavior OK.

Kyle became famous for his sharpshooting skills. He is believed to have killed about 150 Iraqis personally. It could have been more. Women, children, men, it really didn’t matter. He did his job, no matter what the cost. Within the military, being a professional murderer in this very personal way is someone’s job. The problem is a) the culture in which people would accept this job and b) the nation putting people in a position to accept this job to begin with, which at times may be necessary but was most certainly not in Iraq. Kyle served four tours in Iraq, was shot twice, survived six IED explosions, and trained many other professional killers.

In 2009, Kyle finally left the military and moved back to Texas. He decided to write a book about his experiences, American Sniper, which made him nationally famous. This was made into a film by Clint Eastwood starring Bradley Cooper that largely served to make a hero out of this professional killer, one who may have been doing his job, but is certainly someone no one should aspire to be. Kyle never expressed any regret for his actions, and I can’t necessarily blame him, I mean, what was he supposed to say? The problem, once again, is that our government put him in this situation. But it’s still horrifying and awful. On the other hand, it’s not as if Kyle didn’t embrace it. He routinely used racist language, called Iraqis “savages,” and bragged about later murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina, although no one knows if that is true. He certainly would have loved to kill those people though, as he loved killing people generally. He also bragged about looting people’s homes in Fallujah, etc. It’s also pretty clear that Kyle was an inveterate liar and braggart. He claimed to have killed a couple of carjackers while in Texas, which was easily disproven. Of course, Clint Eastwood, coming off his famous conversation with a chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention and longing for simplistic narratives of heroes who like killing, did a national disservice to both the public and to veterans who understood just how horrific all this stuff actually is through his fim.

Kyle used his newfound fame and fortune in support of wounded veterans. He also engaged in a public feud with Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler and governor of Minnesota. He wrote a chapter in his book over a fight he got into in a bar. Which, whatever, except he then publicly said it was with Ventura. That led Ventura to sue him for defamation, a suit that went on after Kyle’s death. This was almost certainly another of Kyle’s braggadocio lies, obviously infuriating Ventura.

Kyle’s death would come straight out of the violence macho culture that worshiped guns. Kyle met a guy with severe PTSD coming out of the Iraq War named Eddie Routh. Now, if you were dealing with a deeply disturbed man, someone who had been destroyed by his actions in killing Iraqis and seeing his fellow Americans killed around him, would you decide to take him to a shooting range to fire off some high-powered rifles? I would sure hope not. But for someone like Kyle, what could be more therapeutic in recovering from all the killings you’ve done than to relive those killings by shooting some guns? Nothing. So, on February 2, 2013, he put a gun in Routh’s hand and Routh proceeded to shoot Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield. They texted each other as they were going to meet at the shooting range about how unstable Routh was, but evidently the idea of not shooting murderous weapons never occurred to them. After all, what is more at the core of toxic white male masculinity than the unquestioned embrace of guns?

In the aftermath of Kyle’s death, Routh was found guilty of murder and put away for life. Ventura’s defamation lawsuit went on. He actually won and on appeal from Kyle’s family, some sort of settlement was reached. On the other hand, the Texas Republican Party, a fascist organization who loved Chris Kyle and all his killing and lies because that’s the American they want to see, completely valorized him and gave him an epic burial ceremony at Cowboys Stadium.

Chris Kyle is buried at Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas. He is also the first entry in this series who was born after me, which is somewhat sobering.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader donations. As always, I very much thank you for it. Unfortunately, most of the people who designed the Iraq War are still alive, even Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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