I found American Sniper a honest book from someone who loved his job, even though it was killing people. The author isn't a writer and that's something you notice in his writing style: he writes like he talks. It's authentic, but often also irritating, at least for me as a non-US reader. Interesting were the interspersed thoughts from his wife Taya, who talks about what it's like to be married with someone, for whom his country is more important than his own family.
Prologue: Evil in the Crosshairs
It was the first time I'd killed anyone while I was on the sniper rifle. And the first time in Iraq – and the only time – I killed anyone other than a male combatant.
My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman's twisted soul. I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job. But I truly, deeply hated the evil that woman possessed. I hate it to this day.
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.
The first time you shoot someone, you get a little nervous. You think, can I really shoot this guy? Is it really okay? But after you kill your enemy, you see it's okay. You say, Great. You do it again. And again. You do it so the enemy won't kill you or your countrymen. You do it until there's no one left for you to kill. That's what war is.
Bustin' Broncs and Other Ways of Having Fun
"I don't care how much money you get", my dad used to tell me. "It's not worth it if you're not happy."
Working on a ranch is heaven. It's a hard life, featuring plenty of hard work, and yet at the same time it's an easy life. You're outside all the time. Most days it's just you and the animals. You don't have to deal with people or offices or any petty bullshit. You just do your job.
Essentially, the instructors [of the BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) introductory course] beat you down, then beat you down some more. When that's done, they kick your ass, and beat what's left down again.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we'd do exhaustion swim – swim until you sink, basically.
And then there was the time where we were taken out in boats and dropped off seven nautical miles [~ 13km] from the beach. "There's one way home, boys", said the instructors. "Start swimming."
I prayed for someone to pee on me. Everybody did, I'm sure. Urine was about the only warm thing available at that point. If you happen to look out on the surf during a BUD/S class and see a bunch of guys huddled together, it's because somebody out there is pissing and everybody is taking advantage of it.
Everybody gets water-boarded during training. The idea is to prepare you in case you're captured. The instructors tortured us as hard as they could, tying us up and pounding on us, just short of permanently damaging us.
When we got the word that we were shipping out to Kuwait, we were excited. We figured we were going to war.
Some of the people we had working for us were not exactly the best of the best, nor were all of them particularly fond of Americans. They caught one jerking off into our food.
Five Minutes to Live
Our top command wanted us to achieve 100 percent success, and to do it with 0 casualties. That may sound admirable – who doesn't want to succeed, and who wants anyone to get hurt? But in war those are incompatible and unrealistic.
The people we were fighting in Iraq, after Saddam's army fled or was defeated, were fanatics. They hated us because we weren't Muslim. They wanted to kill us, even though we'd just booted out their dictator, because we practiced a different religion than they did. Isn't religion supposed to teach tolerance?
One day we saw some things in the desert and thought they were buried IEDs. We called the bomb-disposal people and they came out. Lo and behold, what they found wasn't a bomb – it was an airplane. Saddam had buried a bunch of his fighters in the desert.
The Iraqis knew they had us outnumbered and surrounded and they weren't quitting. Little by little, they started getting closer and closer, until it became obvious that they were going to overrun us. We were done. We were going to die. [...] The Iraqis kept coming. We estimated we had five minutes to live. I started counting it off in my head. I hadn't gotten very far when our company radio squeaked with a transmission: "We're coming up on your six." Friendlies were approaching our position. [...] We weren't going to die. Not in five minutes, anyway.
We had a burglar alarm system, and for some reason, Taya [his wife] set it off accidentally when she came home. It scared the ever-living shit out of me. I just immediately went right back to Kuwait. I dove under the desk. I thought it was a Scud attack.
Everyone gets all warm and fuzzy about marine animals, but I've had close and personal encounters that were anything but. While the Navy was testing a program using dolphins for harbor defense, they used us as targets, in a few cases without warning. The dolphins would come out and beat the shit out of us. They were trained to hit in the sides, and they could crack ribs.
I was a hell of a lot more nervous watching her [his wife] give birth than I ever was in combat.
I felt bad about leaving Taya. She was still healing from the birth. But at the same time, I felt my duty as a SEAL was more important. I wanted to get back into action. I wanted to go to war.
Ninety percent of being cool is looking cool.
Looking out the window, I was anxious for the battle to start. I wanted a target. I wanted to shoot someone.
After the first kill, the others come easy. I don't have to psych myself up, or do anything special mentally – I look through the scope, get my target in the crosshairs, and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people.
There were times when it wasn't exactly clear, when a person almost surely was an insurgent, probably was doing evil, but there was still some doubt because of the circumstances or the surroundings – the way he moved, for example, wasn't toward an area where troops were. [...] Those shots I didn't take. You couldn't – you had to worry about your own ass. Make an unjustified shot and you could be charged with murder.
Down in the Shit
We looked at each other. Something flicked in my brain, and I flicked the trigger on the M-16, mowing them down. A half-second's more hesitation, and I would have been the one bleeding out on the floor.
The kid was about eighteen years old. He was really badly hurt. I could tell he was going to die. "Please don't tell my momma I died in pain", he muttered. Shit, kid, I don't even know who you are, I thought. I'm not telling your momma anything. "Okay, okay", I said. "Don't worry. Don't worry. Everybody will make it sound great. Real great." He died right then. He didn't even live long enough to hear my lies about how everything was going to be okay.
That's the line of thinking that's beaten into us: We're the best of the best. We're invincible. I don't know if I'm the best of the best. But I did know that if I quit, I wouldn't be. And I certainly did feel invincible. I had to be: I'd made it through all sorts of shit without getting killed... so far.
Anytime someone tells me I can't do something, it gets me thinking I can do it.
Getting shot at was just part of the job.
Maybe war isn't really fun, but I certainly was enjoying it.
I didn't risk my life to bring democracy to Iraq. I risked my life for my buddies, to protect my friends and fellow countrymen. I went to war for my country, not Iraq. My country sent me out there so that bullshit wouldn't make its way back to our shores.
Every time you come home, it's weird. Especially in California. The simplest things can upset you. Take traffic. You're driving on the road, everything's crowded, it's craziness. You're still thinking IEDs – you see a piece of trash and you swerve.
My father told Taya that he was sure once I saw my son and spent time with him, I wouldn't want to reenlist or go back to war. But while we talked a lot about it, in the end I didn't feel there was much of a question about what to do. I was a SEAL. I was trained for war. I was made for it. My country was at war and it needed me. And I missed it. I missed the excitement and the thrill. I loved killing bad guys.
The idea was simple, if potentially risky: we'd make ourselves visible, trying to draw fire from the insurgents. Once they showed themselves, we could fire back and kill them.
When you're in a profession where your job is to kill people, you start getting creative about doing it.
The Devil of Ramadi
In a way, I didn't mind being attacked – the insurgents were just making it easier for me to kill them.
There was a little bit of a competition between myself and some of the other snipers during this deployment, to see who got the most kills.
In a way, we all thought we were invincible. In another way, we also accepted the fact that we could die.
I didn't focus on death, or spend much time thinking about it. It was more like an idea, lurking in the distance.
Reportedly, the insurgents put out a bounty on my head. They also gave me a name: al-Shaitan Ramadi – "the devil of Ramadi". It made me feel proud.
I set him down, even more worried, knowing in my heart he was going to die, hoping that somehow, some way, I might do something to keep him going, even though it was hopeless.
I ran back upstairs, feeling as if I'd been shot and wishing that it had been me, not him, who was hit. I was sure he was going to die. I was sure I'd just lost a brother. A big, goofy, lovable, great brother.
I'd put him in the spot where he got hit. It was my fault he'd been shot.
Marc Lee was at the lead, above us on the steps. He turned, glancing out a window on the staircase. As he did, he saw something and opened his mouth to shout a warning. He never got the words out. In that split second, a bullet passed right through his open mouth and flew out the back of his head.
The docs told me I needed to have my legs operated on, but doing that would have meant I would have to take time off and miss the war.
After years of being in war zones and separated from my wife, I think in a way I'd just forgotten what it means to be in love – the responsibilities that come with it, like truly listening and sharing.
In the end, I decided she [his wife] was right: others could do my job protecting the country, but no one could truly take my place with my family. And I had given my country a fair share.
I still wonder sometimes if I made the right decision. In my mind, as long as I am fit and there is a war, my country needs me. Why would I send someone in my place? A part of me felt I was acting like a coward.
Being a SEAL wasn't just what I did; it became who I was.
That night scared the shit out of me. That's when I came to the realization that I'm not superhuman. I can die.
It got to the point where I had so many kills that I stepped back to let the other guys have a few.
[...] I preferred being a leader on the ground, rather than an administrator in a back room. I didn't want to have to sit at a computer, plan everything, then tell everyone about it. I wanted to do my thing, which was being a sniper – get into combat, kill the enemy.
As long as I had been in action, the idea of my being vulnerable, being mortal, had been something I could push away. There was too much going on to worry about it. Or rather, I had so much else to do, I didn't really focus on it. But now, it was practically all I could think of. I had time to relax, but I couldn't. Instead, I'd lie on my bed thinking about everything I'd been through – getting shot especially.
Physically, I was beat up. Four long combat deployments had taken their toll. My knees felt better, but my back hurt, my ankle hurt, my hearing was screwed up. My ears rang. My neck had been injured, my ribs cracked. My fingers and knuckles had been broken. I had floaters and decreased vision in my right eye. There were dozens of deep bruises and an assortment of aches and pains. I was a doctor's wet dream.
Home and Out
People tell me I saved hundreds and hundreds of people. But I have to tell you: it's not the people you saved that you remember. It's the ones you couldn't save. Those are the ones you talk about. Those are the faces and situations that stay with you forever.
I'm not the same guy I was when I first went to war. No one is. Before you're in combat, you have this innocence about you. Then, all of a sudden, you see this whole other side of life.
Continually going to war, you gravitate to the blackest parts of existence. Your psyche builds up its defenses – that's why you laugh at gruesome things like heads being blown apart, and worse.
Growing up, I wanted to be military. But I wondered, how would I feel about killing someone? Now I know. It's no big deal.