As Chris Kyle, author of the book “American Sniper,” was laid to rest last week, the sad glow of a lost hero’s aura surrounded his passing. In light of his generous effort to help a deranged fellow veteran who is now accused of murdering him, the burial honors seemed especially fitting. And yet the obituaries and remembrances were universally striking for the way they avoided what had made him famous. As a Navy SEAL, Kyle had been a professional killer, described in the subtitle of his autobiography as the “most lethal sniper in US military history.”
In four combat deployments to Iraq, Kyle killed a confirmed 160 people; by his reckoning, there were nearly 100 more. In sniper fashion, he shot them from secure positions across various distances; he killed one of his victims, he said, from more than a mile away. Such long-distance shooters occupy a special place in military culture. They can be lionized for their exceptional marksmanship and steely nerves. But it’s more complicated than that.