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What Troubles Me About the Legend of Chris Kyle

photography by Brandon Thibodeaux
photo by Brandon Thibodeaux

If our record website traffic numbers of the past week are any indication, most of you are well aware that our own Michael J. Mooney has written an article in the April issue of D Magazine about former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who was senselessly killed in February by a fellow veteran whom he was trying to help recover from mental illness. You should read the whole thing.

I’ve no doubt that Kyle’s wartime heroics saved many American lives, and that he and men like him deserve our thanks for the sacrifices they made. But in considering his legacy, I can’t get past that story (first written by Mike on this blog, and fleshed out at the beginning of his magazine piece) about Kyle killing two would-be carjackers at a gas station along Highway 67 south of Dallas.

Leave aside for the moment the issue of whether this story is true. Let’s say that it all went down precisely as Kyle described it to Mike. I find that even more disturbing then if he’d just made the whole thing up. Here’s why:

1) No man, not even a decorated war hero, deserves the right to serve as judge, jury, and executioner. Had he turned over the keys to his truck, there’s a good chance there would have been no need for any deaths that night. If the two men were planning to murder him as well as steal his vehicle, they’d surely have shot Kyle on sight. They didn’t. Such criminals deserve punishment, but we shouldn’t applaud any individual for deciding for himself what that punishment should be.

2) But maybe I’ve got that first point wrong. Maybe Kyle was far more threatened by these men than I’m realizing, and so when he drew his weapon and fired, it truly was a case of justified self-defense. OK, fine. Why then should we be comfortable with local law enforcement and a mysterious figure at the other end of a phone line at the Department of Defense conspiring to sweep the matter under the rug, to the point where there’s apparently no evidence of the deaths of these men, no police report on the incident at all? And they do it just because “they didn’t want to drag a just-home, highly decorated veteran into a messy legal situation”? I don’t trust the local cops to decide who, on American soil in a non-combat situation, should have an unquestioned license to kill.

3) Perhaps you think I’m making too much out of those first two issues. You’ve got no problem whatsoever with Kyle’s actions that night, or the cover-up that followed. How then do you feel about Kyle talking about it with a reporter? Our military goes to the trouble of muscling in on local authorities so that their guy can carry on with his day unfettered, and then Kyle discusses the matter openly? Talking to Mike he could have dropped just enough hints to allow some enterprising reporter to suss out exactly where this took place and which police department may have acted criminally in withholding public information and making dead bodies disappear. The very people who helped him out of his situation could themselves become exposed to prosecution because Kyle essentially ratted them out.

Any way I look at this, I’m bothered. I can’t seem to shrug it off.  (And I haven’t even mentioned the implications of what I consider the most likely scenario: that this didn’t happen at all, or is an extremely hyperbolic account.)

Mike writes that people will be telling stories about Kyle generations from now, stories that may get embellished over time to the point where we’re no longer sure what’s true, and that “it may not matter too much, because people believe in legends for all their own reasons.”

I don’t understand those who would choose to believe and celebrate this particular legend about Chris Kyle. To me, it does nothing but besmirch what otherwise seems a legacy of laudable service to our nation.