Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper polarised critical opinion when it was released at the turn of the year. While many praised the film for delivering ‘a tense, vivid tribute to its real-life subject’, many accused the tale of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle as inciting racial tensions and glorifying what was already a moral and political minefield. We try to break down what really happened with the True Story of American Sniper, Chris Kyle.

True Story of American Sniper, Chris Kyle

The film follows Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) during his time in Iraq and deals with the struggles Kyle faces in balancing a normal family home life with his less than ordinary work place. We won’t be reviewing the film so there’ll be no wise-cracks about Cooper nursing his infant doll (google it) but we’ll be trying to paint as true a story as we can and ask if the American sniper was truly the ‘deadliest marksman in U.S. military history’.

True Story of Chris Kyle

Kyle was born in Odessa, Texas and was the son of Deby Lynn (a Sunday school teacher) and Wayne Kenneth Kyle (a deacon). Chris’ father bought him his first rifle when he was 8 years old – a bolt-action .30-06 Springfield rifle. Later he bought him a shotgun which they would use to hunt pheasant, quail and deer. When he left school, Kyle became a professional bronco rodeo rider and worked on a ranch but was forced to retire from rodeos after he severely injured his arm.

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The U.S. Military

After his arm healed, Kyle went on to join the Special Force and was assigned to SEAL Team 3 – a sniper element platoon within the Naval Special Warfare Command. Kyle went on four tours of duty and served in many major battles including the Iraq War.

In the American Sniper film, Chris Kyle shoots a boy and his mother who are approaching a U.S. Marine convoy concealing a grenade. This was not a real life representation. In his book, Kyle states that a woman does come out of a small house with her child, but she approaches the convoy by herself as she conceals something beneath her clothes. Kyle hesitates shooting the woman but does take the shot. The grenade drops and he fires again as it’s exploding stating it’s “the only time I killed anyone other than a male combatant”. In the book, he indicates that this is his first kill in Iraq.

In 2008, Kyle reportedly made his longest successful shot after spotting an insurgent who was about to fire a grenade at a U.S. Army convoy. Kyle stated that he fired one shot from about 2,100 yards (1,920m) and killed the insurgent.

In the American Sniper film, Kyle’s main rival sniper is an Iraqi named Mustafa. While Mustafa did exist and was known to him, Kyle never encountered Mustafa and only refers to him once in his book as “an Olympics marksman who was using his skills against Americans and Iraqi police and soldiers.”

During four tours of duty in the Iraq War, Kyle was shot twice and caught up in six separate IED explosions. He became known by the nickname ‘Legend’ among the general infantry and other Marines. The title is said to have originated in jest among fellow SEALs following his taking of a sabbatical to train other snipers in Fallujah.

Before leaving the military to “repair his marriage”, Chris Kyle received 14 different awards and decorations for his time serving as a SEAL, including two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. With 255 probable kills, 160 of them officially confirmed by the Pentagon (these numbers are based on individual shooter logs, filled out at the end of a mission, and reported to higher command), Kyle is considered the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. But he falls short of the most kills in global military history as Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä shot 542 Soviet soldiers during the Russian invasion of Finland in World War II.

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The Autobiography

The film American Sniper was based on Kyle’s 2012 autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. It was written by Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. It’s now sold over 1.2 million copies with 700,000 copies already sold in 2015 alone. Much of that down to the relative success of the film and Kyle’s murder.

The book recalls tales of Kyle and his time in Iraq – a lot of which was used in the film. In the book, he claimed Iraqi insurgents nicknamed him al-Shaitan, or ‘The Devil’ and put a $20,000 bounty on his head. This detail was used in the film. It should be said that the insurgents did put a $20,000 bounty on the heads of all snipers, not just Chris Kyle.

The book has subsequently caused controversies with Chris Kyle’s family claiming he donated his book proceeds to Veterans’ Charity but reports have surfaced that he had kept most of the profit for himself. According to the reports, around 2% ($52,000) went to the charities while Kyle’s family took $3 million. Although nothing has ever been found in evidence.

The sub-chapter called ‘Punching Out Scruff Face’ also had to be removed after a court case which saw Jesse Ventura sue Chris Kyle. While on The Opie and Anthony Show to promote the book, Kyle said that in 2006, he and Jesse Ventura (former Governor of Minnesota and WWF Superstar), who in the book he only refers to as “Scruff Face”, got into a bar fight in Coronado, California. According to Kyle, the incident apparently occurred after Ventura began talking loudly about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Relatives of fallen SEAL Michael Monsoor, who deliberately fell on his own grenade, were in town for his wake and had gathered at the bar. Kyle said that when he asked Ventura to keep his opinions to himself, Ventura told him that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” guys. Kyle claimed to then have punched Ventura.

Jesse Ventura, who was himself a Vietnam veteran, denied the altercation ever took place and filed defamation charges and took the case to court. Controversially, Ventura refused to drop the case following Kyle’s death in 2013. In July 2014, the jury ruled in favour of Ventura, who won $1.845 million in damages against Taya Kyle (as executor of the estate of Chris Kyle).

Other true story of American Sniper Controversies

The American Sniper story has been accused of being an American military propaganda with many accusing Kyle and film of portraying the Iraqi people, in particular, as “a dehumanized mass of savages”. In his book, on the battle for control of Ramadi, Kyle says, “Force moved that battle. We killed the bad guys and brought the leaders to the peace table. That is how the world works.”

Another controversy surrounding Kyle followed his claim that he shot looters during Hurricane Katrina from the roof of the Superdome (the home of the New Orleans Saints NFL team). The story became widely known after it was published in the June 2013 issue of The New Yorker as part of a profile on Chris Kyle. It’s said that Kyle told the story to some fellow Navy SEALs as they were hanging out drinking in his hotel room in 2012. The story ended up reaching the writer of The New Yorker article. Kyle had told them that in 2005, he and another sniper were deployed in New Orleans during Katrina and picked off thirty or so looters from the top of the Superdome. When Nicholas Schmidle, the article’s writer, contacted the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), to confirm the story, he was told, “To the best of anyone’s knowledge at SOCOM, there were no West Coast SEALs deployed to Katrina.” Schmidle then contacted Kyle who replied, “I never heard that story,” adding that it “defies the imagination.”

The Murder of Chris Kyle

Chris Kyle was murdered on the 2nd February 2013 along with his friend Chad Littlefield. 38 and 36, respectively, the pair were shot to death at a Texas gun range.

Kyle had been involved in helping soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On the 2nd February, Kyle and Littlefield agreed to take fellow Iraq War veteran Eddie Ray Routh, aged 25, with them to a rifle range in Glen Rose, Texas as part of a therapeutic outing. They were unaware of just how severe Routh’s mental illness was but it soon become clear. During the 90 minute drive to the shooting range, Kyle texted Littlefield, “This dude is straight-up nuts”.

Routh had been dealing with PTSD and was having difficulty adjusting to postwar life. After shooting both Kyle and Littlefield, he fled in Kyle’s Ford F-350 truck. Kyle was shot six times, Littlefield seven. Both were found with fully loaded guns in their holsters, the safeties still on.

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The Trial of Eddie Ray Routh

Eddie Ray Routh was a war veteran suffering from mental illness. The exact nature of his mental issues is unclear, but police records showed he was taken to a mental hospital twice in the four months prior to the Kyle and Littlefield murders for threatening to kill himself and his family. In one of those incidents, police records show that he became upset with his parents after drinking and told them he planned to “blow his brains out”.

The trial started last week with the prosecutors expected to call Texas Ranger Danny Briley, who will testify that Routh admitted he gunned down the pair. The ex-Marine had allegedly told Briley he first shot “the one I could clearly identify” (an apparent reference to Kyle and his fame). It’s said Routh stated, “I knew if I did not take his soul, he was going to take mine […] I told [my sister] I had to kill a man today. It wasn’t a want to. It was a need. I was going to be the next one up there getting my head shot.”

Routh’s defence is expected to be based on the argument that he was insane at the time of the shootings. There are dash and body camera recordings of Routh after the crime asking police, “Is the apocalypse on top of us right now?” before peeling off in Kyle’s Ford F250 truck, leading them on a 20-minute car chase.

Another police officer has said under oath that he recently overheard Routh making another confession saying that he killed the men because “they wouldn’t talk to me […] I was just riding in the backseat of the truck and nobody would talk to me.”

The trial is on-going.

On the 2nd February 2015, exactly two years after Chris Kyle was killed, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared the day to be “Chris Kyle Day” in his honour.

The True Story of American Sniper is without doubt one of intrigue and many reports surround Chris Kyle and his personality, along with key people pulling major holes in both the book and film. The US Military is without doubt heavily invested in this ‘US Fairytale’, to OK the film and get its release pushed through before trial. This alone is deemed by many to be an unfair use of power and now makes the chances of a fair trial for Eddie Ray Routh near impossible.

There is no doubting Chris Kyle was a key figure in US Military on the ground, but to what level we may never quite know.

Other True Stories:

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