This is a book I finished reading many Weeks ago but I have not had a chance to write anything about it before now and shove it in the Bookshop. So finally I have got around to it and you should be able to find both the Book and the Film in the ‘Non-Finance Books’ page.
You may have seen (or at least heard of) the recent film based on this Book and it is about a US Navy Seal who was the Special Forces Sniper with the most Kills in US history - taking the record off some guy in the Vietnam War (as an aside, I am sure I saw something on TV recently which was saying that a Finnish Bloke actually has the outright record from when the Russians invaded Finland in World War 2 - he used to hide in the snow and stuff).
Chris Kyle was based in Iraq and got involved in a couple of the really full-on Battles such as Sadr City and Faluja among others and he is extremely modest about his achievements and says that he is by no means the most accurate Sniper but the main reason he had so many Kills was because he had the opportunities. Having said that, he adds that he was helped by immense patience and an ability to ‘sense’ movement when looking at the Big Picture and his considerable experience enabled him to predict the actions of the various Insurgents and it is remarkable how the Terrorists tend to do the same patterns of behaviour time after time.
For example, there is one bit where he is in a tall building overlooking a City with lots of Road Intersections and he says that the Terrorists tended to always attack at where the Roads crossed because it meant they had several escape routes. So all he had to do was watch the Intersections and look for the usual suspects - and invariable a Nutter would appear with an RPG Launcher (Rocket Propelled Grenade) and Chris would take him out and then about 10 minutes later one of the other Nutters would come out to retrieve the weapon and Chris would shoot him and then a while later another would appear for the weapon and get wiped out as well - and so on. With such repeated patterns of behaviour in a ‘Target Rich Environment’ it was perhaps not so hard for him to score so many Kills.
One of the things that comes over a lot are the limitations imposed by the ‘Rules of Engagement’ and it is pretty obvious that Chris and his fellow Seals and Marines thought that they were a major impediment to the US and Allied Troops doing their ‘job’. Every Kill Chris took had to be cleared with an Officer beforehand and there are lots of examples in the Book where the limitations caused real problems for the Soldiers. They very much felt they were sent in to Battle with one hand tied behind their backs and the Insurgents of course had no such impediments and they certainly did not fight along with the rules of the Geneva Convention.
The Book is also very good on providing the thinking around what drives People like Chris Kyle to become Seals and more pertinently why they fight for their Country and an interesting theme that comes up a lot is that he says he fights firstly for God, secondly for his Country and then only third comes his Family. He was very open about this with his Wife and I find that quite strange and a bit nuts really but I guess Americans can be quite religious and it is interesting to get insight on how the Soldiers think. I’m not convinced that many British people would think the same way about fighting for their Country.
Early in the Book there is a lot about the Recruitment Process and the Training along with the extreme evaluation that People wanting to join the elite Navy Seals had to go through. There were several preliminary Courses they had to go through I recall and then they do a thing called ‘Hell Week’ which just sounds horrific - it amazes me that anyone would want to do it and perhaps to a larger extent it amazes me that people are able to do it - the endurance they need to have is beyond imagination.
There is also a lot on ‘Hazing’ which is not a word I have come across before but of course since reading the Book I have noticed it elsewhere. This is the practice of Navy Seals playing ‘tricks’ on each other but some of it is simply brutal and there is an example in the Film of them throwing Darts at a Seal who has a Dartboard drawn on his Back !! I don’t remember that in the Book though but some of the hazing that goes on is extreme - and of course it is worse for new Recruits. Another thing that comes up a lot is that Navy Seals are notorious for getting into Bar Fights - although slightly in their defence it is clear that they get picked on a lot because many local Hard Nuts want to kick a Seal’s butt - of course in practice the Seals almost murder them !!
Since reading the Book I accidentally tripped over a copy of the Film at the checkouts in Sainsburys and one thing that was glossed over in the Film was the horrors of Hell Week - although in truth the Film was very skimpy on pretty much everything although it was good for giving a sense of the terrain and the conditions. A limitation of the Film was that you get no idea of the heat or the smell which are something that you get far more sense of from reading the Book. It is hard to know which way around is best - I read the Book first and I think that helped me understand parts of the Film that I am sure people must watch and be quite confused about - but on the other hand it might be best to watch the Film first to get a sense of the Terrain and what the Vehicles look like etc. and then to read the Book before returning to the Film again !!
To be fair they are both very good but in different ways. One thing that does come over in the Film though is how Taya his wife suffered and what she had to go through and this also comes over strongly in the Book and this is embossed by having whole Sections of the Book which are written by Taya - that is a very clever twist and without doubt adds to the Book. On the flipside, something that the Film only merely hints at is the feeling Chris had of a ‘Messiah Complex’ whereby he started to think he was invincible and this is a pretty dangerous way for a Soldier to get and in the end of course he got an injury although luckily it wasn’t too bad. However, as time went on he lost a lot of Friends and several had very bad injuries and this clearly affected him in a big way.
There is an unfortunate outcome at the end of the Book and the Film where Chris Kyle completes all his Tours and leaves the Seals and after this he does a lot of work with Veterans and takes them to Shooting Ranges and stuff and clearly was doing some very useful rehab work. Sadly on one occasion he and mate were taking a Vet with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to a Range when the guy flips out and shoots both of them dead. It is clearly a sad and sudden end to someone who was very much an American Hero and he wasn’t even 40.
It is a great Book though and the Film is worth seeing although perhaps it skimps over too many bits that are properly covered in the Book (to be fair that is not Clint Eastwood‘s fault - he directed it - and probably more a simple time limitation). Another thing where the Film falls short is that it seems to focus on Chris trying to take out a Sniper who fights for the Insurgents and was a Syrian who had won Gold at the Olympics but in the Book there are loads and loads of different Missions and this is merely one of them. The Film is good though but I guess there are limitations from just having a few hours and putting in the side of his Wife etc. also reduces the time available for action scenes.
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