“I am not a fan of politics,” wrote Chris Kyle, the 38-year-old former Navy SEAL sniper who was shot and killed with a friend at a Texas firing range on Saturday. Yet, in his best-selling memoir “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History” — originally published last year and currently experiencing a sales bump in the aftermath of Kyle’s death — the commando also wrote “I like war.” The problem, as Kyle would have known if he’d read his Carl von Clausewitz, is that the two aren’t separable; war, as Clauswitz wrote, is the continuation of politics by other means.
Chances are, though, that Kyle never heard of Clausewitz; certainly there’s nothing in “American Sniper” to suggest that he ever thought very deeply about his service, or wanted to. The red-blooded superficiality of his memoir is surely the quality that made it appealing to so many readers. Well, that and Kyle’s proficiency at his chosen speciality: He boasted of having killed over 250 people during his four deployments as a sniper in Iraq. While Kyle’s physical courage and fidelity to his fellow servicemen were unquestionable, his steadfast imperviousness to any nuance, subtlety or ambiguity, and his lack of imagination and curiosity, seem particularly notable in light of the circumstances of his death. They were also all-too-emblematic of the blustering, tragically misguided self-confidence of the George W. Bush years.