American Sniper

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Country vs. Family Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The War on Terror Theme Icon
Country vs. Family Theme Icon
Machismo Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
Trauma Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in American Sniper, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Country vs. Family Theme Icon

Chris Kyle ships out to the Middle East in 2003, only a few months after marrying his wife, Taya Kyle. Throughout American Sniper, he writes about his conflicting loyalties: he loves Taya and his children, but he also wants to serve his country in Iraq. In a different sense, American Sniper shows Kyle negotiating the tension between country and family—the war front and the home front.

For most of the book, Kyle ranks his duty to his country above his duty to his wife and children—he defines himself as a soldier first and a husband/father second. Again and again, when Kyle has the opportunity to retire from the SEALs or reenlist, he chooses to reenlist, even when Taya begs him to stay with her and help raise their children. There are many reasons why Kyle chooses the SEALs over his family: In part, he reenlists because he’s been raised to feel a strong sense of duty to his country and his fellow Americans. At the same time, however, Kyle genuinely enjoys the thrills of fighting in Iraq—over and over he brings up how “fun” and “exciting” SEAL life can be. Another reason why Kyle prioritizes military service over family life is that the rules of machismo tell him that reenlisting is the right, manly thing to do. A final, particularly sobering reason that Kyle reenlists is that he can seemingly no longer connect with civilians, even his wife and children—danger and combat have become such an important part of his identity that he struggles to have a normal relationship with anyone who hasn’t had the same kinds of experiences.

Toward the end of the book, Kyle begins to reevaluate his life. Gradually, he comes to define himself as a husband and a father first, and a SEAL second. On one hand, the trauma of war begins to leave a mark on Kyle (see Trauma Theme). At the same time, Taya’s need for Kyle becomes more immediate: their daughter is seriously ill and needs to spend time with her father. As a result, Kyle agrees to leave Iraq a few weeks early and not reenlist in the SEALs in the future. Ultimately, it’s very unclear what to think about the tension between country and family in American Sniper. There’s never really a moment when Kyle manages to balance his love for his country with his love for Taya—realizing one means sacrificing the other. Kyle seems not to regret his decision to leave Taya so soon after she gives birth, or his decision to reenlist rather than help her raise their children. But at the same time, Kyle never outright says that country is more important than family. Another sign of the book’s ambiguity on this issue is that Taya writes that she and Kyle still disagree about whether they want their own children to serve in the military, suggesting that she and Kyle haven’t reached any real compromise in the conflict between country and family. In the end, people like Kyle must simply make up their own minds about whether to prioritize their families or their service to their country.

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Country vs. Family ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Country vs. Family appears in each Chapter of American Sniper. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Country vs. Family Quotes in American Sniper

Below you will find the important quotes in American Sniper related to the theme of Country vs. Family.
Chapter 2 Quotes

"I would lay down my life for my country," he answered. "How is that self-centered? That’s the opposite."
He was so idealistic and romantic about things like patriotism and serving the country that I couldn't help but believe him.

Related Characters: Chris Kyle (speaker), Taya Kyle (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Taya meets her future husband, Chris Kyle, for the first time. Chris immediately charms her, both because he’s handsome and athletic and because he’s unusually humble for a Navy SEAL. Taya thinks of most Navy SEALs as being exceptionally arrogant and hot-headed. Kyle, on the other hand, is calmer and humbler: he insists that he would sacrifice his life for his country, what he claims is the most selfless gesture imaginable.

Taya is one of the most important characters in the memoir, and in this passage, it’s easy to see why. Kyle sometimes comes across as excessively proud, hot-headed, and even cruel; however, through Taya’s eyes, readers come to see Kyle as a more complex figure. Kyle is aggressive and often unlikeable, but he seems to feel a sincere love for his country, and as a result of this love, he risks his life again and again, saving the lives of his friends in the process.

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Chapter 6 Quotes

I signed up to protect this country. I do not choose the wars. It happens that I love to fight. But I do not choose which battles I go to. Y'all send me to them. I had to wonder why these people weren't protesting at their congressional offices or in Washington. Protesting the people who were ordered to protect them—let's just say it put a bad taste in my mouth.

Related Characters: Chris Kyle (speaker)
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

While he’s traveling to Iraq for his second deployment, Chris Kyle notices a group of people protesting America’s involvement in the war in Iraq. Kyle finds these protesters despicable, because the protesters choose to target their criticism at American troops, rather than American politicians and military planners. If anything, Kyle argues, protesters should be criticizing politicians and “higher ups,” not the people whose job is to protect civilians.

Kyle’s comments are interesting because they suggest that he has his own criticisms of the way the war in Iraq was waged (and throughout the rest of the book, we learn more about what his criticisms are). Kyle sees it as his duty to carry out orders without question, not to plan entire wars. Therefore, he carries out his orders in Iraq without question, while still reserving the right to criticize the overall war effort.

I didn’t go to a doctor. You go to a doctor and you get pulled out. I knew I could get by.

Related Characters: Chris Kyle (speaker)
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

Kyle continues to suffer small injuries during his time as a Navy SEAL. However, he never once admits that he’s suffering from any kind of pain or injury; on the contrary, he always claims to be perfectly comfortable. In this passage, Kyle gives a very simple reason for doing so: he claims that if he were to go to a doctor, he’d run the risk of being shipped out of Iraq permanently.

It’s entirely possible that Kyle is right. However, it’s worth considering another reason he would refuse to see a doctor about an injury: the code of machismo. As Kyle goes through the Navy SEALs, he learns to accept and embrace pain, rather than complaining about it. In the eyes of the SEALs, complaining about pain—even very serious pain—is a feminine, pathetic quality. Thus, it’s possible that Kyle refuses to seek medical attention because of his own code of values, not just because the doctor would send him back to the U.S.

As far as I can see it, anyone who has a problem with what guys do over there is incapable of empathy. People want America to have a certain image when we fight. Yet I would guess if someone were shooting at them […] they would be less concerned with playing nicely […] picking apart a soldier's every move against a dark, twisted, rule-free enemy is more than ridiculous; it's despicable.

Related Characters: Taya Kyle (speaker)
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Taya offers a carefully worded response to the critics of the war in Iraq who suggest that American soldiers committed human rights abuses and killed innocent people in Iraq. Taya argues that criticizing the American military is “despicable”—American soldiers have a tough job (killing insurgents), and this job shouldn’t be made any more difficult due to bureaucracy or nitpicking rules.

It’s not clear what Taya defines as “playing nicely.” Would it be wrong to criticize the American military, for instance, for torturing and abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison? Would it be wrong to court-martial a sniper for shooting an innocent child? Taya suggests that people shouldn’t criticize the American military for its behavior, but surely there must be some standard of ethics to which American troops should be held. However, based on many of Chris Kyle’s comments throughout the book (at one point he says he wishes he could kill anyone carrying a Koran), it’s possible that neither Taya nor her husband believe there should be any standard of ethics at all for American soldiers—they should be allowed to do whatever they want in Iraq, as long as it gets the “job” done.

Chapter 8 Quotes

When he reenlisted anyway, I thought, Okay. Now I know. Being a SEAL is more important to him than being a father or a husband.

Related Characters: Taya Kyle (speaker), Chris Kyle
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Eight, Chris Kyle has returned from his duty in Iraq. However, he’s seriously considering reenlisting in the military—which potentially means that he’ll be in Iraq for years to come. Taya is understandably hurt that Kyle is considering abandoning her and their child again—she finds it difficult to believe that the man she loves would rather risk his life in the Middle East than be there for his family. When Kyle reenlists, Taya draws the obvious conclusion: her husband thinks that the SEALs are more important than his own family.

Taya concisely sums up one basic tension of American Sniper: the tension between family and country. Kyle is a brave, talented soldier, and he feels more comfortable on the battlefield than he does back in the U.S. After so many years of combat, Kyle finds it almost impossible to “be himself” in California; he defines himself as a soldier, meaning that when he’s back at home, he misses combat.

One thing that Taya misses in this passage is the possibility that Kyle is suffering from PTSD. Like many veterans of deadly wars, Kyle seems to suffer from a constant sense of stress and anxiety. Even though war has left him traumatized, he feels most comfortable when he’s back in the environment that caused him trauma in the first place—in other words, Iraq. (However, it’s unclear how greatly trauma influences Kyle’s decision to reenlist, since Kyle never discusses his own trauma, and Taya only mentions it at a couple points in the memoir.)

Chapter 14 Quotes

If my son was to consider going into SEALs, I would tell him to really think about it. I would tell him that he has to be prepared.
I think it's horrible for family. If you go to war, it does change you, and you have to be prepared for that, too. I'd tell him to sit down and talk to his father about the reality of things.
Sometimes I feel like crying just thinking about him in a firefight.
I think Chris has done enough for the country so that we can skip a generation. But we’ll both be proud of our children no matter what.

Related Characters: Taya Kyle (speaker), Chris Kyle
Page Number: 420
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Taya Kyle discusses the possibility of her children (or mostly just her son, as she seems to assume that women shouldn’t serve) serving in the military, like Chris did. Although she’s enormously respectful of her husband’s military service, Taya finds it difficult to entertain the idea of her child fighting in a war. She thinks about all the pain and suffering that she endured as the wife of a SEAL, and also the trauma that her husband had to deal with when he returned to the U.S. Nevertheless, Taya seems to accept the possibility that her children might grow up to be soldiers—she claims that she’ll be proud of them whether or not they serve.

The passage illustrates the ambiguity in the memoir overall. In no small part, American Sniper is about making a choice between one’s country and one’s family. Again and again, Kyle chooses to fight in the SEALs instead of being with his wife and children; however, in the end, he chooses to be with his family instead of reenlisting. There is, in short, no right answer to the question, “which is more important, family or country?” All people—including Taya and Kyle’s children—must answer this question for themselves, according to their own moral code.