Back in Iraq once again, Kyle finds that the insurgents have become more cautious; they stay inside for longer periods, as if sensing that a sniper is waiting for them. Kyle spends more time doing “room clearances”—i.e., raiding houses suspected of harboring insurgents. Kyle quickly realizes that Marines aren’t very good at room clearances. He begins to organize room clearances, passing on his considerable expertise to the Marines.
Kyle seems to suggest that his work as a sniper (and, presumably, the success of other American snipers) has influenced the way insurgents wage war in Iraq. As Kyle becomes a more experienced SEAL, he begins giving advice to other soldiers.
One day, Kyle and the Marines raid a house and find a strange group living inside: they’re Caucasians, and some have blond hair. Suddenly, Kyle realizes that these people are Chechens: “Muslims apparently recruited for a holy war against the West.” He opens fire on the Chechens, and notes, “A half-second’s more hesitation, and I would have been the one bleeding out on the floor.” He adds that the Marines found the Chechens’ passports after searching the house. Shortly afterwards, Kyle turns thirty—by Marine standards, “an old man in Fallujah.”
In this troubling passage, Kyle gives a vivid sense for the moral challenges of counterinsurgency. He and the Marines shoot a group of Chechens, whom Kyle insists are terrorists. Although Kyle implies that he shot first in a “kill or be killed situation,” he gives no other indication that the Chechens were, in fact, armed. Kyle offers a strange, parenthetical justification for his actions: he later found the Chechens’ passports, presumably proving that they were known terrorists. In all, the passage suggests that sometimes soldiers have to kill before they know for certain that their targets are dangerous. While Kyle claims that, in this case, his suspicions were vindicated, it seems reasonable to assume that at other times he jumped to conclusions and killed unarmed, innocent people.
Kyle acts as a sniper during a raid on an Iraqi cemetery known to be a hiding place for explosives. Almost as soon as Marines approach the area, insurgents begin firing. Kyle shoots many insurgents, helping the Marines secure the cemetery safely. “Just another day in Fallujah,” he muses.
As Kyle describes his insurgent kills, he tries to sound casual, emphasizing his toughness and “badass” attitude about killing.
One day, Kyle gets an assignment to provide cover for a group of Marines fighting a group of insurgents hiding in a minaret (a tower attached to a mosque). The Marines call an airstrike on the minaret—i.e., they send a plane to drop a bomb on the minaret—but the plane misses its target, only grazing the minaret. Later, Kyle learns that the bomb decapitated an enemy sniper stationed in the minaret, and then blew up a crew of insurgents hiding in an alley nearby. Kyle concludes, “I think it was the best sniper shot I ever saw.”
The American military has a tremendous advantage over the insurgents in Iraq, as they have access to powerful airplanes and missiles. In this scene, we see the American military’s technological advantages over the insurgents: the military has huge missiles, while the insurgents have guns.
After about two weeks of working with the Marines to clear houses and provide backup, other SEALs tell Kyle that he needs to spend less time “in the field”—he’s too good a sniper to risk his life clearing houses. Kyle argues that he wants to help in any way he can. Reluctantly, the other SEALs agree not to tell Kyle’s commanding officer (CO) about Kyle’s work clearing houses—they know that if the CO found out, he’d discipline Kyle for his recklessness.
Kyle seems willing to risk his life unnecessarily in the field—a personality trait that could be interpreted either as recklessness or bravery, or both.
One day, Kyle and the Marines encounter a young, wounded Marine. The wounded Marine begs Kyle, “Please don’t tell my momma I died in pain.” Kyle reassures the marine that “everything will be okay,” but the Marine dies almost right away. Kyle writes, I went back to my block and continued to fight.”
Kyle is surrounded by death and danger, but when other soldiers die, Kyle isn’t sure what to tell them. Instead of comforting the dying, it’s implied, Kyle wants to prevent his fellow soldiers from being hurt in the first place.
Kyle celebrates Thanksgiving, eating packaged “Thanksgiving food” out of plastic tins. Shortly afterwards, he’s sent to the Euphrates River, where he’ll provide sniper backup for the SEALs—he won’t be clearing houses anymore. While stationed near the Euphrates, Kyle reunites with Runaway, the soldier whose cowardice almost cost him his life. Runaway continues to be a coward—one night, when the SEALs get word of an Iraqi military assault, he runs downstairs, out of danger, instead of fighting. Runaway is eventually transferred away from the Euphrates. Kyle notes, “he has a bright future as a military planner.”
Kyle seems very critical of the overall American war effort. When talking about his cowardly fellow soldier, Kyle can think of no greater insult than to say that Runaway would make a good military planner. Kyle’s observation, coupled with other comments he makes about the war in Iraq, suggests that he believes the war was mismanaged. Kyle has the utmost respect for his fellow soldiers; however, he doesn’t seem to have much respect for the highest levels of military leadership.
While stationed at the military base on the Euphrates, Kyle and the other SEALs realize that the number of insurgents in the region is growing. One afternoon, a group of insurgents on the other side of the river opens fire on the base. Kyle sees a bizarre sight: the insurgents jumping in the water, holding on to beach balls, trying to swim to the opposite side. Kyle decides to have some “fun”: when the insurgents are hallway across the river, he fires at the first beach ball, waits for the insurgents to regroup, then fires at the second beach ball, etc. He notes, “It was a lot of fun,” and concludes that the insurgents drowned.
Critics singled out this passage as exemplary of Kyle’s cruelty and sadism. It is evident throughout this passage that Kyle is enjoying torturing Iraqi insurgents—he thinks of sniping as a great pleasure, not just a solemn duty. Kyle’s enjoyment could be interpreted as a survival mechanism—surrounded by death, he preserves his own mental health by learning to enjoy killing. It could also be interpreted as a sign of Kyle’s racism and amorality.
Another day at the Euphrates base, Kyle sees three insurgents gathered about a mile away, pointing and laughing in his general direction. He notes that they look like “a bunch of juvenile delinquents.” Even though the group is at least 1600 yards away, Kyle fires on them, and shoots one “in the gut,” leading the other two insurgents to run away. Despite being able to shoot faraway targets, Kyle admits that he prefers his targets close.
Kyle appears to fire on a group of unarmed “insurgents” whose only crime is pointing and laughing at him from 1600 yards away. Indeed, Kyle seems to be trying to shock readers with his description of the killing, emphasizing the insurgents’ youth and distance. While Kyle claims that snipers aren’t supposed to fire at anyone who doesn’t show immediate signs of danger, this passage seemingly disproves his own claim.
After another week, Kyle is pulled out and sent back into the heart of Baghdad. While in Baghdad, he reunites with his old platoon. Right away, Kyle learns that his friends have been out on a dull mission in the Philippines, and they’re jealous of Kyle for getting to fight in Iraq. Now, Kyle and his platoon begin raiding houses for bombs and explosives. Kyle also works as an “advance convoy,” meaning that he plans safe routes for important visitors.
Kyle’s fellow SEALs, like Kyle himself, are hungry for danger in the Middle East—thus, they’re exceptionally jealous of Kyle for getting to fight in Iraq for so long.
In December 2005, Iraq prepares for its first national elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Insurgents, eager to sabotage the elections, are targeting democratic officials, particularly in Baghdad. Kyle joins up with an Army unit from Arkansas, and provides sniper backup. Kyle initially finds it difficult to communicate with “hillbilly” Army soldiers. Nevertheless, he bonds with them as they patrol Haifa Street—a particularly dangerous part of Baghdad. Kyle shoots al-Qaeda operatives, ex-Iraqi soldiers, kidnappers, and other “bad guys.”
In 2005, Iraq prepared for its first national elections in many years—a sign that the U.S. had deposed a violent dictator and installed democratic leadership. However, Iraq remained a dangerous place, overflowing with insurgents and terrorists, suggesting that American military intervention, while it had done some good, hadn’t made Iraq a safer place.
At nights, insurgents usually don’t attack the troops—they know that soldiers have night vision goggles. Kyle spends many of his nights calling Taya, though he rarely tells her what he’s been doing. One night, gunfire breaks out while Kyle is talking to Taya, and he’s forced to hang up the phone suddenly. After the skirmish with the insurgents, Kyle finds that his phone’s battery is dead; in the end, he doesn’t call back for three days. When he finally calls, he tries to calm Taya—naturally, she was extremely worried.
In this ambiguous passage, it’s hard to tell why Kyle waits three days before calling Taya again—is it strictly because the battery dies, or is it also because he’s reluctant to communicate with her? The passage is also a vivid example of the hell that Taya experiences as the wife of a Navy SEAL in active duty.
Kyle sustains a few minor injuries during his time in Baghdad, but refuses to get medical attention—he’s afraid that doing so will result in his being sent back to the U.S. Kyle also builds a considerable reputation as a sniper, but claims that he is “just one lucky motherfucker” to have so many insurgents to shoot at.
Kyle continues to subscribe to the SEAL code of machismo, refusing to complain about pain of any kind. He acquires a reputation as a “badass” sniper, but claims that he’s just “lucky” to be in a city where there were so many enemy insurgents to kill.
The elections take place in Iraq, to much fanfare in the American media. Privately, Kyle doubts that the Iraqis will ever have “truly functioning democracy” because “it’s a pretty corrupt place.” He also claims that he didn’t risk his life to bring democracy to the Iraqis; he risked his life to protect his friends, both in the army and back in the U.S. Kyle concludes, “I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying fuck about them.”
Even though Kyle has supposedly been sent to Iraq to install democratic leadership, he doubts that democracy will ever flourish in Iraq—perhaps because he regards Iraqis themselves as inherently corrupt and untrustworthy. The passage is one of the clearest examples of Kyle’s racism and Islamophobia: here, in his own words, he makes it clear that he couldn’t care less about Iraqis.
Insurgent violence in Baghdad seems to be dying down, at least for now. Kyle and the rest of his unit are transferred to an area called Habbaniyah—the place where Saddam Hussein built chemical weapons in the nineties. There, the soldiers are put to work building a tactical operations command building for housing computers and military gear. Kyle finds this work immensely boring.
Kyle continues to hunger for dangerous assignments—he finds his assignment to build a command center important but also boring.
During his time in Habbaniyah, Kyle visits a doctor and learns that he has tuberculosis (TB). The doctor claims that Kyle will eventually die of TB. Kyle informs Taya of this news, and claims that Taya will “find somebody else.” Taya is heartbroken to hear Kyle talk about his own death so calmly. Soon after, Kyle learns that his TB isn’t fatal at all—the doctor made a mistake. However, Taya notes, Kyle’s “attitude about death stayed.”
Kyle’s TB scare marks how comfortable he’s become with the thought of his own mortality. Kyle’s acceptance of his own death could be considered a symptom of military machismo (it’s not “badass” to worry about dying) as well as a survival mechanism: Kyle grows numb to the concept of death because, if he didn’t, he’d be too frightened to do anything as a SEAL.
Kyle and the unit switch to a new assignment: arresting local insurgents. However, locals sometimes give the soldiers bad tips to punish their enemies and rivals, meaning that Kyle and the unit end up arresting the wrong people.
We see the disorganization of the war in Iraq: although Kyle is supposed to be working with the Iraqi people to arrest terrorists, it’s implied that his arrests don’t take many actual insurgents off the streets.
One day, Kyle snipes a man walking down the street, holding a heavy gun. Shortly afterwards, Kyle learns that he’s going to be investigated for shooting the man—his widow claims that he was walking to a mosque, carrying a Koran. Kyle finds this story ridiculous, and tells his superiors, “I don’t shoot people with Korans—I’d like to, but I don’t.” After three days, Kyle’s investigators decide that he’s telling the truth and “drop the matter.” Shortly afterwards, Kyle finishes his third tour of Iraq and heads home. He’s amassed an enormous number of kills, and thinks, “I’d done a hell of a job.”
This passage is important because it marks one of the only times in the memoir when Kyle gives a sense for the legal controversy that results when he’s accused of killing an innocent Iraqi. Notice that Kyle claims he’d like to shoot anyone holding a Koran—a clear sign of his Islamophobia. While Kyle continues to insist that he never killed anyone who wasn’t a dangerous insurgent, the relatively little scrutiny he receives from his commanding officer, combined with his own flippant attitude toward sniping, suggests that he probably did at some point.