One of the key themes of American Sniper is the strong culture of machismo—the masculine-oriented aggressiveness, competitiveness, and glamorization of danger—found in the U.S. military. As Chris Kyle explains, the Navy SEALs have a firm set of beliefs about how men should behave; during the course of his time in the SEALs, he learns these beliefs and later passes them on to new soldiers. Machismo is more than just a cornerstone of military culture: it’s an important survival mechanism for Kyle and his fellow SEALs, which preserves morale, creates a bond of trust, and maintains soldiers’ sanity in the darkest hours of the war in Iraq.
The essence of military machismo is the ability to withstand the pain and bullying of one’s peers, and to celebrate pain and danger in general. During his earliest days in military training camps, Kyle is hazed by the other soldiers; later, when he joins a SEAL platoon, the older, more experienced SEALs haze him constantly. Kyle is ridiculed, beaten, deprived of sleep, forced to drink until he vomits, and subjected to dozens of other forms of abuse. However, as he withstands his various forms of hazing, Kyle gains the respect of his peers. In the eyes of his fellow soldiers, the only way for him to become a real man, and a real SEAL, is to survive the pain. After his hazing, Kyle not only becomes close friends with his fellow SEALs; he goes on to haze other new SEALs and become close friends with them, too. Strangely, in the strong culture of machismo, inflicting pain on one another is a sign of friendship and even love, not hostility.
Later on, Kyle’s experiences in Iraq demonstrate why machismo culture is seen as such an important component of military life. During their time in Iraq, Kyle and his friends perpetuate the culture of machismo by taking on risky assignments, volunteering for extra service, and generally welcoming pain and danger. By volunteering for danger (rather than just trying to avoid the next insurgent attack), the SEALs stave off their own fear, stress, and trauma—or at least seem to. In effect, machismo encourages the SEALs to meet their problems head-on, instead of becoming passive, traumatized victims. One might say that the culture of machismo is like a vaccination for the Navy SEALs: they introduce pain and danger into their lives voluntarily, and project an overall image of toughness, in order to strengthen themselves against real pain and real danger.
Machismo, the culture that glamorizes pain, danger, and toughness, is an important part of surviving the war in Iraq. However, it can also be an obstacle to the overall success of the war effort. While Kyle maintains that the toughness and brutality of the U.S. military played a decisive role in bringing peace, the history of Iraq since 9/11 disproves his theory: the machismo of American soldiers didn’t intimidate the Iraqi people into submission; it just provoked a strong backlash in the region, the effects of which continue to endanger American lives to this day. Military machismo could also be considered an obstacle to adjusting to civilian life. (See Trauma theme.) In the Middle East, Kyle seeks out danger as a psychological coping mechanism; back in the U.S., however, he continues to aggressively look for danger even after the war is over. In one revealing scene, Kyle goes to a medical research facility and learns that his blood pressure and heart rate drop when he enters a stressful situation (i.e., exactly the opposite of how most people would respond to stress). Thus, machismo teaches Kyle how to relax and even enjoy himself in the face of terror, but ultimately, it hurts him (and others) and alienates him from his loved ones by encouraging him to make pain and violence a regular part of his life.
Machismo Quotes in American Sniper
It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it. The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn't take any Marines with her.
It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn't care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child. She was too blinded by evil to consider them. She just wanted Americans dead, no matter what.
Getting through BUD/S and being a SEAL is more about mental toughness than anything else. Being stubborn and refusing to give in is the key to success. Somehow I'd stumbled onto the winning formula.
"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.
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.
A half-second's more hesitation, and I would have been the one bleeding out on the floor. They turned out to be Chechens, Muslims apparently recruited for a holy war against the West. (We found their passports after searching the house.)
I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying fuck about them.
We would bump out five hundred yards, six or eight hundred yards, going deep into Injun territory to look and wait for the bad guys. We'd set up on overwatch ahead of one of his patrols. As soon as his people showed up, they'd draw all sorts of insurgents toward them. We'd take them down. The guys would turn and try and fire on us; we'd pick them off. We were protectors, bait, and slayers.
If you loved them, I thought, you should have kept them away from the war. You should have kept them from joining the insurgency. You let them try and kill us—what did you think would happen to them?
It's cruel, maybe, but it's hard to sympathize with grief when it's over someone who just tried to kill you.
I thought Ryan was dead. Actually, he was still alive, if just barely. The docs worked like hell to save him. Ryan would eventually be medevac'd out of Iraq. His wounds were severe—he’d never see again, not only out of the eye that had been hit but the other as well. It was a miracle that he lived. But at that moment at base, I was sure he was dead. I knew it in my stomach, in my heart, in every part of me. I'd put him in the spot where he got hit. It was my fault he'd been shot.
We requested to be cleared hot to shoot anyone on a moped. The request was denied […] Meanwhile, the insurgents kept using mopeds and gathering intelligence. We watched them closely and destroyed every parked moped we came across in houses and yards, but that was the most we could do.
Maybe legal expected us to wave and smile for the cameras.
"Where are you?" asked Taya when I finally got a hold of her.
"I got arrested."
“All right,” she snapped. "Whatever."
I can’t say I blamed her for being mad. It wasn’t the most responsible thing I've ever done. Coming when it did, it was just one more irritant in a time filled with them—our relationship was rapidly going downhill.
He got up in front of the room and started telling us that we were doing things all wrong. He told us we should be winning their hearts and minds instead of killing them […] I was sitting there getting furious. So was the entire team, though they all kept their mouths shut. He finally asked for comments.
My hand shot up.
I made a few disparaging remarks about what I thought we might do to the country, then I got serious. "They only started coming to the peace table after we killed enough of the savages out there," I told him. "That was the key."
In the simulations, my blood pressure and heart rate would start out steady. Then, once we got into a firefight, they would drop. I would just sit there and do everything I had to do, real comfortable.
As soon as it was over and things were peaceful, my heart rate would just zoom.
If there is a poster child for overcoming disabilities, Ryan was it. After the injury, he went to college, graduated with honors, and had an excellent job waiting for him. He climbed Mount Hood, Mount Rainer, and a bunch of other mountains; he went hunting and shot a prize trophy elk with the help of a spotter and a gun with some bad-ass technology; he competed in a triathlon. I remember one night Ryan said that he was glad it was he who got shot instead of any of the other guys.