One of the most troubling aspects of American Sniper is Chris Kyle’s view of Middle Easterners—a view that a great many people have interpreted as outright racism. Again and again, Kyle refers to the people he encounters in Iraq as “savages.” At times, it seems that he’s strictly referring to insurgents and terrorists; however, there are many points in the book in which he suggests all Iraqis are savage, brutal, and inhuman. Shortly after the publication of American Sniper, it was also revealed that Kyle had made racially inflammatory comments about shooting black looters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, further suggesting his racist worldview.
People who defend American Sniper from charges of racism often argue that Chris Kyle hated terrorist insurgents, not all Iraqis. Kyle writes frequently about killing Iraqi insurgents, and even brags about some of his kills. Furthermore, he describes himself as being surrounded by “savages” in Iraq. However, Kyle’s defenders insist that the “savages” are radical terrorists—people who are violent, cruel, and contemptible. Kyle’s defenders also point to a passage in which he suggests that many of the insurgents in Iraq weren’t really Muslims at all; they twisted the Muslim religion to justify their own lust for power and violence. This passage might suggest that Kyle regards Islam as a religion of peace, and does not—like many Islamophobes—regard all Muslims or Islam itself as wicked.
Nevertheless, there is an overwhelming case that Kyle was a racist, and regarded all Iraqis as savage and inhuman. To begin with, the word “savage” (which Kyle repeats again and again) connotes not just evil, but a basic, systematic lack of civilization and morality. Put another way, the word “savage” is always an implicit indictment of an entire group of people, never just one person. This suggests Kyle’s belief that Iraq itself is an uncivilized, barbaric country, and that all the people of Iraq are thus barbaric. For example, even though he’s been sent to Iraq to install democratic leadership, Kyle expresses his doubts that democracy will ever catch on in the country, again suggesting his broad, general distaste for the Iraqi people, not just a few insurgents. Furthermore, Kyle makes statements suggesting that he sees the lives of Iraqi people as cheap. In one chapter, he begs his commanding officer for the freedom to shoot at all Iraqis riding on mopeds, since he’s noticed several insurgents carrying bombs on such vehicles—the strong possibility that he might end up murdering an innocent human being seems not to concern him in the slightest. In another even more disturbing scene, he brags about refusing to shoot at a child who picks up a gun, noting, “I wasn’t going to kill a kid, innocent or not”—clearly suggesting that he thinks it’s possible for a small Iraqi child to be guilty.
For many of the soldiers who served in Iraq in the 2000s, the greatest challenge of their active duty was telling the difference between dangerous insurgents and ordinary Iraqi people. But unlike many other American soldiers, Kyle seems not to worry about accidentally killing innocent Iraqis; on the contrary, he curses his commanding officers for making him be so cautious with his shots, and for preventing him from shooting more people. It’s hard not to think that Kyle behaves this way because he doesn’t regard the life of an innocent Iraqi as being very valuable to begin with. Kyle remains a hero and a martyr to many, but it’s crucial that readers understand not just his bravery and daring, but also his cruelty and flippancy about Iraqi lives—both of which strongly suggest that he was a racist.
Racism 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.
The people we were fighting in Iraq, after Saddam's army fled or was defeated, were fanatics. They hated us because we weren't Muslim. They wanted to kill us, even though we'd just booted out their dictator, because we practiced a different religion than they did.
Isn't religion supposed to teach tolerance?
People say you have to distance yourself from your enemy to kill him. If that's true, in Iraq, the insurgents made it really easy. My story earlier about what the mother did to her child by pulling the pin on the grenade was only one gruesome example.
The fanatics we fought valued nothing but their twisted interpretation of religion. And half the time they just claimed they valued their religion—most didn't even pray. Quite a number were drugged up so they could fight us.
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.
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 shot the first beach ball. The four men began flailing for the other three balls.
I shot beach ball number two.
It was kind of fun.
Hell—it was a lot of fun.
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.
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.
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."
It was a kid. A child.
I had a clear view in my scope, but I didn't fire. I wasn't going to kill a kid, innocent or not. I'd have to wait until the savage who put him up to it showed himself on the street.