It is very difficult to discuss trauma in American Sniper, because the author, Chris Kyle, barely mentions it; in fact, he never once uses the word. While many soldiers who served in Iraq suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their experiences (including guilt for killing other human beings), Kyle claims that he always relished killing Iraqi insurgents, and knows that one day, God will forgive him for his kills. However, Kyle also shows many of the classic symptoms of PTSD, as reported by his wife, Taya Kyle: he screams in his sleep, can’t relax as a civilian, drinks heavily, gets into fights, and hungers for more military service. It’s entirely possible that Kyle’s strong code of machismo leads him to deny his own trauma. Furthermore, it’s possible—even if Kyle himself denies it—that Kyle’s initial kills in Iraq traumatize him and allow him to make further kills without guilt: PTSD gives him a sense of detachment from his actions in Iraq. Even if it’s unclear if the act of killing itself causes trauma in Kyle, it’s still important for us to read between the lines and study some of the other wartime experiences that traumatized Kyle.
One of the major causes of trauma in Kyle is his guilt at allowing fellow soldiers to die or come into harm’s way. Kyle is given an incredible amount of responsibility in Iraq: not only does he have to defend himself and attack insurgents, but he must also provide backup for his friends as they raid buildings, fight insurgent groups, and build military bases. Even more than the average Navy SEAL, then, Kyle feels a profound sense of responsibility to his peers. Kyle’s sense of responsibility turns into guilt after he accidentally puts his close friend Ryan Job in danger. Kyle orders Job, a younger, less experienced officer, to stand at a street corner; as a result, Job steps into harm’s way. An insurgent fires upon Job, hitting him in the head and eventually causing him to go blind. Although Job eventually forgives Kyle, and remains good friends with him, Kyle can’t entirely forgive himself for Job’s accident. Even when he’s back in the U.S. with his wife and children, Kyle continues to feel guilty; it’s strongly suggested that he takes his guilt out on himself by drinking heavily and getting into fights. Another major cause of trauma for Kyle is his own sense of mortality. Kyle’s military service requires him to endanger his life on an almost daily basis, and the culture of machismo encourages him to savor the thrills of danger. Nevertheless, Kyle’s brushes with death take a heavy toll on him. By his final tour of Iraq, he’s unable to enjoy fighting, as he claimed he could during his first tours. He feels a constant sense of stress, knowing that he could be shot.
Even if Kyle is too proud to admit it, it seems clear enough that he suffers from trauma as a result of his experiences in wartime. While there is no definite cure for post-traumatic stress disorder, American Sniper suggests that it’s possible to overcome some of one’s trauma, albeit slowly. After returning from the service, Kyle struggles to adjust to the pace and low stakes of civilian life; however, he finds tremendous joy and peace in spending time with his wife and taking care of his two young children. Kyle also finds that he can fend off his own trauma by helping other military veterans deal with their PTSD. Kyle’s admirable work with PTSD-suffering veterans has a poignant ending: in 2013, Kyle was murdered by a mentally disturbed veteran—a tragic reminder that trauma sustained in combat can haunt soldiers for the rest of their lives and cause suffering for other people, too. Kyle seems to have been lucky enough to find a measure of relief for his own guilt and trauma, but not everyone is.
Trauma 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.
One time I woke up to him grabbing my arm with both of his hands. One hand was on the forearm and one just slightly above my elbow. He was sound asleep and appeared to be ready to snap my arm in half, I stayed as still as possible and kept repeating his name, getting louder each time so as not to startle him, but also to stop the impending damage to my arm. Finally, he woke and let go.
Slowly, we settled into some new habits, and adjusted.
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.)
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.
"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.
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.
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.