Should Snipers Be Praised or Repent?

Editor’s Note: Please welcome TRL’s newest contributor Brian Jacobson as he takes the time in his first post here on the site to examine a trending topic: Chris Kyle and his movie American Sniper.  The issue is not an easy one, especially for those conservative Christians who have been the recipients of all kinds of misinformation and stirring narratives about Bush’s wars.  We hold that the proper conservative position on war is one of hesitancy and skepticism, much the opposite of what we got from the war-time pronouncing of the fake-conservatives, also known as the neoconservatives.

It is difficult in our present cultural setting to stand opposed to the deeds of society’s most cherished sacred cow: the US military.  To offer even one iota of criticism about a certain course of action or the general culture of the US military and its leadership is to invite all sorts of opposition and confrontation.  But it must be done. The founding fathers of the United States warned against standing armies and the financial, moral, and physical dangers of the military arm of the State.  Chris Kyle must be seen as reflective of the Government which he served. Perhaps Ron Paul was right when, much to the stark disapproval of the media and politicians he tweeted: “Chris Kyle’s death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.'”  –CJE


Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has been, to say the least, a box office hit. Predictably the movie has garnered commendation and criticism from the respective corners of Hollywood and media commentary. None of this is exactly surprising, but what was surprising was to find Rick Phillips giving an assessment of the movie and the issues it brings to light. While a deep analysis of the cost of intervention or the non-aggression principle cannot be expected, one at least hopes that some amount of biblical ethics and Just War Theory might cool down the smoke of militaristic fervor. Vigorous ethical reasoning was really altogether absent with a false dichotomy of pacifism and Statism, and a superficial analysis that leaves the American flag so tightly wrapped around the Bible that it cannot be opened to let us glean from its wisdom and pastoral counsel.

Phillips assesses the question of whether or not Christian should praise snipers. From the get-go it is a strange question and sets up Pastor Phillips for failure. Should Christians praise snipers? Well, which snipers? From what side? In what war? Is this a general question about the morality of using scoped rifles as a combat strategy? No. Rather Phillips is asking whether or not Chris Kyle, as one particular sniper in one particular war, should be praised by Christians and whether or not individuals of the American military should feel good or bad about their escapades.

Reluctant shooter or Eager “Shock & Awe”

First let us just consider Chris Kyle. Philips’ post and the movie (in contrast to the book) present Kyle as a sympathetic soldier hesitating to the extreme to avoid unnecessary killing. But there was no such turmoil deep within Kyle’s soul between serving Caesar and taking people’s lives. “Savage, despicable evil…That’s what we were fighting in Iraq…. People ask me all the time, `How many people have you killed?’… The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more.” In contrast to the movie he frankly loved taking the “savages” lives, and that’s what he called them, savages. Not citizens of a nation (or image bearers of God) defending their neighborhood from an invading foreign army (this will be addressed in a moment), but savages clearly not worthy of life.

Chris Kyle is an excellent example of the strategy so dubbed by Donald Rumsfeld “Shock & Awe,” used to achieve rapid dominance with little regard for innocents disregarded as collateral damage. “Our ROEs when the war kicked off were pretty simple: If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ‘em. Kill every male you see. That wasn’t the official language, but that was the idea” (79). Kyle also proudly recalls that “we spray-painted it [the punisher skull] on every building and walls when we could. We wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to f**k with you…. You see us, we’re the people kicking your a**. Fear us because we will kill you, mother****r.” As Sheldon Richman points out, in a recent interview with Scott Horton[1], this is not just what Kyle thinks of Al-Qaeda insurgents (who were not present in Iraq until long after the invasion), this is his opinion of all Iraqis. In his memoir he recounts a buddy who bought a diamond ring from an Iraqi citizen, with which he wanted to propose to his girlfriend. Kyle was in disbelief that his comrade had bought it from “savages.”

This may not be enough to convince Philips that military service in Iraq is not quite praiseworthy but it should caution us against deeming Kyle as the patron saint of citizen soldiers and making him an example to our children.

Whatever happened to Just War?

“Courage, which is conspicuous in danger and enterprise, if devoid of justice, is absolutely undeserving of the name of valor. It should rather be considered as a brutal fierceness outraging every principle of humanity.”[2] Here is where Phillips’ post really falls short, for it may be the one actual Christian doctrine complete with historical precedent that may have helped him. Yet Phillips barely even alludes to “Just War” in a disastrous parenthetical tribute, “(Admittedly, the question of whether or not the people our snipers were shooting in Iraq and Afghanistan should be considered evil – or at least the agents of evil – is another question, one with which I am personally very satisfied.)” I’m not sure what is worse here, the lumping of all Iraqi citizens as agents of evil or the assertion that Iraq and Afghanistan have anything to do with one another. The movie certainly attempts to do this with flashing images of 9/11 and conflation of Al-Qaeda and Saddam.

The simple fact is that Chris Kyle violently invaded a country that had never attacked him or his country, had never threatened to attack him, nor did it even have the means to attack him. Just war theory does not State the enemy must be evil, it means it must be a defensive war. There were no weapons of mass destruction, the only exception of course being the one’s we gave Saddam in the eighties leading up to the Iran-Contra affair found buried in the sand decommissioned just like they were supposed to be. There were no terrorist training camps, Ahmed Chalabi and his gang of dissidents had already been rejected by the CIA. In fact, there was no Al-Qaeda! Until we invaded! That’s the whole point of having a Baathist secular dictatorship. There was no smoking gun waiting to become a mushroom cloud. Here was the textbook definition of a war of aggression condemned in the Nuremburg Trials.

Under international law Iraqi’s had every right to defend their streets and neighborhood from the very empire that had propped up the current dictator to oppress them. This point mystifies Americans. “How could you defend the Iraqi citizens for killing our boys?” How dare they not welcome “us” as liberators like Richard Perle said they would? How could they not adore the country that has bombed them for almost two decades straight now? Or love the country that in the name of “Punishing Saddam” put up economic sanctions that starved over 500,000[3] innocent children to death? Perhaps the Sunni minority country didn’t want Shi’ite death squads and the Iranian backed Badr Brigade being set up by their new foreign invaders. This is not to say anything about Islam or Iraqi culture and mindsets at the time, but the fact is its irrelevant in a war of aggression, you are the invader and they are the defenders.

Which brings up an objection some movie goers may pose. Weren’t those attacking the troops just Al-Qaeda insurgents who had no regard for human life and just wanted to kill anyone who wasn’t Muslim, such as the infamous “Butcher” of the movie? While it would take a long time to go over the false assumptions and bad timeline of Al-Qaeda in the beginning of the invasion the second part is rather easy. The “Butcher of Baghdad” was a real person, unfortunately as the State Department’s own leaked cable points out, he was the U.S. backed Shiite death squad leader who set out to purge Baghdad of the Sunni’s and who was then appointed as the head of Interior Ministry. The State Department’s own cables note he had personally ordered 2,000 attacks on Sunnis, and it was well known that “one of [Amiri’s] preferred methods of killing allegedly involved using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries.”[4] These are the people the U.S. allied itself with in this invasion, who they set up as the new “liberal democracy”. Chris Kyle was killing those who would dare to defend themselves from this.

Two other objections to this must be addressed quickly. The one is that the troops were defending our freedom or opposing evil. Phillips doesn’t exactly raise this common objection but alludes to the general fact that they were fighting “tyranny,” and he does refer to the soldiers as “defending us.” As Jacob Hornberger points out this is as ludicrous now as it was during Vietnam.[5] What danger exactly were we in with Saddam in power? What freedom did the troops protect? The freedom of the NSA to spy on us? The freedom of the State Department to steal money from people in this country and give it to the rulers of others? Was Saddam’s police force going to institute civil asset forfeitures? Were his special forces going to set up hundreds of black sites around the world to torture people without trial, lock them in coffins for weeks, and do forced rectal feeding tubes when the prisoners tried to escape the torture by starving themselves to death? Maybe Saddam, like all Muslims, had no respect for life and would set up a culture of death, where women could bring their unborn children to be slaughtered by the millions by state registered doctors! Maybe his agents would even steal your money and fund the organizations that did this! What horrible atrocity that the U.S. is not already committing was Saddam going to inflict on us?

Another common objection is that Chris Kyle was killing people who would have otherwise killed him or his friends. This is ludicrous for the reason that it was an unjust war to begin with! If I am already guilty of breaking and entering I can’t claim I killed the home owner in self-defense because he had a shotgun. If a bank robber shoots a security guard who was about to kill his partner in crime is he a hero? No! Calling it war and wearing uniforms doesn’t stop it from being murder.

Is participating in Mass Murder “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s”

“Faithful military service,” that’s what Rick Phillips call the now 24 year war executed by U.S. troops that I’ve described above. Here is where the article jumps into the absurd. By some considerable logical leaps Phillips comes to the conclusion that Jesus Christ our Lord would have told Kyle “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Phillips in line with the New Testament states we are to “be subject to the governing authorities.” Next he asserts that the State has been given the sword to execute God’s wrath on wrong doers. From there he goes on to say the a sniper rifle is much like a sword in its ultimate end and can therefore be used by the State and since Christians must “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” they are required to serve as soldiers in that just cause. Of course when the question of whether or not the cause is just comes up Phillips skirts the question! But it is a long stretch to get from Christ’s “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” and Paul’s admonition to not return evil for evil and subject yourselves under Nero to then say “Join the ARMY!” Does Roman 13 command, or even permit us, to join an unjust war and violently invade and kill innocent people because Uncle Sam said so?

Thankfully God’s Word gives us an answer “We must obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5:29). We never need to disobey God’s law in one area in order to follow it another. Our duty to subject ourselves to the State despite its evil is not an invitation to participate in its evil.

For what of an Iraqi citizen’s “duty” to Caesar? What would Phillips tell a Christian pastor in Iraq to say? Was it their duty to fight for Saddam? We’re not these people citizens of the nation-state of Iraq with all of the duties Phillips describes? Their Caesar had called them to defend their homeland from unprovoked invasion based on lies. Was it then the duty of Iraqi snipers to fire at Chris Kyle, were they praise worthy? Weren’t they to be “subject to the governing authorities?” This was their home and it was being destroyed by a country that had been harassing, bombing, starving, and torturing their people for years.

PTSD & Drugs, or Guilt & Repentance

I agree with Phillips that we “owe it to [U.S. soldiers] to face the reality they have been living and to help them deal with the psychological challenges of active military service.” As Christians who have been given God’s word, including His righteous law and gracious gospel, we have the cure, indeed the double, to what ails them. But here Phillips misses a pastoral opportunity to truly help whose diagnosis of PTSD and suicide has been skyrocketing. However, like a doctor, if we misdiagnose the problem here it will have disastrous consequences for them. If they simply have some “psychological challenges” to get over then we’ll just give them some psychiatric drugs, give them a pat on the back, and some good affirming words. But what if it’s not PTSD? What if it’s Guilt? What if it’s the guilt of violating God’s law and murdering image bearers of God in an unjust war?

I know it may not be popular to suggest to a veteran that maybe his biggest need is to confess his sins before God and plead for forgiveness, but if the church isn’t going to tell him—who will? Where will he find the grace he needs? Will it be any culturally harder than telling homosexuals to repent in the 21st century? Maybe instead of sleeping pills and flag ceremonies at the ball game we can give them the gospel. The scars of war are a heavy burden but the weight of sin will drag a man to hell. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:2-5)



[2] In an article that came out long before the movie Will Grigg assessed what he called the “pseudo-courage” of Chris Kyle, his article begins with this quotation from Cicero, The Offices, Book I Chapter XIX,

[3], 500,000 first graders could fill 6,667 school buses making a line almost 50 miles long parked bumper to bumper, but don’t worry it’s just savages right?



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