Snow & chocolate

The blizzard skipped past us with minimal effect - six inches, max - but why not? It's National Chocolate Cake Day.

Wait, isn't that every day?


The chaos in Yemen encapsulates a lot of the complicated civil war wracking Islam. As difficult as it is to explain the situation to a Western audience, I think this NY Times story, especially down towards the bottom, does a reasonable job.

To a very large extent, the West and the U.S. are just bystanders in the larger conflicts shaking the Islamic world. At the heart of the conflict is a question of what century and what values the Middle East will live in and by in the future.

The first interview

Two or three weeks before American Sniper was published, Chris Kyle came up to New York for an interview with Time magazine. The interview was condensed for publication; the magazine has now made the full transcript available on the web here:

It was the first time that Chris talked to the media about the book and his experiences. I still vividly remember him sitting across from the interviewer, Belinda Luscombe, as she asked him the questions.

Belinda Luscombe was extremely professional and gracious, and Chris responded in kind. I doubt that all of her personal opinions would have matched up with Chris's, but you would never have known that from her manner. I still think of this as one of the best and respectful interviews that Chris gave, and admire Luscombe for her skill.

Here's a very brief excerpt; I highly recommend the whole interview:

So why did you decide to do the book?
Well, because I’m not trying to glorify myself. In fact, when we started the book I didn’t want to put the number [of kills] in there. I wanted to be able to get it out about not the sacrifices that the military members make, but the sacrifices that their families have to go through about the single mothers now raising their children and doing all the day-to-day house chores. But then also stories about my guys who deserve to be out there. They didn’t get the Medal of Honor so you don’t know about them, but they died heroes and people should know about them.

Ryan Job & Marc Lee

I gave the wrong impression in a few of the interviews this week when I talked about the men who inspired Chris to tell his story in American Sniper.

Chris wanted to give proper due to Ryan Job and Marc Lee, two good friends and fellow SEALs who were with him in Ramadi. Marc died on the battlefield. Ryan, though severely wounded, managed to survive. Though blind, he inspired Chris and many others with his fight to live a normal life. Among other things, he married a beautiful wife and was expecting a baby when, a couple of years after the war, he died of complications following surgery related to his wounds.

We got it right in the book, but sometimes I don’t make Ryan's immediate fate clear when speaking in quick interviews, and I apologize for confusing anyone.

Incidentally, Marc’s memory lives on here.
On Mr. Moore, et al . . .

I realize that in wake of any great success, there is bound to be some controversy and negative criticism. It’s the price we pay for success, and the privilege of living in the country with the greatest tradition of free speech the world has ever known.

But while I think that all critics of American Sniper are absolutely and fundamentally entitled to their opinions, I feel an obligation to supply a little more information so that those opinions can at least be made with some reference on facts rather than fantasies.

As many others who have not read the book, Michael Moore recently made some remarks that, at least in my interpretation, equated snipers to being cowards. That betrays a grave misunderstanding of how and why snipers were used in the Iraq War.

If I read the tweets correctly, Mr. Moore unfortunately lost an uncle during World War II to a German sniper. I am grateful to his uncle for his service in the war; his blood helped keep my family free. In that war, a great deal of collateral damage was done to cities, towns and villages as the allies fought to liberate them. Not only were whole building reduced to rubble, but many innocent civilians were caught in the crossfire, or crushed by artillery shells and bombs.

We don’t think about this today, but there were plenty of civilians in France, Italy and the rest of Europe when the allies liberated it, often square foot by square foot.
In the years following that awful war, civilian leaders have preached the importance of cutting down on collateral damage, of preserving not only life but the infrastructure of communities whenever possible.

Minimizing civilian casualties in war is a difficult, though worthy task. Various technologies and tactics were employed in the Second Gulf War – including using snipers to make precision kills on enemy combatants. To be brief, highly trained marksmen, like Chris Kyle, were given precision weapons and extremely tight Rules of Engagement to counter terrorists who were targeting not merely Americans but Iraqi civilians.

As you can read in the book, snipers became the target of choice for insurgents once their positions were known – which was essentially as soon as they fired. The reason Chris – and other snipers – had such high “kill” counts was that the enemy recognized that they were valuable targets and did whatever they could to attack, generally in numbers far higher than the Americans they were attacking.

The movie really didn’t have time to explain the tactics, but you can certainly imply much of this watching the battle scenes. If you do want a fuller picture, though, I’d suggest reading the book.

A lot of people have focused on the number of kills we used in the book as horrific. That number – whatever number you chose to insert, as I see is often done – pales in comparison to the number of combatants killed by other means such as artillery or machine guns in previous wars. But for some reason we don’t think about those totals.

Chris would say we’re right not to think about the totals of enemy killed. The number he was interested in was how many people he saved. That number, thankfully, was far into the thousands.
As to whether the fight was worth it or not, Chris’s perspective was always that he didn’t make that call. Congress and the President sent him to Iraq. Once he was there, he did his job: protect Iraqis and his fellow Americans.

Were the people he fought savages? Read the first few pages of the book and decide. Or just watch the movie trailer. You can do both of those for free.

But you don’t have to trust my perspective on the war, or even Chris’s. Johnny Walker – an Iraqi, Muslim, and coincidentally a friend of Chris’s – put his own thoughts together in a book I helped him write, Code Name: Johnny Walker.

I pray that someday war won’t be necessary, that people like Chris Kyle and Michael Moore’s uncle won’t need to give our country a blank check on their lives, and that their families won’t have to make the sacrifices that military service demands. Until that day, I am enormously grateful that they do.