North Texas Daily

Focus is on Chris Kyle for all the wrong reasons

Focus is on Chris Kyle for all the wrong reasons

February 16
23:51 2015

The Editorial Board

Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle deserves to be honored as an American hero, but we should not esteem his celebrity over the legacies of so many other veterans who died in battle or were afflicted with the aftermaths of war. The “American Sniper” conversation should not only resemble a portrayal of Kyle’s service and life, but should also be seen as an opportunity to motivate change for veteran mental health.

The Oscar-nominated “American Sniper” lassoed our attention to the killings of Kyle, 38, and Chad Littlefield, 35, who were trying to help  a fellow veteran. The trial is currently underway in Stephenville, Texas, for the former Marine who allegedly shot the two on Feb. 2, 2013 at a Texas gun range. The accused’s attorneys are claiming insanity by way of war-related mental health disorder.

The trial is an emotional one, given the proximity to the premiere of the Clint Eastwood film. Headlines continually title this as the American Sniper trial, which readers identify with easily.

By linking the narrative of the trial in conjecture with Kyle’s story (both the film and the book), the issue of war veteran mental health is trivialized. The relevance of mental health among veterans should not depend on a Hollywood film’s topicality. The trial is where our concerns should lie.

“American Sniper” is a top-notch film, and delivers an important message, but be careful not to get wrapped up in Hollywood excitement. Kyle’s legacy should not lie with the film, but his story should lend anecdotally to the broad debate concerning the domestic care of returning veterans.

While post-traumatic stress disorder is not a new topic, in 2014, it was uncovered that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had been in many ways neglecting our nation’s warriors. If the man was indeed mentally ill at the time of the slayings, his case should be used as a reference in the search for effective PTSD treatments. 

As of late, mental health treatment is among the high priorities in medicine, both civilian and military. It needs to continue, and the Hollywood limelight of this trial should advance this cause.

This is a moment to seize for American culture, but the momentum must continue once the film leaves the box office. “American Sniper” has the opportunity to be remembered in the context of great improvement. The movie created a Kyle who viewers care about. It’s that emotion that needs to be exploited in order to promote new efforts in veteran care.

Recall the most important films throughout history. Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is more than a classic. It was a symbol of hope to Americans in a pre-World War II mindset — it meant something to democracy. “Saving Private Ryan” remains a cinematic reference to the events of D-Day on Normandy Beach in June 1944. We can gaze back through film to equate emotions with moments in history. Do not underestimate the power of cinema.

The film itself is not particularly accommodating to this, as it focuses on one character, indulging in Kyle. With that perspective, the movie offers a limited explanation of veteran health, which is why we are calling for increased emphasis of PTSD and mental health concerns of our men and women in uniform. Do not allow “American Sniper” to influence the way we feel about the real-life trial happening in North Texas.

Notice the issues discussed in court, and in the media — think about them. Think about them in such a way absent of your recollection of “American Sniper,” and the emotions with it. Rather, see the film objectively as one SEAL’s personal journey, and allow it to be a reference in the overall veteran health care conversation.

Recently, Gov. Greg Abbott declared Feb. 2 Chris Kyle Day in Texas. While this is an admirable gesture, Abbott embellishes too much on Kyle, and less about other Texas veterans. Declaring a day of remembrance for one man contradicts the very ideals Abbott himself said Kyle stood for: defending his brothers and sisters in arms on and off the battlefield. The military is the oldest type of fraternity and one that does not value individuals over the group.

This state holiday didn’t come when Kyle returned home. This day didn’t come when Kyle’s book was released. It only came after “American Sniper” brought in $300 million at the box office and Michael Moore made derogatory comments about the film. Abbott was simply jumping onto the patriotic bandwagon to garner attention as a newly elected governor.

It’s called the “American Sniper Trial,” but the film does not embody the actual problem that led to the trial – mental health issues among returning veterans. Turn your attention toward the issue, and ignore the emotions associated with the film.

Featured Image: Navy Seal Sniper Chris Kyle signs a copy of his book “American Sniper” for a Camp Pendleton sailor at the base’s Country Store, Jan. 13, 2014. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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1 Comment

  1. NTDreader4267
    NTDreader4267 September 14, 10:11

    Chris Kyle is no hero.

    Reply to this comment

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