American Sniper

The true story of American Sniper and Chris Kyle. Find out the real life and true events of American Sniper

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper polarised critical opinion when it was released at the turn of the year. While many praised the film for delivering ‘a tense, vivid tribute to its real-life subject’, many accused the tale of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle as inciting racial tensions and glorifying what was already a moral and political minefield. We try to break down what really happened with the True Story of American Sniper, Chris Kyle.

The film follows Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) during his time in Iraq and deals with the struggles Kyle faces in balancing a normal family home life with his less than ordinary work place. We won’t be reviewing the film so there’ll be no wise-cracks about Cooper nursing his infant doll (google it) but we’ll be trying to paint as true a story as we can and ask if the American sniper was truly the ‘deadliest marksman in U.S. military history’.

True Story of Chris Kyle

Kyle was born in Odessa, Texas and was the son of Deby Lynn (a Sunday school teacher) and Wayne Kenneth Kyle (a deacon). Chris’ father bought him his first rifle when he was 8 years old – a bolt-action .30-06 Springfield rifle. Later he bought him a shotgun which they would use to hunt pheasant, quail and deer. When he left school, Kyle became a professional bronco rodeo rider and worked on a ranch but was forced to retire from rodeos after he severely injured his arm.

chris-kyle-army

The U.S. Military

After his arm healed, Kyle went on to join the Special Force and was assigned to SEAL Team 3 – a sniper element platoon within the Naval Special Warfare Command. Kyle went on four tours of duty and served in many major battles including the Iraq War.

In the American Sniper film, Chris Kyle shoots a boy and his mother who are approaching a U.S. Marine convoy concealing a grenade. This was not a real life representation. In his book, Kyle states that a woman does come out of a small house with her child, but she approaches the convoy by herself as she conceals something beneath her clothes. Kyle hesitates shooting the woman but does take the shot. The grenade drops and he fires again as it’s exploding stating it’s “the only time I killed anyone other than a male combatant”. In the book, he indicates that this is his first kill in Iraq.

In 2008, Kyle reportedly made his longest successful shot after spotting an insurgent who was about to fire a grenade at a U.S. Army convoy. Kyle stated that he fired one shot from about 2,100 yards (1,920m) and killed the insurgent.

In the American Sniper film, Kyle’s main rival sniper is an Iraqi named Mustafa. While Mustafa did exist and was known to him, Kyle never encountered Mustafa and only refers to him once in his book as “an Olympics marksman who was using his skills against Americans and Iraqi police and soldiers.”

During four tours of duty in the Iraq War, Kyle was shot twice and caught up in six separate IED explosions. He became known by the nickname ‘Legend’ among the general infantry and other Marines. The title is said to have originated in jest among fellow SEALs following his taking of a sabbatical to train other snipers in Fallujah.

Before leaving the military to “repair his marriage”, Chris Kyle received 14 different awards and decorations for his time serving as a SEAL, including two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. With 255 probable kills, 160 of them officially confirmed by the Pentagon (these numbers are based on individual shooter logs, filled out at the end of a mission, and reported to higher command), Kyle is considered the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. But he falls short of the most kills in global military history as Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä shot 542 Soviet soldiers during the Russian invasion of Finland in World War II.

bradley-cooper

The Autobiography

The film American Sniper was based on Kyle’s 2012 autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. It was written by Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. It’s now sold over 1.2 million copies with 700,000 copies already sold in 2015 alone. Much of that down to the relative success of the film and Kyle’s murder.

The book recalls tales of Kyle and his time in Iraq – a lot of which was used in the film. In the book, he claimed Iraqi insurgents nicknamed him al-Shaitan, or ‘The Devil’ and put a $20,000 bounty on his head. This detail was used in the film. It should be said that the insurgents did put a $20,000 bounty on the heads of all snipers, not just Chris Kyle.

The book has subsequently caused controversies with Chris Kyle’s family claiming he donated his book proceeds to Veterans’ Charity but reports have surfaced that he had kept most of the profit for himself. According to the reports, around 2% ($52,000) went to the charities while Kyle’s family took $3 million. Although nothing has ever been found in evidence.

The sub-chapter called ‘Punching Out Scruff Face’ also had to be removed after a court case which saw Jesse Ventura sue Chris Kyle. While on The Opie and Anthony Show to promote the book, Kyle said that in 2006, he and Jesse Ventura (former Governor of Minnesota and WWF Superstar), who in the book he only refers to as “Scruff Face”, got into a bar fight in Coronado, California. According to Kyle, the incident apparently occurred after Ventura began talking loudly about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Relatives of fallen SEAL Michael Monsoor, who deliberately fell on his own grenade, were in town for his wake and had gathered at the bar. Kyle said that when he asked Ventura to keep his opinions to himself, Ventura told him that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” guys. Kyle claimed to then have punched Ventura.

Jesse Ventura, who was himself a Vietnam veteran, denied the altercation ever took place and filed defamation charges and took the case to court. Controversially, Ventura refused to drop the case following Kyle’s death in 2013. In July 2014, the jury ruled in favour of Ventura, who won $1.845 million in damages against Taya Kyle (as executor of the estate of Chris Kyle).

Other true story of American Sniper Controversies

The American Sniper story has been accused of being an American military propaganda with many accusing Kyle and film of portraying the Iraqi people, in particular, as “a dehumanized mass of savages”. In his book, on the battle for control of Ramadi, Kyle says, “Force moved that battle. We killed the bad guys and brought the leaders to the peace table. That is how the world works.”

Another controversy surrounding Kyle followed his claim that he shot looters during Hurricane Katrina from the roof of the Superdome (the home of the New Orleans Saints NFL team). The story became widely known after it was published in the June 2013 issue of The New Yorker as part of a profile on Chris Kyle. It’s said that Kyle told the story to some fellow Navy SEALs as they were hanging out drinking in his hotel room in 2012. The story ended up reaching the writer of The New Yorker article. Kyle had told them that in 2005, he and another sniper were deployed in New Orleans during Katrina and picked off thirty or so looters from the top of the Superdome. When Nicholas Schmidle, the article’s writer, contacted the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), to confirm the story, he was told, “To the best of anyone’s knowledge at SOCOM, there were no West Coast SEALs deployed to Katrina.” Schmidle then contacted Kyle who replied, “I never heard that story,” adding that it “defies the imagination.”

The Murder of Chris Kyle

Chris Kyle was murdered on the 2nd February 2013 along with his friend Chad Littlefield. 38 and 36, respectively, the pair were shot to death at a Texas gun range.

Kyle had been involved in helping soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On the 2nd February, Kyle and Littlefield agreed to take fellow Iraq War veteran Eddie Ray Routh, aged 25, with them to a rifle range in Glen Rose, Texas as part of a therapeutic outing. They were unaware of just how severe Routh’s mental illness was but it soon become clear. During the 90 minute drive to the shooting range, Kyle texted Littlefield, “This dude is straight-up nuts”.

Routh had been dealing with PTSD and was having difficulty adjusting to postwar life. After shooting both Kyle and Littlefield, he fled in Kyle’s Ford F-350 truck. Kyle was shot six times, Littlefield seven. Both were found with fully loaded guns in their holsters, the safeties still on.

eddie-ray-routh

The Trial of Eddie Ray Routh

Eddie Ray Routh was a war veteran suffering from mental illness. The exact nature of his mental issues is unclear, but police records showed he was taken to a mental hospital twice in the four months prior to the Kyle and Littlefield murders for threatening to kill himself and his family. In one of those incidents, police records show that he became upset with his parents after drinking and told them he planned to “blow his brains out”.

The trial started last week with the prosecutors expected to call Texas Ranger Danny Briley, who will testify that Routh admitted he gunned down the pair. The ex-Marine had allegedly told Briley he first shot “the one I could clearly identify” (an apparent reference to Kyle and his fame). It’s said Routh stated, “I knew if I did not take his soul, he was going to take mine […] I told [my sister] I had to kill a man today. It wasn’t a want to. It was a need. I was going to be the next one up there getting my head shot.”

Routh’s defence is expected to be based on the argument that he was insane at the time of the shootings. There are dash and body camera recordings of Routh after the crime asking police, “Is the apocalypse on top of us right now?” before peeling off in Kyle’s Ford F250 truck, leading them on a 20-minute car chase.

Another police officer has said under oath that he recently overheard Routh making another confession saying that he killed the men because “they wouldn’t talk to me […] I was just riding in the backseat of the truck and nobody would talk to me.”

The trial is on-going.

On the 2nd February 2015, exactly two years after Chris Kyle was killed, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared the day to be “Chris Kyle Day” in his honour.

The True Story of American Sniper is without doubt one of intrigue and many reports surround Chris Kyle and his personality, along with key people pulling major holes in both the book and film. The US Military is without doubt heavily invested in this ‘US Fairytale’, to OK the film and get its release pushed through before trial. This alone is deemed by many to be an unfair use of power and now makes the chances of a fair trial for Eddie Ray Routh near impossible.

There is no doubting Chris Kyle was a key figure in US Military on the ground, but to what level we may never quite know.

Other True Stories:

true-story-of-american-sniper

The Post

The true story of The Post

There couldn’t be a more appropriate time to release a film about press holding a government to account. And thankfully, this Oscar season we’ve got one from Steven Spielberg as he directs Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in The Post, a drama which follows The Washington Post’s exposé of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, revealing the covert involvement of the US government during the Vietnam War.

But what are The Pentagon Papers? What role did Kay Graham (Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Hanks) play in releasing them? And what effect did this mass leak have on the free press? We answer all in the True Story of The Post and The Pentagon Papers.

Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers

In 1967, the US Secretary of Defense – Robert McNamara – commissioned a report on America’s involvement in Vietnam since the WWII titled ‘Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force.’ The report would later be referred to as The Pentagon Papers. Classified in nature, the report drew on material from the CIA and the State Department archives. The study took two years to complete and spanned 47 volumes and over 3,000 pages with over 4,000 supporting documents.

the-post-film-true-story-daniel-ellsberg

Having been a Marine Corps officer in the 1950’s and having completed a PhD in Economics from Harvard, Daniel Ellsberg began working in the Pentagon from August 1964 under McNamara, and worked on the report until its completion in 1968. By 1969, Ellsberg had become disenfranchised with the war and began attending anti-war events.

In October 1969, Ellsberg and his friend Anthony Russo photocopied the completed study with the intention of releasing it, believing the public had a right to know the details of the report. Ellsberg approached members of President Richard Nixon’s government arguing his case, including National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, among others, but Ellsberg was consistently rejected.

What Did The Pentagon Papers Reveal?

The Pentagon Papers, among other things, revealed that four US governments (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson) had ‘systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress’ about the role and strategy of the US during the Vietnam War.

the-post-film-true-story-vietnam-war

More specifically, the leak revealed;

– The US had expanded its war with the bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks, none of which had been reported by media in the US and all of which were against the judgements of the US intelligence agency.
– Harry Truman’s Administration had given military support to France to aid its colonial war against the Viet Minh.
– The Kennedy Administration had played a key role in the 1963 South Vietnamese coup, in which President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated.
– Lyndon B. Johnson had intensified policies into one of ‘broad commitment’ to wage a full-blown war.
– The aim of the Vietnam War was not to secure an “independent, non-Communist South Vietnam”, but according to Robert McNamara, it was “not to help a friend, but to contain China.”

The Washington Post

Katharine ‘Kay’ Graham was born into a wealthy family in New York City in 1917. Her father, Eugene Meyer, was a financier and public official, and later bought The Washington Post in 1933 at a bankruptcy auction. Kay Graham’s husband, Philip Graham became publisher of The Post in 1946, when Meyer handed over the newspaper to his son-in-law. Following Philip’s suicide in 1963, Kay Graham became de facto publisher and later became president of The Washington Post in 1967 and later the chairwoman. At the time of Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Paper release, Ben Bradlee was Executive Editor of The Post.

the-post-film-true-story-kay-graham-ben-bradlee

Having been largely ignored by members of Congress, Daniel Ellsberg decided to leak the controversial report to the press. Sections of The Pentagon Papers were sent to The New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan, who published a series of articles based on the revelations. The first article in the series was released on 13th June 1971 and was titled Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement.

As well as The New York Times, Ellsberg’s leak was also picked up by The Washington Post after he gave portions to Ben Bradlee. The Boston Globe and a range of other newspapers also began releasing classified information. The coverage sparked palpable public anger and even street protests.

Richard Nixon Blocks Publication

In the midst of a national uproar, the Richard Nixon Administration attempted to persuade The New York Times to voluntarily cease publication. Having failed to persuade The Times to stop reporting on The Pentagon Papers, Attorney General John Mitchell and Nixon obtained a federal court injunction forcing the Times to cease publication on grounds that the information violated national security. Having appealed the injunction, the case ‘New York Times Co. v. United States (403 U.S. 713)’ quickly rose through the US legal system to the Supreme Court.

the-post-film-true-story-richard-nixon

The Washington Post then began publishing its own series of articles based upon the Pentagon Papers. Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, warned reporter The Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein about a forthcoming article on the report, saying, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” The Post refused, forcing the government to ask for an injunction.

The injunction was declined by Judge Murray Gurfein, who stated: “[The] security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.”

The Impact of The Pentagon Papers

During The New York Times court case, the US Supreme Court ruled that the publication of the Pentagon Papers was fully justified under the First Amendment – a ruling which has arguably protected the freedom of the press in the United States since.

The Nixon Administration arrested Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo under the Espionage Act of 1917. The pair were indicted by a grand jury in Los Angeles on charges of stealing and being in the possession of secret documents. The trial, however, was soon dismissed after it was revealed that agents acting on Nixon’s orders had illegally broken into the office of Ellberg’s therapist to steal files in attempts to discredit him.

the-post-film-true-pentagon-papers

In June 2011, The Pentagon Papers were declassified and released to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California. Each volume of the Papers is available as a separate PDF file from their website.

Kay Graham & Ben Bradlee

Kay Graham became the first female Fortune 500 CEO in 1972. She led The Washington Post for more than two decades, overseeing the Watergate scandal as well as The Pentagon Papers leaks. Her memoir, titled Personal History, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. She died in Boise in 2001 following a fall.

In recognition of his work as Editor of The Washington Post, in 1998 Bradlee won the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Bradlee spent his final years suffering with dementia and died of natural causes in 2014 at the age of 93.

the-post-film-true-story-ben-bradlee

The Post Film (2017)

A film depicting the release of The Pentagon Papers at The Washington Post was announced in February 2017 with Steven Spielberg on directing duties, telling USA Today, “when I read the first draft of the script, this wasn’t something that could wait three years or two years — this was a story I felt we needed to tell today.”

Titled ‘The Post’, the film sees Meryl Streep play Kay Graham and Tom Hanks play Ben Bradlee – marking the first time the trio have collaborated on a project. The film also features an acclaimed ensemble cast including Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys and Michael Stuhlbarg.

The Post is be out in cinemas across the UK on Friday 19th December.

the-post-film-true-story-hanks-streep

Other True Stories: