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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2017

1 - The Mythic Shape of American Sniper (2015)

from Part I - Dramatisations of the ‘War on Terror’


God blew that bullet and hit him.

Chris Kyle describing his 2,100 yard kill in an interview with the New York Post (Buiso 2012)

Finally, the movie [American Sniper] gives America something it's lacked since the start of the war – a war hero on a trulynational, cultural scale … Chris Kyle has entered the pantheon of American warriors – along with Alvin C. York and Audie Murphy – giving a new generation of young boys a warrior–hero to look up to, to emulate.

David French in the National Review (2015)

More than any other single figure, Chris Kyle, author of the autobiographical American Sniper (2012), seems to have emerged as a widely recognised and respected hero of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). This essay endeavours to locate his persona among the emblems of American mythology and ideology that emerged in the wars waged against so many enemies and that still offer no prospects of ending. One interpretative option to consider was described in our study The Myth of the America Superhero (2002) where we advised against the seductive myth of Golden Violence enacted by superheroes, scenarios that warrant the circumvention of law and institutional safeguards as well as punishments that miraculously never injure the innocent. In Captain America and the Crusade against Evil (2003), anticipating the war with Iraq, we reminded readers about the US history of religiously tinged millennial crusading whose ideological premises are so often expressed by pop superheroes. In a kind of shorthand, we called that apocalyptic crusading mentality ‘the Captain America Complex’ because of the Captain's recurring apocalyptic battles to save the world in the comic book pages. The canonical statement of the ‘Complex’ in foreign policy had surfaced at the time of the Spanish American War when Albert J. Beveridge (1898) spoke these words to his fellow US Senators: ‘Almighty God … has marked the American people as the chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America … We are the trustees of the world's progress, guardians of the righteous peace.’

Now that a US Navy sniper has moved to centre stage of the theatre where national memories are formed and unwelcome facts shoved behind the curtains, we want to explore the implications.