I have to admit I saw the movie first before ever considering reading the book. In fact I didn’t even consider taking the book version until my brother in law put me onto it. And I am so glad he did.
I guess I should start with a few disclaimers. I’m ex-Royal Aussie Air Force, pro soldier but anti the pollies who send our kids to war, pro gun and pro background checks. I believe the Diggers who came back from Gallipoli had it right when they said war is a waste of time and lives, but when we send our kids I think we should be giving them every possible support both during and after their service.
First to the comparison between the movie and the audio book.
Warning. If you are looking for any humanist coverage of the war from the “other side” this is not for you. It’s simply the view of one man with supreme confidence he is “fighting the good fight”.
As offensive as some folk find the movie, it has been toned down from the original story which probably makes good box office sense, but it weakens the educational parts of the account. For the record, I enjoyed the movie because if you are paying attention to the details it brings home the fact that we don’t really honour our service men and women both here and in the States. While you are serving you mostly get the respect, but heaven help you when the health issues kick in later in life. This is much more obvious in the book version.
And another thing you can say about the book is it hasn’t been sanitised. The ugly side of Chris Kyle is there for all to see. Bragging about bastardisation within the ranks, most especially the fascination with “choking out” new recruits is very unflattering as is the way he feels he is on a Christian Crusade. It’s a stark reminder of how easily manipulated folk can be through their religion and just how far away America might be from thinking clearly about the War on Terror.
But it also shows a man who feels responsible for his fellow combatants and how difficult it was for him to finally put family before the military. In a way he was manipulated to keep re-enlisting by a system that doesn’t really care for the wellbeing of their employees.
Surprisingly, some chapters are attributed to Chris’s wife but she isn’t credited for that work and in the audio book they haven’t simply used a woman’s voice to cover her chapters. I don’t know if I should read misogyny into that or laziness on the part of the producers, but in a curious way it helps keep the testosterone dripping.
Most shocking of all is the transition between being in a combat situation and being back home having a Barbeque a day or two later. There’s something decidedly unsettling about putting a returned soldier in a domestic situation where a barking dog can set off a violent reaction, never mind driving a car. I couldn’t help thinking about American movies where some country folk have a gun rack behind the driver. Some how that seems unwise if a person is having flashbacks.
The essence of this account for me came down to the politics. For those pollies who love to front up for the military bands and stand in front of a string of flags, that’s not supporting our troops. That’s a selfish photo opportunity which does not entitle you to claim that mantle. The true definition of Supporting our Troops is providing the best equipment for personal safety, NOT trying to cut their wages (a la Tony Abbott), and providing follow-up support once they come home and/or leave the services.
Here is where the movie version hits its straps. There is constant tension when Chris is back home and you are never quite sure if a flashback is going to trigger violence and even death. That’s not a fanciful movie device either. The stats for suicide on returned troops are staggering in the US and here in Oz the Defence Department claim they don’t even capture those data.
If that is true, then Australia stands as even less supportive than the US system is. Something our Pollies should address immediately.
In summary, this story is well worth taking the time to listen to or read. It doesn’t come over all “Boys Own” heroics or gloss over Chris’s personality. It doesn’t run a governmental PR exercise either. It feels like the first hand account of someone who has had to put their life on the line to help others and that is all it claims for itself.
Sure it’s ugly. War IS ugly. But a frank first hand account might just break through to those who sign up for every war opportunity that presents itself.
I sure as hell hope so.