The Man Who Killed the 'American Sniper' Was a War Victim Too – Sniper Fans Want Him Dead
American Sniper is now the highest-grossing war film in U.S. history, as the movie continues to bring in huge box office receipts in the run up to the Oscars.
But soon media attention will shift from the star of the film, the late Chris Kyle, to the man who killed him, fellow veteran Eddie Ray Routh. Routh's trial is set to start soon – with initial proceedings beginning next Wednesday -- in Stephenville, Texas. His lawyers are concerned that he will not receive a fair trial in the backdrop of the success of the film, which lionizes Kyle.
An overview of some of the reactions from viewers of the film validates their concerns. Here's a few Tweets among hundreds of social media reactions slamming Routh:
American Sniper spends its 134 minutes building Chris Kyle into a towering, sympathetic figure – an All-American cowboy with a wife and child who just wants to serve his country and defeat Iraqi “savages” the film suggests were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Only in the film's concluding title cards is it mentioned that Kyle was slain by Routh, and it's an almost natural reaction for audiences to loathe a man who killed someone they spent two hours being convinced was a hero.
But the film doesn't tell the story of this second veteran, who, unlike the real-life Kyle (and not the film version) was actually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and lived a life haunted by what he had seen.
In the summer of 2013, The New Yorker interviewed Routh's family – his mother Jodi and his father Raymond are most prominently featured -- and friends as part of a profile on Chris Kyle. The details about Routh serve as a troubled reminder of the trauma and horror that the Iraq war wreaked on America's veterans.
What's most amazing about the details of Routh's time in Iraq is that it seemed to have the exact opposite effect on him that it had on Kyle. Kyle returned home from the war a celebrity, writing a book to net millions of dollars for his family. He found the war to be “fun,” and wished to go back if he could. The Iraqis he killed all deserved to die, and he even mused that he wished he could shoot people for holding a Quran. He was never, as far as public records show, diagnosed with PTSD.
For Routh, things were not so pleasant, as The New Yorker explains:
The Marines trained Routh to be an armorer, a specialist at fixing weapons. It was natural work for him; he and his dad had hunted since Routh was young. “You could hand him a gun and he was on it,” Jodi said. In September, 2007, Routh deployed to Iraq, where he was stationed at Balad Air Base, fifty-five miles north of Baghdad. He witnessed several mortar attacks on the base; once, while he was on the phone with Raymond, sirens began blaring, and he said that he had to take cover. He spent much of his time guarding prisoners. Routh told Raymond that he found some of the jail’s rules too harsh, noting that prisoners received only three squares of toilet paper a day. Balad contained at least one “black” prison, according to a 2009 Times article.
Early one morning, Routh called Raymond from Iraq after he had been out on a patrol. He was upset. Raymond, who retains the accent of his native Mississippi, recalled, “Eddie said to me, ‘How would you feel if I killed a kid?’ I said, ‘You gotta do what you gotta do to survive and come home.’ That’s a dad talking to his son. I told him, you know, ‘It’s you or them. Come home.’ ” Raymond told me that he didn’t discuss the matter more specifically, but added, “They got into some stuff over there they shouldn’t have to do.”
In March, 2009, Routh returned to the U.S., and a month later he flew to Texas for Laura’s wedding. He didn’t talk much about Iraq, but his family noticed changes in his personality. Once, he and Laura were in the back yard when a neighbor fired a nail gun; Routh lunged for the ground and hollered, “Get down!” He also drank heavily, which, to Raymond’s mind, was his son’s way of “pushing back all the memories.” Raymond told me that Routh had been a drinker since high school, but it had been mostly beer, three or four at a time. Now Routh drank hard liquor until he passed out. He started drinking early on the day of the wedding and became belligerent, at one point hurling a deodorant stick at a female cousin.
Yet the horrors of Iraq weren't the only horrendous events that Routh experienced. In 2010, he deployed to Haiti after the earthquake. He later recounted to his mother how he had to pick up the bodies of dead babies as part of his duties. He also told her a story of how he tried to give an M.R.E. – a military food ration – to a Haitian boy and his sergeant wouldn't allow him. “He said, 'I was strong, I could have made it. He needed some food and I didn't give it to him, Mom,” recounted Jodi.
Soon after Routh was diagnosed with PTSD, and began drinking heavily. He grew violent, getting into fights with family, and he was hospitalized in a psychiatric institution. His mother told The New Yorker she was so worried she would just return home and find him dead.
Eventually Routh's family met Kyle, and the rest is history. Kyle and another military friend took Routh to a shooting range, where Routh went on to shoot both of them.
Shortly after Kyle's death, former Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul, fired off a biting Tweet, “Chris Kyle’s death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’ Treating PTSD at a firing range doesn’t make sense.” Paul later walked the statement back and wrote his condolences to Kyle's family.
Yet Paul's underlying claim was true: Kyle had no psychiatric training and had no real business trying to treat PTSD – and it was ill-advised to take someone with war trauma to an arena with lethal firearms. PTSD is an anxiety disorder, it is based around trying to avoid the triggers for anxiety that can cause distress and impairment. Routh would not be prepared to face the anxieties related to firearms without therapy and/or medication.
None of this is to in any way claim that Kyle's death was deserved or even expected, but it is to say that he behaved recklessly and the lives of at least three men are now ruined as a result of it. That's context that Routh's judge and jury sorely need, and one that Clint Eastwood's movie does not provide.