An American study revealed that in the First World War it took about 7,000 rounds of small arms ammunition to kill a single enemy soldier. By the time of the Vietnam War, this had risen to abort 25,000 rounds. The average Sniper requires 1.3 rounds.1
The military sniper has been around a long time. During the Seven Years War (1756-63) German Jäger’s (hunters) worked as scouts and precision riflemen. However, their value on the battlefield was not truly realized and exploited until the American Revolution when Jäger immigrants and descendents began sharpshooting the British.
During the American Civil War both Union and Confederate armies utilized sharpshooters. Berdan’s 1st United States Sharpshooters made a name and were noted for their ability to place 10 consecutive shots, inside a five-inch group, at 200 yards, while shooting freehand! A task not easy with today’s equipment and doubly difficult 150 years ago.
Then there is the historical account of Confederate Sergeant Ben Powell who used a scoped Withworth rifle to kill Union General John Sedgwick, who at the time was supposedly commenting, “…they [Confederates] couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
The feats accomplished by marksmen, sharpshooters and snipers have always enthralled shooters who recognize the skill necessary to not only make a long and difficult shot, but to do so when such a shot was desperately needed; needed to destroy enemy moral or to just as importantly, take out a vital target. Consider the legend of West Virginia born Billy Dixon, who it is told took a Sharps rifle and knocked an indian from his horse at a distance of a mile during the battle of Adobe Walls. This was in 1874 and is still considered one of the most spectacular shots every recorded in combat.
The sharpshooter, whether a military sniper, police designated marksman or every day infantryman is celebrated because prowess with a rifle is the ultimate skill of the solider. Though some would have you believe that sniping is a cowardly act, in war it is the object of the endeavor; you should at every opportunity attempt to take out the enemy while firing from a hidden position. The fewer shots fired, the better.
Of course, precision shooting from a hide, during the suppression of crime or during war is not to be confused with the assassin. Charles Whitman killed 16 and wounded 32 at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966 while “sniping” from a tower. That was a cowardly, murderous act and as he should have, Whitman paid for it with his life when Austin Police officer Houston McCoy shot him at close range.
The reason I mention all this is to sort of explain the popularity of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper movie. I feel there are three reasons for its unparalleled success as well as the disdain it has garnered from the left. First, the martial and marksmanship abilities of the marksman have impressed real men since the dawn of the rifle. This fascination alone was enough to drive moviegoers to see American Sniper. Combined with the legacy of Chris Kyle, his patriotism, devotion to duty and untimely and terrible death, the movie was even better received.
Secondly, for me American Sniper is even more so an anthem to the American soldier. Not just Kyle or those who fought with him, but every American who has put on a uniform and stepped forward in line. War is hell, coming home is hell, and living with the war your fought is hell. American Sniper conveys that message. It’s something American veterans and their families have known and experienced since 1776.
Finally and most importantly, I believe there is something else – something bigger – at play. Right now American is in dire need of a hero. It seems most of our political leaders are politicians first and Americans second. Their sacrifice for their country amounts to accumulating air miles and appearing on news shows where they are never held accountable for their lies or stupidness, even while chastising our law enforcement officers for doing their jobs. Our current political elite are not even a shadow to the hard men who forged this country in the past or men like Kyle who do it today.
Americans are at heart are cowboys. Chris Kyle was an average American cowboy who, like countless other average Americans, heeded the call to serve his country. He undertook that challenge and excelled to the point of excellence while also being a husband and a father. He is unquestionably an American hero. The kind we desperately need right now. American Sniper reminded us what a hero was really like and more importantly, reminded us how bad we miss having one around.
There are no more real John Wayne like men in the public eye. In fact, there aren’t even any with the same imaginable reputation on the silver screen. We’ve become a nation in need. So in need that we sometimes honor the leaders of other nations by comparing them to ours. King Abdullah of Jordan has recently become an Internet sensation with his threat to personally take the fight to Islamic Jihad. Comparisons to him training at Gunsite Academy with Mr. Obama golfing are just another illustration of our hero deficiency.
We have heroes here in America but instead of hearing their stories we’re saturated with exploits of a news anchor who exaggerated a little bit. Really? Just fire the guy and forget him.
I rest my case and sadly, right now this movie is the only current hero story we have. I suggest you see it twice!
- Out of Nowehere, Martin Pegler, Osprey Publishing, 2004