Today, famed US sniper Chris Kyle was mourned in Texas at the Dallas Cowboys football stadium. His coffin was placed at the centre star of the pitch. It struck me that this is a very American (and, indeed, a very Texan) reaction to the passing of a warrior. Kyle was a SEAL, very active in post-invasion Iraq and known to the anti-American fighters there as "al-Shaitan Ramadi" - the Devil of Ramadi. His record in killing opposition fighters there was legendary, more so because according to US combat rules each kill had to be independently witnessed and justified.
Kyle's autobiography American Sniper described what it was like to set up and patiently stalk targets, waiting for the few seconds when a fighter presented himself in a threatening position with a weapon. By his own admission he was not a crack shot, although in a sniper community even an average shot is lethal at over 1km and he once successfully killed an insurgent at 1.9km. His skill seemed to be in being in the right place at the right time, combined with an aggressive urge to get things done; with the co-operation of a corpsman he got himself medically evacuated into a busy combat zone.
What's interesting about today's memorial service is the reaction of a US state to the death of one of its warriors. While the citizens of Wootton Basset lined the streets to salute silently the UK military casualties from Afghanistan through RAF Lyneham, the Texan event is a more direct, more personal memorial for a soldier whose fame derived principally from his unregretted talent at killing:
"The first time killing someone, you're not even sure you can do it," he said. "You think you can, but you never know until you actually are put in that position and you do it. ... And then, you're worried when you get home, are the politicians going to hang you out to dry and put you on trial for murder?"It seems that America, and in particular Texas, is comfortable with the celebration of the life of a warrior; I can't imagine a British town or city conducting the same kind of veneration for fear of seeming "gung-ho" or thoughtless about the victims of the soldier. This, I think, is America's essential strength; a refusal to fear the consequences of its citizens' opinions and actions as long as they defended the country.
Did he regret any of his 160 kills? "No, not at all," he told Time.