At one time, the American war hero was best epitomized by clean cut, fresh faced Audie Murphy. Now, if recent media reaction is anything to go by, the American war hero is best exemplified by Chris Kyle, someone not too far removed from the kind of man that Murphy spent two years of WWII fighting.
Best remembered today for his acting career, Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers of World War Two. Barely into his adulthood, Murphy went overseas and risked his life to help stop a madman taking over the world. The people he killed were soldiers serving the imperialist power of the time – Nazi Germany. In one famous incident, Murphy stood on a burning tank destroyer and used its machine gun to mow down German soldiers swarming at him from three sides. During a firefight lasting over an hour, Murphy killed so many members of the German infantry that the German tanks were forced to back off for lack of infantry support. Then he went back to his men and organized a counter attack that forced the invaders to go into a full retreat. But that was long ago and far away.
Today’s epitome of the American war hero is Chris Kyle, a shark-eyed predator who preferred fighting on behalf of an imperialist power to fighting against it. A cold blooded killer, Kyle took great pride in slaughtering Iraqis who were trying to defend their homeland from the modern equivalent of Nazi Germany – the American Empire. Unlike Murphy, Kyle wasn’t killing the villains of the piece, and he wasn’t even killing people who were trying to do the same to him. No, like the serial killers whose body counts pale beside his, Kyle hid in the shadows and struck without warning. Instead of standing in harm’s way and firing back at someone trying to kill him, Kyle hid 100s of meters away and killed civillians without giving them even the smallest chance of fighting back. And while Murphy was modest about his undeniably heroic actions and respectful towards those he killed, Kyle used his fame to not only brag of his exploits but to describe his victims as “savages,” “non-humans,” and “twisted souls.”
Is there a more striking illustration of how far from grace America has fallen than the difference between these two men? One, a brave and selfless hero who served a righteous cause. The other, a mass murderer who avoided a lethal injection by putting his violence to work in a way that is rewarded instead of punished – in the service of empire building. Looking at these two men, these two polar opposites, the old model and the new model, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that America has truly – and perhaps irreversibly – lost its way, its moral compass, and, indeed, even its very sense of decency.