Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in 2012 in Midlothian, Texas.PHOTO: AP
‘American Sniper,” the new movie about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has opened to staggering box-office success and garnered multiple Academy Award nominations. But not all the attention has been positive. The most vocal criticism came in the form of disparaging quotes and tweets from actor-director Seth Rogen and documentary-maker Michael Moore . Both have since attempted to qualify their ugly comments, but similarly nasty observations continue to emanate from the left.
The bulk of Chris Kyle’s remarkable exploits took place in the Al Anbar province of Iraq in the summer of 2006. He and I were teammates at SEAL Team Three. Chris had always been a large figure in the SEAL teams. He became a legend before our eyes in Ramadi.
My fellow special-operations brothers might be shocked, but I think the comments by Messrs. Rogen and Moore have had the ironic effect of honoring Chris Kyle’s memory. They inadvertently paid Chris a tribute that joins the Texas funeral procession and “American Sniper” book sales and box office in testifying to the power of his story. I’ll get to the punch line shortly, but first please let me lay the groundwork.
The very term “sniper” seems to stir passionate reactions on the left. The criticism misses the fundamental value that snipers add to the battlefield. Snipers engage individual threats. Rarely, if ever, do their actions cause collateral damage. Snipers may be the most humane of weapons in the military arsenal. The job also takes a huge emotional toll on the man behind the scope. The intimate connection between the shooter and the target can be hard to overcome for even the most emotionally mature warrior. The value of a sniper in warfare is beyond calculation.
I witnessed the exceptional performance of SEAL, Army and Marine snipers on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. They struck psychological fear in our enemies and protected countless lives. Chris Kyle and the sniper teams I led made a habit of infiltrating dangerous areas of enemy-controlled ground, established shooting positions and coordinated security for large conventional-unit movement.
More than half the time, the snipers didn’t need to shoot; over-watch and guidance to the ground troops was enough. But when called upon, snipers like Chris Kyle engaged enemy combatants and “cleared the path” for exposed troops to move effectively and safely in their arduous ground missions. These small sniper teams pulled the trigger at their own risk. If their position was discovered, they had little backup or support.
As Navy SEALs, we have the privilege of using the best hardware the military has to offer. We have access to, and train with, the latest elite weapons. We operate with the world’s finest aviators, from multiple services, who transport us to and from targets and protect us from above with devastating firepower. Advanced drone platforms are at our disposal and wreak havoc on our enemies. The full complement of American battlefield ingenuity and capacity is at our disposal. Our enemies the world over know this well. They have experienced this awesome power and respect it.
But every U.S. fighting force possesses a weapon that frightens our enemies today more than any of those above. The Taliban, al Qaeda, Islamic State, jihadists everywhere—all those who oppose us fear and hate this weapon, and are haunted by its power to stop their own twisted plans for the world.
What is this weapon? The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
It was written long ago by leaders of astonishing foresight and courage. It is what men like Chris Kyle fight and die for. It is what I immediately think of when someone burns a flag, shouts some hateful remark during a protest or criticizes the men and women who have volunteered for military service and willingly go into harm’s way.
When Seth Rogen and Michael Moore exercise this right, it is a tribute to those who serve. While I am revolted by their whiny, ill-informed opinions about Chris Kyle and “American Sniper,” I delight in the knowledge that the man they decry was a defender of their liberty to do so.
Mr. Denver, a commander in the U.S. Navy SEALs Reserves, is the author of “Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior” (Hyperion, 2013).