"Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night" - Bette Davis
A few weeks ago I was reading online about the defamation lawsuit filed by Jesse Ventura against former Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle. The case sounded pretty interesting, so, I borrowed from a friend a copy of American Sniper, the autobiography of Chris Kyle, and read it. It was a very compelling read.
Here is a little background on Chris Kyle and his story: Kyle was a Navy SEAL sniper from Texas. He claims to be the deadliest sniper in American history with over 160 'confirmed' kills. Confirmed kills are defined as kills with at least one other witness besides the shooter. Kyle served four tours of duty in Iraq and was awarded two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars for Valor for his actions during the war. Upon returning to Texas after his tours of duty were over, he settled down with his wife and two kids, started a security firm and wrote a book about his experiences as a sniper. The book, American Sniper, became an instant success and propelled Chris Kyle into a sort of celebrity status. Kyle also worked helping other war veterans deal with PTSD when they returned from the war. On February 2, 2013, Chris brought a vet suffering from PTSD to a shooting range where the vet shot and killed both Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield.
The Court Case
In the lead up to the defamation case going to trial, all of the legal experts on television and in print said that it was highly unlikely that Jesse Ventura could win the case because the bar was set very high in defamation cases concerning celebrities. According to these various experts, in order for Ventura to win he would need to prove that not only did Chris Kyle lie about him, but also prove that he did so maliciously and that he prospered from it.
Despite the very high burden of proof, on July 19, 2014, Jesse Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota, WWF wrestler, TV show host and Former Navy SEAL (technically he was in the pre-cursor to SEALs, the UDT) won a defamation lawsuit against deceased former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, author of American Sniper to the tune of $1.8 million. In the book, Chris Kyle, claimed to have punched 'Scruff-face', later identified by Kyle on both the The O'Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel and The Opie and Anthony radio show as Jesse Ventura, in a SEAL bar in California after Ventura said some nasty things. Here is the passage in question from the book:
After the funeral, we went to a local bar for the wake proper. (for Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor winner Mike Monsoor who was killed in action in Iraq)
As always, there were a bunch of different things going on at our favorite nightspot, including a small party for some older SEALs and UDT members who were celebrating the anniversary of their graduation. Among them was a celebrity I'll call Scruff Face.
Scruff served in the military; most people seem to believe he was a SEAL. As far as I know, he was in service during the Vietnam conflict but not the actual war.
I was sitting with Ryan (a SEAL who was wounded and blinded in the Iraq war) and told him that Scruff was holding court with some of his buddies.
"I'd really like to meet him, " Ryan said.
"Sure". I got up and went over to Scruff and introduced myself. "Mr. Scruff Face, I have a young SEAL over here who's just come back from Iraq. He's been injured but he'd really like to meet you."
Well, Scruff kind of blew us off. Still, Ryan really wanted to meet him, so I brought him over. Scruff acted like he couldn't be bothered.
We went back over to our side of the bar and had a few more drinks. In the meantime, Scruff started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it. President Bush was an asshole. We were only over there because Bush wanted to show up his father. We were doing the wrong thing, killing men, woman and children and murdering.
And on and on. Scruff said he hates America and that's why he moved to Baja California. 9/11 was a conspiracy.
And on some more.
The guys were getting upset. Finally, I went over and tried to get him to cool it.
"We're all here in mourning." I told him. "Can you just cool it? Keep it down."
"You deserve to lose a few," he told me.
I was uncharacteristically level-headed at that moment.
"Look," I told him, "why don't we just step away from each other and go on our way?"
Scruff bowed up again. This time he swung.
Being level-headed and calm can last only so long. I laid him out.
Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff face ended up on the floor.
I have no way of knowing for sure, but rumor has it he showed up at the BUD/S graduation with a black eye.
That is the story that was proven to be untrue in the court proceedings. Jesse Ventura didn't say those things to Chris Kyle or any other SEAL. Chris Kyle did not hit Jesse Ventura. The entire episode never occurred. Or to put it another way, Chris Kyle lied. To put an even finer point on it, Chris Kyle lied to make himself look good.
Chris Kyle, The Hero Archetype and Fantastical Tales of Wonder
Having read the book, I went and did some more research of Chris Kyle and his life. The things I found were pretty astounding. If you thought the Jesse Ventura fight was a hell of a yarn, wait until you get a load of some of the other stories Chris Kyle told about himself but left out of his book.
Chris told many people, and some reporters, that just after his return from Iraq in 2009, he was carjacked by two men at a gas station on a remote Texas highway. Chris asked the men if he could reach into his truck to get his keys, and as he did he pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot both men in the chest from under his armpit. The two men were killed instantly. Chris called the police and waited for them while leaning against his truck. The police came, Chris handed them a phone number to call at the Pentagon. The cops called the number, and the people at the Pentagon told the cops that Chris Kyle was a war hero and a Navy SEAL. The police also went inside and watched the gas station surveillance video of the incident. The cops then let Chris go on his way. Chris claimed he got emails from cops all across the country after the incident thanking him for "keeping the streets clean". Great story. Except none of it is true. Not a word. There were no carjackers, no dead bodies, no cops, none of it. He made the whole thing up. His big mistake was then telling the story to his SEAL friend, Marcus Lutrell, author of Lone Survivor, and Marcus put the story in his second book, Service: A Navy SEAL at Work. Now it wasn't just a tall-tale, it was in the public record, and it is demonstrably a lie. The New Yorker magazine and other journalists have investigated the story. They all come to the same conclusion. There were no carjackers. There were no dead bodies. There were no cops. None of it happened. No police departments know anything about it, no coroner ever saw the bodies, no gas station had any surveillance video or ever heard of such a thing and no cops ever responded to the scene and called the Pentagon.
The second story that was told by Chris Kyle was that he and another SEAL were sent by the government to New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Once they got to New Orleans, Chris and another sniper went to the roof of the Superdome, and started shooting looters in the city. Chris Kyle said this to many people, he also said this on tape. Chris claims to have killed thirty looters all on his own. Helluva story. Only problem is…there's not a speck of truth in it. Once again this is a total fabrication, or to put it less delicately, a complete, bold faced lie. Chris Kyle never went to New Orleans after Katrina. He never shot 'looters'. Just like with the carjackers, there are no bodies and no documentary or corroborating evidence it occurred. None. Chris Kyle lied. Again.
Taya Kyle, Chris's wife, fought in court to make sure that both of those stories were kept out of the Jesse Ventura defamation lawsuit because she didn't want her husband to be "labelled a liar". Smart woman. The stories were kept out of the lawsuit, and yet, incredibly, Ventura still proved Kyle was lying about the bar room fight (or non-fight, as it turned out).
These stories are so fantastical that only a true believer could ever think them anything other than fairy tales. So the question becomes, why would Chris Kyle tell such patently absurd stories?
Rambo, Red Meat, and the Spitting Protestors Canard
Chris Kyle told other lies as well, but these he put in his book. They are smaller lies compared to the car jacking and Katrina stories, but they are important nonetheless because they show a pattern of lies and embellishment that is troubling. One lie is about when Chris first went to deploy for Iraq. Here is the passage from the book:
Generally, when SEALs go out for a deployment or come back, we do so very quietly - that's the nature of special operations. There are usually few people around except for our immediate families; sometimes not even them. In this case, because of when I was heading out, it happened that I passed a small group of protestors demonstrating against the war. They had signs about baby killers and whatever, protesting the troops who were going over to fight.
Great story. It really is. We have poor Chris Kyle was going off to war to fight for our freedoms and he had to go past these assholes calling him a baby killer. That would be pretty infuriating…except…it isn't true. It never happened. There may have been protestors, but none of them had "baby killer" signs or were protesting the troops. This is at worst pure fantasy, at best a great embellishment. San Diego and Coronado, California are very pro-military areas. There are huge populations of active service and retired military people living there. A protestor with a "baby killer" sign would stick out like a sore thumb. That would also make not only the local news, but national news. And other vets would have reported the same thing on their own websites or chat rooms. None of that happened. There is no reporting, or evidence that there were ever any protestors with "baby killer" signs anywhere near San Diego or Coronado California. Or anywhere else for that matter. Never. Nor were there any pictures taken of those signs or news reports about them. Chris Kyle lied again.
This lie is not a new one, it is really just an urban myth from the Vietnam era, popularized by a monologue in the Sylvester Stallone film, First Blood. In his speech Stallone's character, Vietnam veteran John Rambo says, "And I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting. Calling me baby killer!" Sound familiar? Yes, just like American hero, John Rambo, Chris Kyle was called baby killer by protestors. This doesn't pass the smell test. It didn't happen to John Rambo because he isn't a real person, and it didn't happen to Chris Kyle either because it is factually untrue. As for the spitting protestor canard, please read the book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and Legacy of Vietnam by Jerry Lembcke. His book dismantles the myth of the vicious Vietnam war protestor spitting on the poor, returning vet. Here is a link- LINK.
We Found Them!!
Another lie Chris Kyle tells in his book is about those pesky missing WMDs. Here is the passage:
At another location, we found barrels of chemical material that was intended for use as biochemical weapons. Everyone talks about there being no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they seem to be referring to completed nuclear bombs, not the many deadly chemical weapons or precursors that Saddam had stockpiled.
Maybe the reason is that the writing on the barrels showed that the chemicals came from France and Germany, our supposed Western allies.
What a groundbreaking story. This is interesting insight from someone who was there and can tell us first hand. Except of course, it is all a lie. Completely fabricated. Totally untrue. There were no barrels of WMD, and the story wasn't covered up because it would offend our allies France and Germany. The story couldn't be covered up because it never happened. This is something that can be easily checked and verified. You can do it yourself. I did. It is a lie. There is no proof or evidence that this incident occurred. Even if you simply apply logic and reason, this story crumbles. The US would gladly embarrass the French over WMDs. Remember the "Freedom Fries" nonsense? The French were our national punching bags for years because they didn't "back us in Iraq". If we had the chance to rub their "cheese-eating-surrender-monkey" noses in it, we certainly would have taken it.
So why would Chris Kyle lie about shooting car jackers and looters, and "baby killer" signs and WMDs? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, he did it to reinforce his status as a hero. Chris Kyle embodied the Hero Archetype. His fans would be the first to tell you this. He was a hero for fighting for his country, he was a hero for killing so many Iraqis, he was a hero for saving American lives. This is his story, and it's the story he tells in American Sniper, and it is why he is beloved by so many. But, like all archetypes, the Hero Archetype has a life of its own. Chris Kyle was submerged in it and overcome by it. He even says in his book that he felt "invincible". It could be easy to see how he would be swept away by all the hype and praise and glory. He knew he didn't kill any car jackers or looters, but he could have…and that was all that mattered in his mind. He BELIEVED that he did, even while he KNEW that he didn't. The archetype made him BELIEVE it, his rational mind KNEW it was false, but the rational mind almost always takes a back seat when the archetype is in town.
The following is the definition of the Hero Archetype: "HERO: He is a character who predominantly exhibits goodness and struggles against evil in order to restore harmony and justice to society". That is the Rambo story. That is also the story of Chris Kyle, or to be more exact, that is the story Chris Kyle tells, to us and, more importantly, to himself.
So why the other lies about the "baby killer" signs and the WMDs? This is simply, in a storytelling and narrative sense, to reinforce the hero's struggle by giving him multiple foils and also to give context to his journey. As a storytelling device, these lies do two things for Chris. One, they make him a sympathetic figure who overcomes not only physical danger in the form of enemies on the battlefield, but also gives him a spiritual strength by making him a martyr for fighting to protect people who hate him. Secondly, the stories make him out to be 'The Truthteller'. Chris Kyle knows the REAL truth, and he is the only one brave enough to actually tell it. Kyle's 'Hero journey' was not only against the evil hordes of Iraqis and Muslims, both of whom he calls "savages" in his book, but against the evil opposition back home in the form of anti-war people, Jesse Ventura being a prime example. The protestor and WMD lies are about feeding red meat to a certain segment of the population, people who are not only pro-war, but anti-liberal. These folks buy a lot of books, as Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly can attest. The stories and lies Chris Kyle told were the juicy, delicious red meat of which they dream. Chris Kyle became a hero to them not only because he killed lots of Iraqis, but also because he had slain all sorts of uncomfortable factual dragons as well. In other words, Chris Kyle told people what they wanted to hear, and those people loved him for it. How many people heard Kyle tell the story of punching Ventura and thought, "Yes, finally somebody shut that loud mouth up!". He proved to these folks that, "Yes! Anti-war people DO hate the troops, just like I thought all along". And "Yes, there WERE WMDs in Iraq…SEE…BUSH WAS RIGHT!!! I WAS RIGHT!!" Except, of course, they weren't, and we know that now. But Chris Kyle let these people live in a world of fantasy and call it reality. He was very good at doing that sort of thing, especially with himself.
The Usual Suspects
What has been interesting in the aftermath of the verdict against Chris Kyle is that the media has gone into hyper-drive in attacking Jesse Ventura, and not Chris Kyle. Kyle is a proven liar, yet no one talks about that. They all talk about how could Jesse Ventura sue a poor widow. I find this baffling. What is even more baffling, and frankly appalling, is how they so thoroughly misrepresent the facts of the case and misinform the populace.
Anderson Cooper, of CNN, proved once again there is no depth so low that his journalistic integrity won't sink to it, when he said of Ventura, "Has he no shame?" Cooper had nothing at all to say about Chris Kyle and his lying, and made no mention of the very public and provable other lies Kyle told besides his Ventura lie. Shouldn't the question be, "Chris Kyle, have you no shame?", but it isn't. Proving once more, that truth has no meaning for Anderson Cooper.
The question becomes…why isn't the media up in arms over Chris bullshitting them? Remember when Oprah had a conniption when she discovered author James Frey had lied to her about his book A Million Little Pieces? Why aren't the media directing their venom at Chris Kyle for having lied to make himself out to be more than he was, rather than attacking Jesse Ventura? The answer, of course, is that the media is in the same business as Chris Kyle…the "giving people what they want" business. Watch and listen, if you dare, to these three fine examples of journalistic integrity over at "Fox and Friends". WARNING: Steve Doocey Alert .
Every media outlet, all the cable channels and every other talking head, is saying how disgusting Ventura is, and not saying a word about Chris Kyle except to call him a hero. The question from everyone is, "Jesse…why won't you give the money back to this widow?" As opposed to being, why did Chris Kyle lie about this incident to enrich himself and what other lies has he told? Everyone is up in arms that Ventura would "sue a widow". The facts of the case are, he sued Chris Kyle, and then Kyle died in the lead up to the trial. All along Ventura said he'd drop the suit if Kyle just retracted the statement. Kyle wouldn't do that. He decided to stick to the lie, then tragically, Kyle was killed. Why is that Ventura's problem? Ventura didn't lie, Kyle did.
Watch this CBS This Morning interview with Ventura the day after the court decision. Notice how dismissive and oppositional all the questioners are.
Notice in particular the "journalist" , and I use that term very very loosely, Norah O'Donnell, being intentionally obtuse and misstating the facts of the case…"there WAS an argument... correct?". No Norah, there wasn't, THAT IS WHY WE HAD A TRIAL!! You beautiful, yet vacuous dipshit!
Heads I win, Tails You Lose and the Magic of the Rearview Mirror
The other thing talking heads and writers have been saying of Jesse Ventura is that he should have "dropped the lawsuit when Chris Kyle died, then he could have saved his reputation!" Or "Ventura sued to save his reputation but has damaged it by winning the lawsuit against a widow!". This sort of logic is a shortcut to thinking. If Ventura had dropped the lawsuit people wouldn't say "Oh, what a great guy", instead they wouldn't say anything at all and would still despise Ventura for his 'conspiracy theories'. Then they would recall how Chris Kyle punched him out for bad-mouthing America, and when Ventura would say that wasn't true, these same talking heads would say, "Well, if it weren't true you should have sued for defamation!!" This is how the game works. Heads they win, tails you lose. As my grandmother used to say, "damned if you do, damned if you don't." The same thing would have happened if Ventura dropped the suit when Chris Kyle was killed. The media likes to play the game of hindsight with everyone except themselves.
Charity Begins at Home and The Money Trail
One final lie that has been told ad nauseam, is that Chris Kyle and his family donated all the proceeds from the sale of the book American Sniper to families of vets. The Kyle's say that 100% has gone to charities that support other vet families. This is an out and out lie, and a really despicable one that is repeated constantly by the corporate media. The truth is…the family has only given 2% of the profits to charity. The profits from the book belong to the Kyle family, and they should do with them what they please, but what they shouldn't do is tell people they are giving the money away in order to look good, while they in fact keep the money. The Kyle family has made over $6 million from the book, and that number will increase with further book sales and from an upcoming movie starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood. So why isn't the corporate media up in arms over Chris Kyle and his wife lying repeatedly about the profits and proceeds from the book? Instead of asking Jesse Ventura why he doesn't give the money he is owed back to the Kyle family, why not ask the Kyle family why they keep lying about giving money to vets when they don't?
To further inform yourself, please read this really thoughtful and smart article over at The New Republic that give the facts of the case and dispel the myths that the media is selling. LINK
I Come To Bury Truth, Not To Praise It
Truth has become the enemy in America. It is hated and despised. The people who hate the truth the most are the ones who are in power. That is why the media is so quick to heap vitriol upon Ventura and not question the legacy of Kyle. Lies are celebrated. Lies are tonic for the ills that truth reveals. You never saw anyone taken to task for lying about the Iraq war. No one, not a government official, or a pundit or a journalist or a media personality, lost their job over lying about or being wrong about Iraq.
The lies that the media has wrapped itself in for the sake of ingratiating itself to power are easily observed. In regards to the Iraq war alone, the fellating of power by the media, and by the public, is amazing and easy to see. First we had the march to war…the lies Bush and company told about WMDs and Iraq's involvement in 9-11. Then we had the farce of the Jessica Lynch story, which Chris Kyle repeats in his book without the slightest regard to the truth. Then we have the charade of the death of Pat Tillman, a true American hero, who is violated and desecrated in death by the same government and media that duped him into serving in the first place.
This is why the media hates Jesse Ventura in particular. Ventura was vociferously against the Iraq war. He was right, and the corporate media, and most of the public, were wrong. They were either duped or complicit, but Ventura saw through the smokescreens. He is also a 9-11 Truther. This drives the corporate media and establishment types batty. It is a direct assault on their authority. It is sort of amusing and ironic that the term "Truther" has become derogatory in the media and in America. Telling the truth, or asking questions looking for it, is a sure fire way to get on the wrong side of the corporate media, Jesse Ventura is living proof of that.
Watch the news clips above, and search out others, and notice something…no one…not a single person, is interested in the truth. The truth is never mentioned, never alluded to, never a consideration. Truth is the real victim in this case. Truth is the forgotten one. The old Superman slogan was , "Truth, Justice and the American Way". Notice how, if you look closely at that saying, it is clear that "truth and justice" are not the same thing as the "American Way". And so it is.
The Righteous Mind, Cognitive Dissonance and The Suspension of Disbelief
Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who wrote an interesting book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. In it, he describes the things that people believe are their greatest moral priorities. The six categories are Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, Sanctity/Degradation. For example, liberals may think that Fairness is the most important thing to them morally and conservatives may think that Loyalty is the most important thing to them morally. It is an interesting idea, and it comes into play with the Chris Kyle story. The one thing that does not appear on the Moral Foundations category list is…The Truth (honesty).
If The Truth were an option for moral priorities, it would not come in first for either liberals or conservatives. Try having a discussion with a liberal about Obama or race, for instance, and you will quickly find out that The Truth comes in a very distant third to fairness and care. Conservatives, at least in my experience, put both authority and loyalty above The Truth. I spoke with a conservative friend of mine recently and he talked about wanting to talk in public about some semblance of The Truth, but in the next breath he said he could "never bad mouth his country". This sort of thinking and struggle is too common, people have an interest in The Truth, just not when The Truth conflicts with another, more importantly held belief, and most certainly not when The Truth can make them either uncomfortable or unpopular, which it often can. People will do all sorts of logical and moral gymnastics to maintain their belief system and world view and to keep The Truth at arms length.
Cognitive Dissonance is "psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously". People will contort in all sorts of ways to avoid seeing the uncomfortable truth that is right in front of their eyes and facing that conflict. So we have an American war hero who you may feel is beyond reproach because of his service, and yet he is proven a liar in a court of law. So you lash out, either at Ventura, or the jury, in order to reject the new information that clashes with your strongly held belief in Chris Kyle. What usually occurs when people are presented with new information that clashes with their strongly held belief, is that they "seek to preserve their current understanding of the world by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding the new information or by convincing themselves that no conflict really exists."
A personal example, years ago in the 1990's, I was having a conversation with an older friend, someone twice my age. We were talking politics and he was talking about how much he respected and admired George H.W. Bush (The 41st President, not Dubya, the 43rd). I asked why he admired him and he said "because he is a self made man!". I thought this strange, and told him that George H.W. Bush was a lot of things, but a "self-made man" was not one of them. He vehemently disagreed and asked what proof I had of that. I told him that George H.W. Bush was the son of a senator, and not just any senator, but Prescott Bush, one of the most powerful senators of his time, and also a very powerful banker. I also told him that the Bush family was one of the most powerful and richest families in the country and had been for a long time. I told him that calling George H.W. Bush a self made man was like calling John F. Kennedy a self made man, or better yet, Teddy Kennedy. The man gave me a look of disdain and told me in not so many words, that I was full of it (he hated the Kennedy family no end). "Bush wasn't the son of a senator, he came up the hard way and made a life for himself", the man told me. The guy got pretty indignant about the whole thing and was positive he was right. A little more background on this friend, he wasn't a Johnny come lately to the Bush train, he had supported Bush back in 1980 in the republican primary against Reagan. He was a huge Bush supporter. So I told him I'd go home and look it up. So I looked it up and sure enough, George H.W. Bush is the son of a powerful senator who was also a banker. I told my friend the news, and his response was fascinating, he simply said…"but Bush is a self made man". I was left scratching my head. First off, how could such a strong supporter of Bush (41) not know he was the son of a senator? Secondly, how could that same person simply ignore the evidence of that fact and continue to believe what he believed before? The answer is obvious, it is the power of cognitive dissonance. The man didn't know that fact because it didn't fit into his narrative of who Bush (41) was (his strongly held belief) and was an inconvenient fact (new information that challenged his strongly held belief), so he was unconsciously blind to it in order to avoid or reduce his mental and emotional conflict. Secondly, he didn't want to change his narrative once the new information was blatantly obvious because that would take some great effort, so he simply ignored it again, this time consciously, and went back to his previously held belief in order to avoid mental and emotional angst. This man should fear not though, he is not alone, for we all have our blind spots, and as the term 'blind spots' suggests, we can see them in other people, but rarely see them in ourselves.
Suspension of disbelief is "a willingness to suspend ones critical faculties and believe the unbelievable, sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment." Suspension of disbelief is usually spoken of in reference to watching a movie, for instance, we know that Sandra Bullock isn't really in danger in outer space, but we suspend our disbelief in order to enjoy it for entertainment purposes. People do this constantly and consistently in regards to real life as well. Read the stories Chris Kyle told in his book and elsewhere. Read the alleged 'Jesse Ventura fight'. If you are a fair minded, independent observer of those stories, don't they come across as absolutely, and obviously false? Don't they seem to be blatantly made up and absurd? When I first read the Ventura part of the book, I thought…"well, that story is a hunk of horseshit". I've been in a few bar fights and seen a few more. That story is such blatant, self-serving nonsense that only the most die-hard true believer could ever buy it. People suspend their critical thinking, or 'suspend their disbelief' in order to 'preserve their current understanding of the world' and 'reject the conflicting information'.
For instance, if you think it is totally believable that Chris Kyle was sent to New Orleans by the US government and ordered to shoot US citizens, and yet you think Jesse Ventura is a loon for saying the US government capable of killing its own citizens on 9-11, then you may suffer from a form of cognitive dissonance. In order to diminish the mental conflict of these opposing beliefs, you will suspend your disbelief for the story about Chris Kyle yet maintain what you consider 'critical thinking' about the Jesse Ventura story. Another example might be if you believe that Chris Kyle shot two car jackers and officials made the bodies disappear and there is no record of it at all, yet you think that it is impossible for any conspiracy to prosper because 'no one would keep their mouths shut', then you may suffer from cognitive dissonance, and you might treat the malady with a small dose of suspension of disbelief applied in just the right area, the 'car jackers' story, in order to maintain your previously held worldview.
People need to believe, because without that belief, whether it be in their heroes, their country, their church, their world view, their ideology, their political party, or their own goodness, they will crumble. They MUST believe in order to be able to face the day. If their belief system is shown to be a fraud, they wouldn't have anything to stand upon, and everything about them would be a lie, and that would mean they would be mentally and emotionally obliterated. Their identity would be shattered. They would cease to exist. Without their belief system/identity, they are nothing, they are cast into the dark abyss, the void of 'not knowing'. That is a frightening prospect for most people.
We as humans need to bend reality in all sorts of bizarre ways in order to be able to survive and keep our psyche in tact. We ignore some things, and focus on others, all in an attempt to make 'reality' fit what we want it to be. We suspend our disbelief so that we can be loyal to our country, or our president or whatever is important to us. We hold contrasting beliefs and attitudes simultaneously in order to make our belief system make some sort of sense to us internally, even when it makes no sense externally. This is the human condition. It is not a disease that only infects those of a certain political party or religion, it is a disease that infects mankind, and it is epidemic.
So we create American Heroes to convince ourselves that we, as a country and as a people, are good. We are the moral ones in the world. Bush wouldn't lie because he's the type of guy you want to have a beer with. Jessica Lynch was held hostage by those filthy, Iraqi, Muslim hordes who are savages…except she wasn't. She was saved by Iraqis who saw a young woman terribly injured and brought her to a hospital and cared for her. Pat Tillman was a true American hero who gave his life saving his comrades and fighting for America and against Al-Qaeda, except he really was gunned down in a terrible case of friendly fire and had serious doubts about the missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Chris Kyle punched that no good 9-11 truther Jesse Ventura out in a bar because he badmouthed America and the troops. Except Ventura never said those things and Chris Kyle never did those things. Just like there were no filthy hippie protestors with "baby killer" signs, and there were no WMDs that Chris Kyle and Chris Kyle alone found in a basement in Iraq. Just like he didn't shoot two car jackers in the middle of nowhere Texas, and he didn't shoot looters in the aftermath of Katrina. None of those things are true…but that doesn't mean there aren't people who desperately need them to be true.
The Manichean and the Search for Empathy
A Manichean philosophy is one that sees the world in black and white. With the Manichean there is no gray area. Things are either good or evil, you are either with us or against us. Chris Kyle spells out very clearly in his book that he sees the world in black and white. This is a sensible and logical way to look at the world for a soldier in combat. You are trying to kill your enemy, your enemy is trying to kill you. I am good, he is bad. A war zone is a tough place for nuance to make a living. So for Chris Kyle, all the Iraqis are savages and evil. He doesn't like Muslims either. To make things clearer he gets a crusader cross tattooed on his arm. Message sent and received. He is good, his enemies are bad. Black and white. While a Manichean philosophy can serve you well in wartime, it can have its drawbacks in peace time. For instance, if you view the world as black and white, that means if someone tells a lie, then they are a liar. Liars are bad people because lying is wrong. If we hold Chris Kyle to the same standard he holds the rest of the world then some uncomfortable things come into question.
The Jesse Ventura story Chris Kyle told is a lie. I have also pointed out the other lies he has told. The uncomfortable question about Chris Kyle now is…did he lie about anything else? We don't know the answer to that question. Kyle claims to be the deadliest sniper in American history. He claims to have 160 'confirmed' kills (as stated before, 'confirmed' kills are kills witnessed by another soldier besides the shooter). That statistic has not been confirmed in any way by the US Navy or Pentagon. It would be very helpful if the Navy at least released some information about the kills and whether they really happened or not. There are other uncomfortable questions that we can probably never get the answer to. Namely, of the kills Chris Kyle actually does have, how many of them were "good" kills. Did he kill innocent people. He was questioned about shooting an Iraqi man who Chris claims had a weapon, but who witnesses claim only had a Koran. Maybe Chris was telling the truth about that incident, but as we have seen, Chris' version of the truth, and the actual Truth can often times be two totally contradictory things.
It has been proven in court that Chris Kyle lied about someone else to make himself look good and to enrich himself. Does that mean he was a bad father? A bad husband? A bad son? Does it mean the work he did with fellow veterans suffering from PTSD wasn't a good, kind and noble thing to do? Does it mean he wasn't a good friend and comrade to his brothers in arms? Does Chris Kyle being a liar mean that Chris Kyle is a bad person? If Chris Kyle answered that question about someone else, he would say "Yes", at least according to his own acknowledged Manichean world view. I see things differently. I don't think people are the worst thing they have ever done. I think we are all deeply flawed human beings struggling to make our way in a confusing and frightening world. I think Chris Kyle lied about a lot of things. I also think Chris Kyle did a lot of good for veterans who were suffering and struggling upon their return to 'the world'. I think Chris Kyle was probably a great dad, and a great husband, a fantastic son and a terrific comrade in arms. I don't think he was a terrible human being…I think, like all of us, he was a terribly human - being. I wish Chris had lived long enough to be able spend some time in the 'gray area', and to see others in all their contradictions and complexity.
Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth
The uproar over the last few days, the knee-jerk reaction to the verdict, the vitriol spat on Jesse Ventura and the national sainthood bestowed upon Chris Kyle were all very predictable. In America emotion rules the day. Instant gratification means we have an impulse and we have to follow it. Facts, truth and reason have no place in our current culture, except as objects of ridicule and scorn. We know what we know and we know it is right because we FEEL it is right. We would rather shout someone down than go inward and question ourselves, our beliefs, our worldview, because God forbid we are wrong, then the whole house of cards will tumble and no one wants that.
I've been wrong many, many times in my life. I don't mean kind of wrong, or misspoke a fact or something. I mean spectacularly, horrifically and catastrophically wrong. There have been a few times in my life when I have discovered, much to my chagrin, that everything I know is wrong. Everything. It is a pretty disconcerting thing to find that out. Truth be told it is earth shattering. It leaves you seriously out of balance and frankly in a state of despair. The one benefit of having been through those experiences though, is that it has left me with a hunger for the Truth above all else. The Truth about the world and the Truth about myself. I cherish Truth over loyalty, authority, fairness and care. Which I guess makes me neither a liberal or a conservative. Having survived the 'everything you know is wrong' apocalypse also helps you see through the bullshit that is often being sold to you, particularly by the media. The bullshit the media spews out piles up so fast you need wings to stay above it.* If your loyalty is only to the Truth, you will see the world in a vastly different way. It can be a pretty isolating and difficult thing to do, but it is better than lying to yourself. Or at least it is to me. That is not to say that I have some ownership of the Truth, not at all, believe me. The Truth is just as elusive to me as it is to anyone else. And it can be just as uncomfortable to me as it for anyone else. Hell, I didn't want to write a blog piece talking bad about Chris Kyle. I'm sure I'll get a bunch of angry emails from his fans calling me all sorts of names. But the truth is the Truth, and I feel like I need to speak it, even when it is unpopular, or maybe particularly when it is unpopular.
My one hope is that the people who are attacking Jesse Ventura, and who are reflexively defending Chris Kyle, can step back and not only take a closer looks at the facts of the case and facts about the man himself, but also take a deeper look into themselves, and let their loyalty be to the Truth and not to their preconceived notions.
The fans of Chris Kyle say he is an American Hero. They say he is the embodiment of all that is good about this country. I actually slightly disagree with that. I think Chris Kyle is not the perfect American, but rather the perfect embodiment of America. He was brave, yet a bully. He was selfless, yet selfish. He was humble, yet a braggart. He was brilliant, yet dense. He was a bullshitter, yet sincere. He was heroic, yet cowardly. He was the perfect embodiment of America in all of its manic contradictions and hypocrisies. And as the court case has proven, Chris, in the true American fashion, was more interested in marketing himself than in telling the Truth.
So I sincerely ask you to keep Chris Kyle, his comrades, both fallen and those still with us, and their families in your thoughts and prayers. And also keep the millions of Iraqis, both friend and foe, alive and dead, in your thoughts and prayers as well. But also try and take time to stop and remember...the Truth.
One Final Final Thought
I realize that many people may be upset, or angry or offended by this piece. This is a topic which causes emotions to run very high and for people to take great offense. You may not like what I have written and you may hate me for having written it. That is your prerogative.
You may also think that Chris Kyle and I have nothing at all in common. You would be wrong about that. A few days before Chris was tragically killed, he posted this on his Facebook page, "If you don't like what I have to say or post, you forget one thing, I don't give a shit what you think. LOL".
Couldn't have said it better myself, Chris. Rest in Peace.
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