The movie ‘American Sniper’ and the story ‘In The Lake Of The Woods’ feature the lives of war men and the effects that spending time on the battle field has on the individual soldiers and their families. The stories focus on life before war, life during the battles and life after the experience. The transformation of the characters from one personality to another throughout the stories gives the audience a better understanding of the effects that war has on the psyche of human beings. The consequences of war are numerous and far reaching (Sheppard, Malatras & Israel, 2010). The effects of war on the soldier are both physical and psychological. The effects last far beyond the battlefield and can influence the war men families negatively if not well managed.
Psychological traumas and the experiences that war men go through affect their lives immensely and can create permanent changes in ones psyche and life in general. Mental health problems associated with war affect both the soldiers and the civilians (Devakumar et al., 2014). The lives of John Wade and Chris Kyle show the audience how the psychological effects of war can make it hard for soldiers to survive in the normal world. Being in the battlefield for so long transforms the psyche of a person to accept danger as the normal way of life. Therefore, these men feel more understood and more comfortable in such uncertain environments that in the normal world, as we know it. Another very important point that comes out clearly in these two stories is the fact that war men sacrifice a lot and risk losing everything else for the sake of the battle (Moos & Schaefer, 2013). Both Wade and Kyle join the army with the intention of protecting their country; they risk death and endure the loss of loved ones during the battle; risk the total damage of their psyche and they endure the consequences that psychological issues have on their loved ones with grace.
In the two stories, both Chris Kyle and John Wade express their psychological problems by behaving uncommonly around the people they love. When Wade cannot deal with difficult emotions, he often curses and uses uncommon language. For instance, he shouts, “kill Jesus” when he is unable to deal with his political career failure (Brien, 2006 p. 19). Further, both characters endure hardship in their young lives causing them to join the war in search of personal identity (Brien, 2006). The war gives the men purpose and they seem interested in continuing with the operation even when it is time to go home to their loved ones. Although these men have already left the battlefield, their actions indicate that their psych is still tied to the actions and experiences of war.
Both Kyle and Wade have a troubled childhood. Kyle is a failed farmer who is seeking for something more to do with his life (Cooper, 2014). He joins the navy seal training where his trainers mock him for being too old for the job. Wade is mistreated by his father and joining the army is his way of finding commitment and appreciation. For instance Wade is called “jiggling John” by his father for being fat (Brien, 2006 p. 10). Additionally, the narrator records that “At the funeral, John wanted to kill everyone who was crying and every one who was not” (Brien, 2006 p. 14). The two men join the army to protect the country and find personal identity; they risk losing the control of their psyche and suffer the consequences of mental instability after the war.
The battlefield is a kill or be killed environment. On his first day at the job, Kyle shoots a boy and his mother and although his colleagues congratulate him for saving the convoy, he admits that it is a difficult job (Cooper, 2014). Wade kills a man but he justifies his actions. Both men do not show remorse for their actions and killing to them is simply part of the mission. They use evasive mechanisms to neutralize the effects of the war and the killing. For instance, Wade compares his killing to a magic trick and uses his ability to create a fake reality to avoid feeling remorse (Brien, 2006). Similarly, when Kyle’s girlfriend asks him if he ever thinks about the person on the other side of the sniper he simply answers, “It is my job to protect the country” (Cooper, 2014). Additionally, when asked by a doctor whether he thinks he might have done regrettable things during wartime, he responds by saying “no, that is not me, no” (Cooper, 2014) Both men use evasive mechanism to justify their actions, which leads to their psychological demise. Wade does not recover his psychological control and the people accuse him of participating in the disappearance of his wife. Kyle feels that no one in the normal world understands him and he wants to enlist once again so that he can spend time in the battle field; the world he understands better and where all people appreciate his talent (Cooper, 2014).
Both men use uncommon language to describe their lives. Wade compares the love that he shares with his wife to snakes that feed on each other (Brien, 2006). A snake is a strange term to compare with love. To most people, snakes represent danger; therefore, comparing the life that the soldier has with his wife to that of snakes indicates how uncertain he is about life outside the battlefield. The war life has made danger a normal thing to these men. Kyle often responds to most of the things in the words “Okay” and “alright” as a means of avoiding reality (Cooper, 2014). He dismisses most of the things by giving these agreeing responses even when he is not interested in what one is saying. His actions are fueled by the desire to protect his country and war.
The effects of war are weighty on both men. Both Kyle and Wade lose their families because of their obsession with war and the inability to connect to their spouses. Their reactions to the loss of their spouses are quite different from what one would expect. Although the men clearly loved their spouses, they do not show a lot of remorse when they leave. For instance, Kyle laughs when his wife leaves (Cooper, 2014). On his part, Wade tries to create stories about the wife’s disappearance to evade the feeling of loss (Brien, 2006). The actions of these men are because of their damaged psychological capabilities. They cannot relate to the natural world in a normal way because the pain and the experience of the battlefield have taken a tore on their psyche.
The human psyche has the capacity to cope with mild stresses that are caused by terror, grief, and loss among other things. However, regardless of a person’s resilience, extended stay at the battlefield can create an adaptation mechanism where the psyche normalizes the extraneous circumstances of war (Bruhlamann, 2013). Both Kyle and Wade stayed on the battlefield for a long time to an extent that they cannot survive in the normal world or relate to anything else but the war experience. The soldiers can only relate to the overwhelming experience of the battlefield and they feel that the civilians do not understand their needs or appreciate their talents. However, it is important to note that each person has a different breaking point and trauma exhibits itself in different forms among varied people.
Brien, T. (2006). In the Lake of the Woods. Boston Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Bruhlmann, T. (2013). Burnout. Stress coping disorder and meaning of life crises. Schmerz, 27 (5), 521-32.
Cooper, B. (Executive Producer). (2014). American Sniper [DVD]. Los Angeles, U.S: Village Roadshow Pictures.
Devakumar, D., Birch, M., Ostrin, D., Sondorp, E. & Wells, J. (2014). The intergenerational effects of war on the health of children. BMC Medicine, 12 (57), Retrieved from http://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-12-57
Moos, R. & Schaefer, J. (2013). Coping with life crises: an integrated approach. New York: Plenum Press.
Sheppard, S., Malatras, J. & Israel, A. (2010). The impact of deployment on US military families. American psychological association, 65 (6), 599-609.