Are We Asleep in The Shire? — JRR Tolkien, American Sniper and a Life of Peace

Reprinted with the permission of our friends at

By Published on February 6, 2015

[They] have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace…. Ezekiel 13:10

A Box Office Hit

The Clint Eastwood film American Sniper broke box office records in its opening weekend, and simultaneously lit a firestorm of controversy over the story of America’s most lethal sniper, Chris Kyle. Was Kyle a hero, as his friends, family, and supporters claim? Or was he a psychotic murderer and coward, as his critics claim?

My husband and I were one of millions who packed into their local theater opening weekend to watch this film. And, except for when I attended a screening of Schindler’s List, I have never sat among so many people who were so utterly still and silent—from the moment the movie started, until after they had walked out of the theater. From what I’ve read, that response has been nearly universal; I saw only one post where the writer said the audience at his screening erupted in applause after the closing credits.

Why such reverence? Because despite those who want to turn American Sniper into a commentary on the validity of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (it’s not), or despite those who claim it’s nothing more than a piece of propaganda celebrating American jingoism (it’s not), Eastwood’s film tells a far simpler tale—one that is resonating in the souls of viewers. It’s the story of the toll war takes upon the men who fight it and upon the families they leave behind. These men do not start wars or make policy; they just go and do their job.

Thus, when Kyle tells a counselor he is ready to meet his Maker and answer for every shot he took, we hear the voice of a man who knew that evil is real, and that it was his job, his duty, to oppose it. From childhood, Chris Kyle had been raised to be a “sheepdog” — a protector. He was not a cold-blooded murderer: he was a man who chose to kill the enemy rather than allowing the enemy to kill his fellow soldiers. While he saved many American lives on the battlefield, he also believed he was protecting the lives of his loved ones back home. We who live in peace and security as a result of his actions should be grateful that he made that choice; and I believe the silence of moviegoers as they walk out of the theater reflects their gratitude.

A Life of Ease and Peace

So how does Tolkien help us understand men like Chris Kyle as well as those who criticize him? Consider this passage from the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings where the narrator describes life in the Shire:

[There] in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved, until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middle-earth and the right of all sensible folk. They forgot or ignored what little they had ever known of the Guardians, and of the labors of those that made possible the long peace of the Shire. They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it.”

For the most part, the life of the average American has been like life in the Shire: “well-ordered,” easy, prosperous, and peaceful. We’ve never had to physically defend our lives or the lives of those we love. We’ve never had to face enemy soldiers on American soil who were trying to destroy us. We’ve never known want, only “plenty.” In other words, most of us have been so sheltered that we’ve been able to ignore the “world outside where dark things” move.

Tolkien, who survived the brutal trenches of World War I, was well acquainted with that outside world: he was one of those Guardians. Thus, Tolkien challenges us to remember: Do we remember that we are sheltered? Do we remember the Guardians who make such a sheltered life possible? I believe that those who see Kyle as a hero remember; and those who criticize Kyle — and men like him — do not.

I’ve noticed that most of Chris Kyle’s critics — the ones who call him a murderer, psychopath, or coward—have no military background. They’ve never fought for their lives, defended the life of a fellow soldier in combat, or risked their lives for something greater than their own well-being. They live in peace, they preach peace, but they don’t understand that peace isn’t the norm in this fallen world (Ezekiel 13:10a). They don’t remember, if they ever knew, the truth of this statement: “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

Ironically, Kyle fought for his critics’ right to misunderstand him, mock him, even hate him—as do all our service men and women who go into harm’s way. He lived by a simple creed that has been ridiculed and mocked by too many Americans since the Vietnam War: “God, Family, Country.” Those values motivate the Guardians of our world, and I for one am glad that American Sniper is helping us to remember them.

Next Steps

What is the Christian’s duty in times of war? Chris Kyle professed to be a Christian. Do you believe that it is possible for a Christian to be one of those “rough men” and still live true to his faith? Why or why not? If you say “no,” what do you make of the fact that David, a warrior king who killed “tens of thousands” of his nation’s enemies, was a man after God’s own heart, and the standard by which God measured every king thereafter?


Original title: American Sniper and the Wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien by Diane Singer,, February 02, 2015 — Reprinted with permission.

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