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Story highlights

Don Mann: Michael Moore called snipers cowards, but they protect his free speech

Chris Kyle, subject of "American Sniper," made sacrifices to protect our freedoms, he says

Mann: If Moore had trained to be a sniper, he'd have a clue

Editor’s Note: Don Mann is a retired member of SEAL Team Six and co-author of “Inside SEAL Team Six.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) —  

As Americans, we are fortunate to have the right to speak our minds. Filmmaker Michael Moore did just that with his attack on the use of military snipers in warfare just before the release of the Oscar-nominated and devastating war/anti-war movie “American Sniper,” directed by Clint Eastwood.

Don Mann
PHOTO: Will Ramos
Don Mann

Moore obviously has the same freedom of speech right that all Americans do. Some of what he has publicly stated in the past is opinion, some is fact and some is absolutely ludicrous. In an apparent reference to Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, credited with 160 enemy kills – the most in U.S. history – and the movie “American Sniper,” Moore commented on Twitter that his “uncle was killed by a sniper” and that he was “taught that all snipers were cowards.”

Moore explains snipers are ‘cowards’ tweet

To begin with, the reason Americans have the freedom of speech Moore was exercising is because brave men such as Kyle and other active-duty personnel and military veterans have fought to protect this precious right.

As far as the comment that “snipers are cowards,” that is beyond ludicrous and it is difficult to understand just how anybody could make such a comment.

Let’s look at some of the basic facts surrounding Kyle’s life as a Navy SEAL sniper. Kyle either trained for war or was deployed in war zones for more than 300 days a year during his service in the SEAL teams. SEAL wives basically raise their children alone. The divorce rate for SEALs is incredibly high. Many of the guys have been married multiple times. The children grow up not really knowing their dads because the dads go on frequent and often back-to-back deployments to war zones.

These guys seldom know when they are leaving or for how long. Their work involves going in harm’s way and fighting an enemy that is determined to do whatever it can to take away our way of life. After returning home from a deployment, these guys immediately go back to work preparing for the next deployment. Some are not so fortunate and are wounded or killed in the line of duty.

A sniper, who operates behind enemy lines, has one of the most demanding and dangerous duties in the Special Operations community. Snipers operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and a host of other countries often must crawl and make their way through treacherous urban or desert war-zone terrain for hours just to reach their position undetected, a position of over-watch, cover and concealment. Once they are on site, they sometimes stay in their position for days on end waiting for follow-on orders.

Why ‘American Sniper’ is a smash hit

Military snipers are not sociopaths, coldblooded killers. Snipers believe in their hearts that when they neutralize, or “take out,” a threat that they are saving the lives of their teammates, other military personnel or other innocent people. Their target hit lists typically include terrorists or people preparing to cause grave harm or death to the innocent.

As I cite in my book “The Modern Day Gunslinger,” Lt. Col. David Grossman uses the analogy of wolves, sheep and sheepdogs. Grossman, in his book “On Combat,” compares the average citizen as basically peaceful and nonthreatening – like sheep.

These are the majority of people and do not want to cause harm to others; they wish to live peacefully. The terrorist – the enemy, the “bad guy” – strikes terror and threatens to harm and kill the innocent, like the wolf who threatens the sheep. Fortunately, there are brave men and women who sacrifice much to protect those who wish to live day to day in peace. These protectors are the community sheepdogs.

Chris Kyle was a champion sheepdog. Every time Kyle pulled back on his trigger and fired a shot that neutralized a “wolf,” he was saving countless lives and protecting the sheep. Every wolf he put down was no longer capable of causing harm or death to the sheep, the innocents.

I ask, how can anybody consider a sniper, a Navy SEAL sniper, to be a coward? As much as I try to keep my mind open to all viewpoints – from the far left to the far right – I can only reach the conclusion that Michael Moore has no idea what he is talking about. His unfounded comments could not be further from the truth.

I am confident that if Moore had the courage to spend just one day in a war-zone “sniper hide,” waiting for the go signal to take out an enemy target his opinions on snipers and the military would change 180 degrees. I would go so far as to say if Moore would simply attend a one-day sniper-training course in the United States, his opinion would drastically change.

Yes, of course, he has the right to say whatever he wishes, but when a guy like Moore has the pulpit and the attention of the media, he should have a moral obligation to speak only on topics in which he has some basic knowledge of the facts.

Chris Kyle is an American war hero who has been credited and awarded for saving countless American and innocent lives. After what he did for our country, after all of his sacrifices, Kyle decided to get out of the Navy and assist those brothers in arms who returned from overseas with post-traumatic stress disorder. How incredibly sad and ironic that in February 2013, Kyle was killed and shot in the back, police say, by a former Marine suffering with PTSD whom he was trying to help and mentor.

Michael Moore, tell me: How was Chris Kyle a coward? How are snipers cowards?

When Kyle was killed, he left his loving and devoted wife, Taya, behind. She feels that “American Sniper” did a good job at portraying the struggles that Kyle endured as a Navy SEAL sniper as well as his roles as a husband and father. The movie illustrates the real-life story of heroism, patriotism and self-sacrifice of a remarkable American war hero.

01:04 - Source: CNN
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Bradley Cooper, who portrayed Kyle, told NPR that the role was “nothing short of life-changing. It’s just not about me or Clint (Eastwood), or anybody else. … It’s a real human being. … So there’s a huge responsibility. But I saw it as an honor. … I felt like I lived with him for those six months in a very intimate way. … (H)e was the first voice I heard every morning and the last voice I heard going to bed.”