April 12, 2010

REVIEW: Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 follows ex-Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell through his Texan upbringing, Seal School, deployment to Afghanistan, and eventual rescue from the most disastrous Special Operations engagement in U.S. History.

First, the good: Lone Survivor offers a rare glimpse at not only the training and operations that SEALs go through, but also a play-by-play look at the thinking of one SEAL during the most dangerous and traumatic operation of his life. We see how advanced SEAL training prepares its members to be effective, resourceful, and tenacious killing machines, even when faced with insurmountable odds and overwhelming force. These men take only the most dangerous missions and accept only the most daring, strong, and pain-tolerant among them. Marcus Luttrell and his ghost writer convey all this in a very approachable style any aspiring SEAL can appreciate, and it will doubtlessly be turned into a movie one day.

Now, the bad (and there is a lot of it): First, this book might better be called "Glenn Beck goes to War". As Luttrell and his men are scoping-out a terrorist stronghold, he would have us believe that while he fears neither Al-Quaeda nor the Taliban nor death itself, the one thing that haunts his dreams and raises the hair on his neck is... the American "liberal" media. Specifically, he believes that the media would vilify him for killing terrorists and somehow whip-up criminal charges against him. When a bunch of unarmed goat-herders happen upon Luttrell's position (possibly revealing them to the Taliban below), Luttrell quickly suggests (and proudly recounts his suggestion) that kill them (a War Crime). Only for 'fear of what the Liberals might say' does their commander decide instead to let them go (possibly leading to the Taliban discovering the SEALs a short while later). Luttrell immediately regrets the decision, lamenting "I felt like such a Liberal."

The irony of the situation is completely lost on Luttrell when he finds himself at the mercy of Pashtun tribesmen, who have to choose between defending him (thereby risking reprisal attacks from the Taliban against them) or turn him over to be killed. If the tribesman made the "pure military decision" Luttrell himself demanded of the goat herders, they would have surely killed him. But being responsible citizens, as well as moral people, they choose not to and instead risked everything by actually defending him, theoretically "to the last man".

At every turn, Luttrell demonstrates a fervent hatred for all things liberal and an almost willful misunderstanding of the reasoning behind and proper execution of rules of engagement. He also generously peppers in Muslim bigotry (calling them towel-heads), machismo, god-is-on-my-side bravado, and an unholy amount of pride for his native state of Texas. As someone aspiring to be a Naval Intelligence Officer, I find men like Luttrell dangerous to the overall U.S. mission in Afghanistan-- trying to win the locals' hearts and minds, when he'd rather put a bullet through each. In terms of style, Luttrell is something between Huck Finn and Yosemite Sam, which might be endearing to some, but torturous to me.

Luttrell and his comrades have honorably served their country, and as a tribute to his fallen brothers, this book is deserving of respect. But for all the vitriol and hate contained herein, it offers a very narrow strip of understanding and can only be taken so seriously. Much of what went wrong about the operation can be chalked up to poor planning and mistakes on the ground, which (besides the decision not to kill the goat herders) is not really discussed. Given that Luttrell's role in the Hindu Kush was one of a "blunt instrument" (to quote M from James Bond) not much more could really be expected of him, and in this book, nothing more is given.

Buy it
Skim it
Toss it

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:14 PM

    You obviously have not seen the outside of your ivory tower of Dartmouth for a long time and I pity anyone that serves with you.