Comments on the book Lone Survivor

I ripped through Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor in a couple of days. It was fascinating and captivating. I’m amazed at what people go through to become Navy SEALS and part of me wishes I had decided many moons ago to pursue that occupation, one that I see as the most serious and demanding there is. The book goes on to give a very detailed and personal account of Operation Redwing, a disastrous mission in Afghanistan that left 19 service men dead and a single survivor, as the name suggests.

There are a couple of main themes in the book as I implied above: the rigorous training of the SEALS, the life of a professional warrior, the brotherhood of the service, the complexities of the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and the unbelievable chaos of a mission gone very wrong. I congratulate Petty Officer Lutrell on his service to our country, his bravery and professionalism in the execution of that service and for writing a very honest and chilling account of the operation.

Where he goes wrong has been oft-commented in the reviews I’ve seen: his blame of the ROE on “liberals”. I personally am totally willing to trust highly trained professionals like the Navy SEALS to make decisions in the field. I don’t think that alleviates those professionals from being accountable for their decisions. It is clear from the language expressed in the book that Luttrell has nothing but contempt for the local people. The fact that he was saved by these local people is ironic. I personally would gladly trade the lives of 3 Afghan shepherds for the lives of 19 US Special Forces. The problem is: you can’t know that in advance. There have probably been a lot of shepherds killed who posed no threat, who held the same good will towards the US as the people who saved Luttrell. Others have probably been spared with no ill outcomes. Hindsight on one disastrous mission is not in any way proof that the ROE are unreasonable.

Here I am, a liberal, who basically agrees with Luttrell, being blamed for creating the situation that he survived. Yet he says that all of the members of the team had doubts about the mission. Why were those doubts not acted upon? Why did they not have a communications plan, a drone or plane keeping them in contact? Why didn’t they have a plan in case they were spotted by locals? Why wasn’t the Quick Reaction Force  (QRF) ready for insertion? Why didn’t they have a plan to insert them in the safest possible way?

I know hindsight is 20/20 and I know I have no business second guessing the Navy SEALS. Nothing goes right all the time. This was bad luck, somehow, and I personally hold Luttrell and his entire team blameless. They did the best they could and I doubt anyone could have done better. We’ll never know.

I only wish that Luttrell was a bit less accusatory towards half of the people of this country who supported his missions and his  buddies just as much as the other half. The worst sin we can make is deploying our service men and women without specific, achievable goals. We are duty-bound to scrutinize the violent arm of our country, the one that the Navy SEALS fulfill. I don’t understand why Luttrell seems to disagree with this.

Read the book. It’s a valuable insight into the front lines of Afghanistan. Men like Luttrell deserve our respect.


Comments on the book Lone Survivor


I recently read Sebastien Junger’s book War. It was captivating because of the real life-or-death action and thought-provoking because of the deeper central idea. If you think about it, for the last 100,000 years, anatomically modern human beings have been struggling for survival. Many times, what was trying to kill them was other human beings. Junger quotes a statistic that 15% of pre-civilization human beings were killed by other human beings. Because of this, core to our culture and, to some extent, our nature, is the concept of the war party. Young men gathered together to go fight and perhaps die in defense of their people.

This is an interesting and powerful notion and Junger’s book brings it to life through the eyes of young soldiers stationed at remote outposts in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.

We see this instinct prevail in non-war ways, too. Men get together to hunt and fish, party or work and they bring to the dynamic these macho ideas of brotherhood and self-sacrifice that have been part of our existence since before we were human. To sacrifice for the tribe is the highest and most honored value. In spite of the seeming contradiction with “survival of the fittest” it appears that we are evolutionary descendants of those willing to sacrifice for tribe.

I’m going to Restrepo tonight, which is the documentary Junger made while writing this book, and I can’t wait. I’ll report back.