Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10

I'm not sure I can separate this book review from my politics. Although, after reading some of the other reviews of this book, I'm not sure anyone reviewing this book has yet, so I'll just add my own bias to the pile.

Marcus Luttrell, a Navy SEAL, writes a first person narrative of his four member covert SEAL team's failed Operation Redwing mission: to take out a high ranking leader of al Qaeda, protected by members of the Taliban, in the remote and forsaken mountains of Afghanistan. The mission, attempted during June of 2005 and risky to begin with if everything went perfectly, turned into a bloody retreat as their location was apparently leaked to the Taliban by some unarmed goat herders Luttrell and his team mistakenly, or rightfully...depending on your ideology, set free after the goat herders stumbled onto their hidden location.

Luttrell and his SEAL teammates faced 4 against 100+ odds against a heavily armed, better positioned Taliban army and the results are disastrous for the SEALs. Within 24 hours, Luttrell turns out to be the sole survivor and his injuries and position give him little chance for rescue. Days later, dying of thirst, his legs destroyed from a grenade explosion and from seven miles of crawling, he is found and protected by an independent and stalwart Pashtun tribe who refuse to hand over Luttrell into the hands of the Taliban. With their protection, Luttrell is eventually able to send out an emergency beacon picked up by the US military and is later rescued by an elite team of Army Rangers.

Brave and physically fit as Luttrell is, elite as the Navy SEALs are, courageous and patriotic and confident as his team was...Luttrell does not give this story, or his team, the justice they deserves because he fills his book with so much personal bias, so much political and military rhetoric, and much too much tangent-flowing-pat-on-the-back-extraneous-information that this story of survival and valor is weakened to the point of failure. He failed to share his story in a neutral, matter-of fact way that could appeal to the masses, instead choosing to propagandize it to those who already agree with his personal political philosophies. The entire book reads like a Toby Keith song.

Recently, I was watching What Not To Wear on The Learning Channel and after a woman's boss told the video camera that she didn't feel like she could send her employee to certain meetings because of how she dressed, Stacy and Clinton told their victim that her clothing should never have a negative impact on the workplace. Neutral or positive....yes...but if her choice of clothing was hurting her opportunities for progress and promotion, she needed to change how she dressed for work.

Both for its perspective and understanding about the sacrifice and heroism those asked to defend our country display - this is an important story to tell. Unfortunately, I feel like Luttrell's choice of voice is like this woman's personal choice in clothes: it may be exactly what he thinks but how he tells it is not very helpful and perhaps even harmful. The writing was poor to distraction. According to the cover, there was a co-author involved but the writing felt so juvenile - it read like a high school, or worse, junior high school essay. First hand accounts of history are, of course, invaluable, but a grown-up story should be given the benefit of grown-up writing.

Beyond that, I lost track of how many times Luttrell veered off track his story of survival. Whether it was the detailed account of exactly how extremely physically fit Navy SEALs are through rigorous training is (his Bud/SEAL training fills the first 2/3 of the book), how liberal, unfair and anti-military the mainstream media is, personal stories of his family members and childhood, or the unnecessary repetition of military procedures and his personal racism, (I found his stereotypes of the Arab people disconcerting, particularly after Afghan men risked their lives, and the lives of their entire tribe, to protect and help him) this book ended up having too many objectives than the one the title claimed: the story of Operation Redwing and the fate of the SEALs who gave their lives to the cause.

Not ever having served in the military, nor knowing many people who have, I can only imagine the indoctrination that must occur to train and prepare soldiers for battle. Luttrell clearly believes certain things to be so but that does not necessarily make them so. The laws protecting human rights given in the Geneva Convention, the criminalization of torture, humiliation and harassment of an enemy, rules of engagement - all, according to Luttrell, written by a bunch of liberals in suits - might seem misplaced and unnecessary in Luttrell's mind, who has a Machiavellian belief that in the military realm, the desired end should justify any means. However, history has shown that without checks of power, mankind is notorious for disregarding human life. I'm not saying those rules and regulations make his job easy or fair, because, just as he complains, too many of our enemies do not abide by these same rules. He contends that unless the members of the military are given free-rein to do "whatever needs to be done to win" we will lose not only this war, but any war.

Maybe he's right. I don't know. Maybe he should have killed those goat herders who he believed betrayed their location. Maybe the coalition guards in Abu Ghraib had every right to humiliate and treat their prisoners like animals and slaves for the sake of their own morale. Maybe the only real way to be patriotic is to believe your country is stronger and tougher than any other. But I hope not.

I hope there is room for a little humanity in the world. I hope, like that Pashtun tribe in Afghanistan, there is room to do the right thing regardless of the guns pointed at you. I hope there are people everywhere who do the right thing because it is right and not because there is a law against doing something else that is wrong. I did not get the sense from Luttrell that in his world of war games and war, he believes many human beings are capable of doing the right thing. Except, of course, Americans and only if those Americans happen to be from Texas, think Bush is the greatest commander-in-chief ever or members or relatives of members in the military. Otherwise, those actions are a surprise and perhaps even an anomaly.

Luttrell may be brave, tough and patriotic. He may be highly trained, confident and a finely tuned warrior.

But....I hope, for my own sons' future, that he is wrong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm stalking your blog---love it and the reviews. Had to comment on this one because I really appreciate one sentence in particular, the one referencing Toby Keith. Really, too funny and painted the very clear picture that you were going for.

Keep up the good work. Someone should be paying you for your reviews.