Lone Survivor is an incredible true story from the lips of Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL who survived Operation Red Wing in Afghanistan, which resulted in the largest loss of SEALs in their history. There has since been a feature film on the same story, though Hollywood took its usual liberties with the details. The story is incredible and demands the highest respect for Marcus and especially for the 19 special forces troops who died in the operation. It also, surprisingly, offers a more complex view of Afghanis, since Marcus owes his life to the radical hospitality of an Afghan village.
The book itself, however, is poorly written, a fact that distracts from the story. I’m sure that it was essentially dictated, so it’s written just as Marcus speaks. On the one hand this gives the reader the feeling that he’s sitting right there next to you recounting his story. On the other hand, between his constant interjections and tiresome repetition of the same thoughts, he’s not a great story teller.
My one major issue with Luttrell’s reflection is his stance on Rules of Engagement (RoEs) and what his team should have done with the three goatherds who fatefully stumbled across their position. (Chris Kyle had the same complaints in American Sniper, so perhaps it’s a Texas thing, a SEAL thing, or both.) They argued whether they should let them go or just kill them. Marcus makes very clear that the only reason they didn’t kill the three unarmed goatherds in cold blood right then and there is that they would be found out and prosecuted for murder in the U.S. In his opinion, war is war and the “liberals and the media” should just get over it and let the soldiers do their job, even when it means committing such atrocities as cold-blooded murder. In the end, they let them go and changed position, only to be informed on and assaulted, resulting in the disaster of the mission. I know that Marcus would literally beat me up for what I’m about to write because so much suffering and death resulted from their decision. For what it’s worth, I write this with the greatest respect for all of them, and by no means intend to lessen that. First, if we are fighting a war to help America remain great, then we must fight along the very principles that make us a great nation in the first place – respect for the individual and the value of every human life. There must be rules in place to help soldiers maintain those principles even in the fog of war, even when our enemy has no principles to speak of. While it’s sometimes difficult to swallow, those principles are even worth paying the highest price for, because the alternative is to pay the price of becoming like the very enemy we oppose. Second, based on the information I have, it seems that there were options between killing them and letting them go that weren’t considered. The SEALs limited themselves to two polar opposite options. They could have knocked out the goatherds and gotten out of there. They could have shot them in the feet and gotten out of there. I suspect that they could have found a creative way to just tie them up and leave them there, and then aborted the mission. They could have even let them go and aborted mission. But they picked what seems to me to be the worst option, which was to let them go and continue the mission. I think there should be a more thorough examination of their problem-solving in that situation before they jump to blaming our nation’s RoEs.
This is a complicated issue. What are your thoughts?