Yes, the SEALS’ sacrifice during Operation Red Wings was a waste

Operation Red WingsBefore you start hammering away at me, let me explain what I mean about my claim that the sacrifice the SEALS and their rescuers made during Operation Red Wings was indeed a waste.  I am referring, of course, to Jake Tapper’s asking Marcus Luttrell whether  his comrades died in vain.  That was a foolish and tactless question to ask Luttrell, and Luttrell couldn’t and wouldn’t give the real answer in any event.  There is an answer, though, and Tapper was right.  Here’s why:

There are three types of wasted battle deaths, two of which are familiar to all, and one of which is a brand new one.

The most obvious wasted death is the one that occurs because of terrible command decisions.  One could argue that the entirety of WWI, with Brits throwing themselves into No Man’s Land for four years at their generals’ commands was that type of wasted death.  The British had appalling tactics and, rather than changing them to avoid a bloody stalemate, simply redoubled their failed approach.  Likewise, in the case of Operation Red Wings, the SEALS were fatally hampered by rules of engagement so restrictive that, after lengthy debate, they decided that they were safer releasing potential spies than they were killing or otherwise disabling them.

The men in Operation Red Wings might still have died in other places, at other times, during the war in Afghanistan.  Their deaths in that time and at that place, however, flowed directly from a foolish policy that gave (and still gives) greater respect to the enemy’s safety than to that of our own troops.

Still, despite a foul policy, when he answered Tapper’s question Luttrell spoke a greater truth, reflecting his understanding that no war is every perfectly carried out at either a strategic or tactical level.  As long as you’re still fighting, you can still win:

I don’t know what part of the film you were watching, but hopelessness really never came into it. I mean, where did you see that? Because there was never a point where we just felt like we were hopelessly lost or anything like that. We never gave up. We never felt like we were losing until we were actually dead.

What Luttrell left unsaid at the time was that his team still believed in the fight.  More importantly, so did America’s then-Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush.  Bush never doubted the righteousness of trying to destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Afghani stronghold.  As far as all who were then concerned believed, Afghanistan was an important war that would benefit America.  In that regard, therefore, when troops die in a righteous (and, one hopes, victorious) war, their deaths have meaning regardless of the success or failure of any single engagement.

Which brings us to the second type of wasted death in war:  deaths that occur because the war’s supporters fail to understand that they are supporting a bad or lost cause.  In every case where a country’s military is the aggressor, only to lose dramatically to a better prepared, more ferocious fighting force, many on the losing side are going to have to ask “Why the heck did we start this?  What a waste of lives and resources.”  Even if you have the best cause in the world, if there’s no way you can possibly win, those who die have wasted their lives.

The caveat to this view is that one only realizes after the fact that a war was a waste.  During the American Revolution, many might have said that the revolutionaries’ stand against the most powerful military in the world was bound to be a waste . . . except that it wasn’t.

Obama-salutingThe above examples of wasted deaths in war are familiar to any history student.  Barack Obama has added an entirely new category to “wasted war deaths,” one that I don’t think has ever before occurred in recorded history:  Deaths that are a waste because the Commander-in-Chief couldn’t care less about victory or the troops.  Instead, merely wants to give the appearance of fighting for short-term domestic political advantage.

Per Robert Gates:

“As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Except that Obama didn’t get out of Afghanistan, because it would have looked bad politically given his campaign claim that Afghanistan was a good war. (He probably didn’t believe that either.) Both he and Hillary agreed in Gates’ presence that they were determinedly opposed to the Iraq War merely out of political expediency, without any regard for America’s best interests:

“Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”

Given this cavalier attitude, it’s no surprise that the President did nothing to secure Iraq.  To the contrary:  he sat (and has long been sitting) idly by as al Qaeda has retaken city after city in which American men fought and died. By deliberately turning victory into defeat, Obama has taken every single American death in Iraq and wiped it of meaning. While our troops once died in a just cause to bring democracy to a benighted land —  thereby decreasing the risk of devastating terror attacks against America — now those same deaths have become pointless.  Obama didn’t just allow the status quo to reappear, he fomented an even worse situation than before. (Saddam Hussein was bad; al Qaeda is worse.) Somehow it’s perfectly symbolic of Obama’s “man-created” travesty that the military’s last act with regard to Fallujah has been to persecute Marines.

Not only was Obama uninterested in our nation’s security or our military victories, he was singularly uninterested in the troops:

One quality I missed in Obama was passion, especially when it came to the two wars,’ Gates wrote.

‘In my presence, Bush — very unlike his father — was pretty unsentimental. But he was passionate about the war in Iraq; on occasion, at a Medal of Honor ceremony or the like, I would see his eyes well up.

‘I worked for Obama longer than Bush, and I never saw his eyes well up.’

Again, no surprise there.  To Obama the narcissist, the men and women in the military are merely objects serving his ego. For that reason, it’s also unsurprising that the only subject regarding the military that excited him was getting gays into it, a passion with interesting Freudian implications:

Gates wrote that ‘the only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

Just as disturbing as Obama’s warped values is his complete disinterest in even a simulacrum of competence:

President Obama is “chronically incapable” of military strategy and falls far short of his predecessor George W. Bush, according to one of Britain’s most senior military advisors.

[snip]

[Sir Hew] Strachan, a current member of the Chief of the Defense Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, cited the “crazy” handling of the Syrian crisis as the most egregious example of a fundamental collapse in military planning that began in the aftermath of 9/11. “If anything it’s gone backwards instead of forwards, Obama seems to be almost chronically incapable of doing this. Bush may have had totally fanciful political objectives in terms of trying to fight a global War on Terror, which was inherently astrategic, but at least he had a clear sense of what he wanted to do in the world. Obama has no sense of what he wants to do in the world,” he said.

So, yes, Operation Red Wings was a waste, not at the time, but in retrospect — and this is so because we have a president who views war solely in terms of his own self-aggrandizement and political objectives, without any regard for America’s national security or strategic interests, or for the troops who have served and are currently serving in our American military.  Obama has managed to negate any good the troops did before he became President and, since he became president, they are merely objects on his own personal chessboard.  Like some spoiled potentate, he moves them around for his pleasure and views their deaths with clinical dispassion.

(See also this article, from Foreign Policy.)

 

Monday morning mixed bag (and of course, Open Thread)

Victorian posy of pansiesIt turns out that a long-time friend of mine is related by marriage to Matt Axelson, who died during Operation Redwings.  As you recall, Marcus Luttrell memorialized Operation Redwings in Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.  A movie based upon the book opened this past weekend.

My friend heard from her relative some months ago that the movie — which family members got to preview — is really good.  Not only is the box office reflecting the movie’s quality, the movie is also driving the Left nuts for daring to be an American movie that shows our military as the good guys and the Taliban as the bad guys.

Incidentally, I do not include Jake Tapper in my scorn for the media.  There’s been a kerfuffle about him asking Luttrell whether the latter felt a sense of lives wasted when he looked back on that event.  I thought that was a legitimate question in light of the way that Obama, repeating Vietnam, has deliberately lost the war for Americans.

I will not be seeing the movie.  I found the book disturbing enough, without having actors graphically replay it on the big screen.  Not only am I too cowardly to fight, I’m too cowardly even to watch a fake version of a real fight.

Go here for more on the Left’s strident opposition to a factually accurate movie that is American-friendly and Taliban-unfriendly.

***

Although I didn’t blog about it, I didn’t miss the fact that Ariel Sharon, after spending so many years in a coma, finally died.  He was a fierce warrior, always fighting on behalf of his beloved Israel.  I think his gamble with Gaza was a failure, but that failure certainly could have resulted because Sharon was struck down before he could optimize that gamble.  Bibi is good, but he’s never had Sharon’s ferocity nor do Israelis trust Bibi the way they did Sharon. When all is said and done, Ariel Sharon was a larger-than-life, frequently heroic figure who never acted without considering Israel’s welfare.

I’ve also stayed away from commenting on Obama’s tepid response to Sharon’s passing.  However, Keith Koffler did such a good write-up about Obama’s praising Sharon with faint damns that I must pass it on to you.

I’m not surprised at Obama’s dry eyes, of course.  Obama always wears his heart on his sleeve when people die.  Maggie Thatcher, who stared down communism and saved England’s economy?  Eh.  Hugh Chavez, whose hardcore socialism impoverished his country and began the work of turning it into a police state?  Obama wept.  Chris Kyle, who bravely and effectively served his country in war and in peace?  His name never passed Obama’s lips.  Whitney Houston, a drugged-out singer who wasted a God-given talent?  Obama and the missus were beside themselves.  When I look at Obama and Mooch-elle, I always want to copy Groucho Marx by singing “Whatever you’re for, I’m against it!”

***

In Mexico, the drug cartels and the police forces are brothers in arms.  The citizens suffer terribly — except in Michoacan, where a vigilante army has risen up and is battling both cartels and corrupt police.

Or maybe not.  It’s entirely possible that the vigilantes are merely hired guns for a rival cartel.

I tend to believe that counter narrative.  Why?  Because violent, drug-ridden Mexico has some of the strictest gun-control laws on the books.  If these vigilantes have guns, they didn’t get them legally.  The only guns are in the hands of the government and the drug-runners.

Imagine, just for a moment, how different it would be for honest citizens in Mexico if they had a Second Amendment….

***

My friend at To Put It Bluntly has written a post examining the hypocrisy behind the California Supreme Court’s decision to allow an illegal alien to get a law license in California.  It’s not just that this guy has sworn to uphold the laws of the United States and the State of California, despite the fact that he is the living embodiment of their violation.  It’s also that the tactic the Supreme Court used to arrive at its PC conclusion reveals just how much the government has its thumb on the scale when it comes to deciding who can and cannot work.  Too often, in modern America, the pursuit of happiness doesn’t include a right to honest employment without permission from the government.

***

If you’re at all curious as to just how bad John Kerry is when it comes to the Middle East and Israel’s security, he’s this bad.  And if you want to know just how badly Obama dropped the ball on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he dropped it this badly.  (Alternatively, if you believe as I do that Obama has deliberately decided to pivot away from Israel and towards Iran, he did a great job pivoting.)

***

And for your reading pleasure, leadership buzz words in the Marines.

 

Chris Kyle, RIP

Chris Kyle

Back in June, I reviewed Chris Kyle’s American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.  I gave the book a thumbs up — it was an enjoyable, informative read about life on the front lines from a tough guy who became a SEAL, and then went on to become, as the title says, the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military history.  Along the way, Kyle picked up, just to name a few the honors bestowed upon him, two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor, and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.

One of the things that struck me about Kyle’s book was how earthy and irreverent it was.  I compared it to Marcus Luttrell’s equally enjoyable, but very different, Service: A Navy SEAL at War, which struck a more reverent note.  Kyle was a rough, tough man, who lived hard and loved his wife and family with the same passion he brought to everything else he did.

That rough, tough, passionate, loving man managed to survive front line service in Iraq only to die yesterday in Texas when a crazed former Marine shot him and Chad Littlefield at point blank range, killing both:

The deadliest sniper in US history has been shot dead at point blank range by a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Chris Kyle, 39, was blasted in the back by Eddie Ray Routh, 25, after taking him on an outing to a shooting range to help him deal with his demons.

Routh also allegedly shot dead his neighbor Chad Littlefield, 35, who was on the trip too.

I’m not blind to the irony that a man who made his career shooting people died by being shot. I don’t have to go to Left wing blogs to know that they’re probably celebrating this “karmic” end to his life. This point of view is, of course, wildly and completely wrong.

As Kyle fully understood — as every person on a battlefield has understood — there is a difference between war time and peace time. During war time, an enemy is arrayed against you and yours. If you don’t kill him, he will kill you, and your friends, and your family. Provided you are fighting against a true enemy (one who genuinely seeks your destruction), killing in war is a righteous.

My Dad may have had nightmares about the Nazis coming to kill him at El Alamein, but he never had nightmares about the Nazis he killed.  Individually, I have no doubt that there were decent men amongst the Nazi troops, men who were patriots, rather than genocidal maniacs.  When a country goes to war, decent individuals too often find themselves on the wrong side.  Sadly, though, the nature of war means that, to destroy an evil nation, one has to destroy its military — including the cannon fodder forced into that nation’s war.  Kyle understood this.

At home, though, in peace time, Kyle was not a crazed killer.  He was a family man and an educator.  He sought to protect innocents.  Living as a man of peace, in peace time, his murder was just as terrible as it would have been if he’d spent the last decades being an accountant, rather than a SEAL.

I enjoyed the funny, rough, pragmatic man I met in Kyle’s book.  If you haven’t read it, I bet you’d like him too.  Perhaps now is the time to buy the book, since I’m sure his wife and children will need the royalties from its sales.

The different faces of the military — two SEAL autobiographies

Within the last two weeks, I’ve read two Navy SEAL books:  Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War and Chris Kyle’s American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.

The books have a lot of similarities, separate from the fact that both are books about SEALS seeing service in Iraq during and before the Anbar awakening.  Luttrell and Kyle are both Texas boys (who, unsurprisingly, are friends); they both value the triumvirate of Country, God, and Family, although not necessarily in that order; they both have a superhuman capacity for exertion and suffering, which is a necessity for a SEAL; they both describe the devastating long-term effects on their bodies from constant training and battle, hardships they willingly endure because they love their jobs and their country; and they both are fiercely, almost fanatically devoted to the SEALS.

What’s different about the books, and what makes it worthwhile to read both, is tone.  Despite being a Texas good ol’ boy, Luttrell’s view of the SEALS is almost reverent.  His SEALS don’t come across as choir boys, but they are remarkably close to the PG-rated, family-loving, lite beer-drinking SEALS in Act of Valor. After his Afghanistan ordeal, Luttrell’s subsequent service in Iraq comes close to a martyrdom, as he struggles against debilitating physical injury in order to be out there with his Teams.

Kyle adores the SEALs, but has no reverence.  These are hard charging men who drink, brawl, and haze each other with cheerful, impartial brutality.  When they’re off duty, and have nothing else to do, they play computer games and watch porn.  These are the R-rated SEALS.  These are men who naturally have testosterone infusing their testosterone.  I have a suspicion that they’re closer to the real deal than are Luttrell’s SEALS, who seem to have come out of central casting, circa the John Wayne era.  Kyle clearly loves war.  He’s no sadist, but there is pleasure for him in defeating an enemy he describes as “savage” and “barbarian.”

I’ve been wondering about the different approach these two men take to describing their comrades.  Are Luttrell and Kyle so different in personality that they simply see their team members through a different filter?  Or are they writing for very different audiences?  Luttrell gained national prominence because of his experiences in Afghanistan, whereas Kyle may be more of a military phenomenon.  This means that Luttrell has to appeal to — and is selling the SEALS to — a broader spectrum of Americans than Kyle.

The books are a perfectly matched set (and you know how I love my matched sets), so I recommend reading both.  Combining Luttrell’s more cerebral approach with Kyle’s earthier stories gives a well-rounded view of the brave and slightly insane (in a very good way) men who willingly engage in uncomfortable, brutal, and dangerous warfare so that the majority of Americans can live out their lives in comfort and safety.  I have inordinate admiration for these men, but I do get the feeling that you have to be as tough as they are to function around them.

Also, both books offer a good insight into the chasm between actual fighting in the field, and the political fighting at home that so often handicapped them.  Frustration is the name-of-the-game for front line fighters who have the enemy in their sights and are constrained by almost arbitrary rules of engagement.  The theory behind the rules of engagement is to leave a loving population behind.  But war is not loving, and things would probably have gone better if the government had trusted the troops a little more, and allowed them to wage a quick, clean-ish war, rather than a slow, enervating war.

Book review: Marcus Luttrell’s “Service: A Navy SEAL at War”

I promise that this post will be a review of Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War.  First, though, I have to start with the ridiculous, before I can give proper context, not to the sublime (because war isn’t sublime), but to the important and meaningful.

The ridiculous is, of course, MSNBC’s own Chris Hayes, who earned himself a great deal of much-deserved ridicule for his inability to acknowledge military heroism:

CHRIS HAYES: Thinking today and observing Memorial Day, that’ll be happening tomorrow.  Just talked with Lt. Col. Steve Burke [sic, actually Beck], who was a casualty officer with the Marines and had to tell people [inaudible].  Um, I, I, ah, back sorry, um, I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Um, and, ah, ah, why do I feel so comfortable [sic] about the word “hero”?  I feel comfortable, ah, uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

One doesn’t need a psychiatric degree to know that Mr. Hayes probably suffers from, or should suffer from, paruresis — the inability to urinate in front of others.  Regardless of the exact nature of his physical attributes, this is a guy who, deep down, is pretty damn sure that he’s under-endowed and can’t measure up.  Only a deep and abiding inferiority complex could see a young man, ostensibly in the prime of his physical life, unable to recognize and appreciate that others are willing to make sacrifices he’s incapable of even contemplating.

Perhaps because I’m a woman, it’s easy for me to acknowledge my own physical cowardice.  Maybe a man has to rationalize himself away from a fight in which he could have served.  For example, I know a man who could have served, but didn’t, in Vietnam.  He was once an anti-War protester.  Now, though, he goes around boasting about how he’s more man than anyone who served — “I could have done that, and I, with my super-duper manly-man skills would have out-gunned everyone there.  I just chose not to serve [and, sotto voce, I'm eternally grateful my draft number didn't come up].”   Hayes represents the other end of the self-justification spectrum:  “Service is stupid.  I would never have gone into a fight because I’m not stupid.”

This is the mindset that results in movies such as the Danish film In a Better World, an Oscar-winning foreign film.  Aside from some indescribably boring film-making techniques, the movie got off to a promising start, with a premise that seemed startlingly un-European:  Fight back against bullies.

In the movie, Sofus, a bully, is going after another schoolboy, Elias.  A new kid, Christian, who has traveled with his father and experienced many new schools, comes to this particular school and, when he is too friendly with Elias, Sofus turns on Christian too.  The next time the bully starts on Elias, Christian beats the crap out of Sofus.  When Christian’s father picks him up from school and asks “Why?”, Christian has a simple answer:  If had hadn’t done this, I would have been bullied again.  Now, all the kids know to leave me alone.

I was impressed.  Who knew that a European film could be so wise?  After all, we know that, unless you stand up to bullies, they’ll keep bullying.  Stand up to them, however, even if you take some knocks, and they back off.  It’s basic school yard logic.

It turns out that I was impressed too quickly.  Christian, the boy who stood up to bullies was actually a psychopath who started dragging poor victimized (but peaceful) Elias down the path to total warfare.  This scenario, the movie implies, although it never says so, was how Columbine got started.  Never defend yourself, because if you do, you will become a crazy wacko who tries to commit mass murder.  Always let wiser, peace-making heads intervene, causing you to back off, leaving more room within which the bully can operate.

And so, at long last, we get to Marcus Luttrell’s Service.  Incidentally, when I speak here of Luttrell, that’s a bit of a shorthand, since he worked with James D. Hornfischer, who wrote the excellent Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors.  My best guess is that Luttrell provided the stories and that Hornfischer shaped them into a very readable book.

Boiled down to its essentials, Service is the un-Chris Hayes and the un-Northern European pacifism.  Instead, it’s about those men who understand that the only way to deal with bullies is to take them on and defeat them.

Does this mean that those who stand against bullies are bullies themselves?  No.  Unlike bullies who happily and viciously trample anyone in their path, a hero carefully targets his fight, taking it to the bully, and then stands down when that fight is finished.  It’s that ethos that permeates Service.

I found Service very difficult to read, not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s a good book.  Luttrell’s first book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, was painful to read, but it had what was, for me, a recognizable story arc:  our hero trains; our hero faces a terrible battle in which his comrades, after fighting with awe-inspiring bravery, die; and our hero struggles through adversity to survive.  I knew what was coming in advance because that operation was so famous, and because I recognized the narrative arc (although it was still upsetting for this armchair warrior and bona fide coward to read).

Service, however, lacks the familiar narrative of an epic tragedy.  Instead, Luttrell walks the reader through the fight in Ramadi from 2006 to 2008.  Patrol after patrol, fire fight after fire fight, frustrating bureaucratic interlude after frustrating bureaucratic interlude — as you read the book, you feel as if you’re there and for me, that’s a tough feeling. I knew about the bureaucracy (especially the increasingly restrictive rules of engagement), and I had a sort of vague, MSM-ish understanding of the reality of battle, but Luttrell’s book is much more intense.  Here’s part of his description of the end result of a battle that went south for the SEALS:

When the QRF [quick reaction force] arrived outside [the building being attacked] with a couple of Bradleys, the squad moved quickly downstairs and lined up to break out of the house.  They tossed two smoke grenades outside to cover their exfil, then burst through the door.  Two Iraqis were in the lead, followed by Elliott [Miller, who had shrapnel wounds and was bleeding heavily], hobbling along with help from Johnny Brands.  The jundis [Iraqis fighting with the Americans] had just hit the street when the world went dark.  The IED might have been dropped down on them from the roof in a backpack.  Or it might have been planted in the ground or hung on the gate while they were inside.  All we know for sure is that it was a trap set by enemies who were obviously wise to everything we were doing and how we were doing it.  They knew that straight-on firefights were losing propositions.  So they snuck around and planted their bombs where they thought we’d be.  They sure got it right that time.  An enormous explosion engulfed our guys as they exited the house.

The explosion killed the two Iraqis leading the way; the first man simply disappeared, evaporated by the blast, his scan remnants driving away in the air, a pink mist, while the second, partly sheltered by the leader, was nearly sliced in half at the waist.  The blast still had enough force to devastate Elliott.  It tore into his body wherever it wasn’t protected by body armor.  His legs were shredded from midthigh down.  He had a hole in his right shoulder and the parts of him that weren’t covered by plates were being eaten into by a terrible chemical residue.

[snip]

Johnny was better off, but that wasn’t saying much.  Both his feet were attached to his ankles only by the Achilles tendons.

[snip]

Looking down at Elliott, Dozer saw that his friend’s legs seemed loose and detached in the bloody mess of his pants.  The steel rifle magazine stored in his front vest pouches had been dished in by the blast.  Elliott’s watch was charred and black but, amazingly, still kept time.  Only his body armor saved him from being killed instantly.  Dozer ran his hands under Elliott’s plates, checking his torso for wounds.  As he removed Elliott’s gear, Dozer realized he didn’t have the first idea where to begin treating such a seriously wounded man.  That was when he heard another explosion, a smaller one, go off in the courtyard.  A grenade.  The insurgents were still out there, probing them, probably planning another attack.  (Service, pp. 145-147.)

And so it goes, as the men work desperately to extricate themselves and their wounded teammates from a rain of fire.  The SEAL team did eventually make it to safety, and Elliott and Johnny Brands survived, but it was a close thing, and their injuries were devastating.

I chose the above excerpt because of the immediacy of the story.  With Luttrell’s narrative abilities and Hornfischer’s writing chops, you, the reader, feel as if you’re there, in the middle of a battle in the streets of Ramadi.  That’s why it took me a while to read the book, despite the fact that it’s interesting, entertaining, and moving.  After going (in my head) through a battle with the guys, I need to rest and regroup.

There are a few overarching themes in the book:  Luttrell believes deeply in God, country, and America’s armed forces.  His love for his twin brother (also a SEAL) and for his SEAL teammates generally is transcendent, and keeps bringing him back to the fight. In addition to being an action-adventure story and an homage to the SEALS specifically and the fighting forces in Ramadi generally, this book is also a eulogy and a memorial to those SEALS who made the ultimate sacrifice there and in Afghanistan:  Mark Lee, Michael Monsoor, Carson Vaughn, Jon Tumilson, and so many other good men (including all those who died on August 6, 2011), each one a man who directed his formidable strength, intelligence, and energy, not to mindless X-sports, but to protecting his country and fighting for his comrades.

This middle class, female, armchair warrior walked away from Luttrell’s book pretty convinced that Navy SEALS are crazy — but I mean that in a good way.  Only crazy people (in a good way) would put themselves through the training they do and live for the fight the way they do.

Thank God for these crazy people, who can bend their energies to a focused fight against bullies, and who have the moral decency to live by America’s rules of engagement, even as nothing constrains the other side.  Even though Luttrell vividly describes the way the SEALS chafe and suffer at times when the ROEs prevent them from hitting a known and obvious target, they are proud of the fact that they reserve their fire for combatants, and that they neither target nor shield themselves behind the innocents.  This ethos, one that one can call civilized warfare,” makes the fighting much harder in the rabbit warren of Ramadi, but it is one of the things that separates the heroes from the sadistic bullies.

If you would like to immerse yourself in a book that details ferocious urban warfare against a wily and amoral enemy, Service is your book.  The stories are compelling, the writing styling is clear and gripping, and the people you meet in the book are people you’d like to meet in the real world too.

A soldier sends a gift from the other side, which makes me think about the daily gifts our troops give us

Private Chris Kershaw, 19, a British soldier, didn’t really send a gift from the other side.  What he did, though, was think about the ones who would be left behind in the event he died in battle, and he left them a letter:

The youngest of six British soldiers blown up by a Taliban bomb joked about his death in a final letter to his family which was read out at his funeral today.

More than 500 mourners turned out to say a tearful farewell to Private Chris Kershaw, 19, as he was laid to rest at his parish church in the village of Idle, near Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Family and friends packed the church of Holy Trinity while many more stood outside as the service was relayed over a loud speaker.

[snip]

Pte Kershaw wrote to his family: ‘This is to inform you of the unfortunate death of, well, me. I would like to explain that even though I don’t know how I died I am sure it was from some heroic act.

‘In the long run, I was doing the job I loved. This was my dream job and even though it had its ups and downs I loved every second of it.’

I am currently reading Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War.  As I read, I keep thinking to myself (as everyone must when reading about the military generally and the SEALS specifically) “Wow, what amazing guys these are.  Highly intelligent, superbly fit, emotionally stable, deeply patriotic, supernaturally brave and stoic, adaptable, blessed with inhumanly quick reflexes, fun-loving, and with an almost saintly altruism when it comes to protecting their team, or the small, weak, and helpless.”

A few other things come through in Luttrell’s book.  As Private Kershaw wrote, these guys enjoy what they do.  While I like a vigorous and relatively safe work-out followed by a hot shower, a cuddle with my dog, some quiet time at the computer, lunch with a friend, a bit of desk work, time with my kids, etc., these guys enjoy practicing how to shoot at each other from speeding cars, and find it invigorating to patrol Iraqi streets riddled with IEDs and showered by bullets.  They are a breed apart.

Not only do many of our volunteer fighters enjoy what they do, many of them die doing, or sustain terrible, irreparable injuries while on the job.  Every time Luttrell describes one of those deaths (e.g, Michael Mansoor, Marc Lee, Jon Tumilson, or the Operation Red Wings Team), I get so upset I have to stop reading and regroup before I can get back to the book.  Luttrell doesn’t wallow in the deaths, although he honors these men by remembering them and their sacrifice.  I’m the one wallowing.

Aside from each individual tragedy, I also feel that, every time one of these men dies, our society loses someone a little more special than the average Joe (or Jane).  These are the leaders, the do-ers, the moral guides — and they’re the ones who are first in line when the bullets fly.  We need them most, yet they’re the most likely to leave us behind.  That’s just so wrong at a global level.  And yet of course, it’s quite right at an individual level.  These guys wouldn’t be the leaders, do-ers and moral guides that they are if they lived my safe, confined, dull little life.  Being true to themselves means taking risks, and that’s just the way it is.

For those of us looking on from the sidelines, though, there is some comfort in Private Kershaw’s words:  “In the long run, I was doing the job I loved. This was my dream job and even though it had its ups and downs I loved every second of it.”

I’m getting ready for Memorial Day by reading Marcus Luttrell’s Service : A Navy Seal At War

I got myself a copy of Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War, which I am very much looking forward to reading. I loved his Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, even though it made me cry — which is not something I usually look for in a book.

In his first book, written with Patrick Robinson, Luttrell came across as an extremely appealing character — patriotic, insanely committed to the service, humble, funny, and a little bit snarky. In his most recent book, Luttrell is getting help from James D. Hornfischer. I hope that I get to hear the same “Luttrell” voice in my head. I’ll keep you guys posted.

Memorial Day Post: The Warriors Among Us

[I'll keep this at the top through Memorial Day.  Scroll down for lots of new posts.]

Several years ago, as part of a 9/11 commemoration, I wrote the following words as part of a post I did about Lt. Brian Ahearn, one of the New York fire fighters who perished on that day:

My son, who is seven, is obsessed with superheroes. His current favorite is Superman. After all, when you’re a little boy, battling your way through the world, what could be more exciting than the possibility of being “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” I’m bombarded daily with questions about Superman’s ability to withstand extreme temperatures, his flying speeds, his ballistic capabilities and, most importantly, his bravery. It’s here that my son and I run into a conceptual problem. My son thinks Superman is brave because he gets involved in situations that involve guns, and flames, and bad guys. I argue — and how can you argue this with a seven year old? — that the fictional Superman, while good, is not brave, because he takes no risks. Superman’s indestructibility means that his heart never speeds up, his gut never clenches, and he never pauses for even a moment to question whether the potential benefit from acting is worth the risk. In other words, if facing a gun is as easy as sniffing a rose, there is no bravery involved.

The truly brave person is the one who knows the real risks in a situation, but still moves forward to save people, to fight a good battle or to remedy an intolerable situation. The attacks against America on September 11, 2001, revealed the true superheroes among us — those New York firefighters who pushed themselves past those second thoughts, those all-too-human hesitations, and sacrificed themselves in the hopes of saving others. Lt. Brian G. Ahearn was one of those superheroes.

I’ve been thinking today about that moment of insight I had about courage and heroism, because I’m finally reading Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.  I say “finally,” because the book came out in 2007, and it took me three years to gather my own courage just to read it — and I did so only because of the possibility that I may soon meet the mother of one of those “lost heroes.”  Considering what her son did for my country, forcing myself to read a book about great heroism seemed like the least I could do.

Funnily enough, the book isn’t as painful as I thought it would be.  This is partly because Luttrell, with novelist Patrick Robinson’s able assistance, has a wonderful voice.  His is not a ponderous tome but is, instead, a human story of an East Texas boy who, buoyed up by patriotism and sheer grit, made his way through the insanity of SEAL training, and then found himself in Afghanistan, working to protect American interests and freedoms.

Luttrell’s upbringing, so different from my girly, urban, intellectual childhood is a story in itself.  As for his descriptions of what men push themselves to do to become SEALS — well, I’d heard about it academically, but I’d never understood it viscerally.

To be completely honest, I still don’t understand it.  As a card-carrying wuss, as someone who has always respected her personal comfort zones, and avoided challenging herself, I really don’t “get” what would drive young men, men in their 20s and 30s, to push themselves as hard as these men do.  And the rewarded isn’t a glamorous job, a la Hollywood or Manhattan, with fame, wealth and women.  Being a SEAL is the toughest job in the world, because SEALs end up doing the most dangerous jobs in the world, under the worst, scariest circumstances imaginable.

If you lack physical and mental will, not to mention the overwhelming training SEALs receive, you’re simply a statistic waiting to happen.  But if you do have that stamina, one that resides as much in the mind as it does in the body (perhaps even more in the mind than the body), and if you have this amazing commitment to your team and your country, you can move mountains.

Or sometimes, as SEAL Team 10 so sadly demonstrated, the mountains turn on you.  I am not giving away anything about the book, of course, when I tell you that Luttrell was the sole survivor of a firefight in the Afghan mountain ranges that ended up being the single deadliest day in SEAL history.  Reading about the fight and the deaths of Luttrell’s team member, not to mention his own story of survival, is harrowing.  I don’t want to say I cried, but I’ll admit that my eyes were leaking prodigiously.  Knowing that this would be my inevitable reaction is part of why I avoided Luttrell’s book for so long.  (To excuse myself a little bit, I also wasn’t sure I wanted to get too close to understanding what my father experienced during WWII, as he fought in some of the worst battles around the Mediterranean, including Crete and el Alamein.  Sometimes, empathy can be too painful.)

But really, I shouldn’t have avoided the book.  Yes, the deaths of LT Michael P. Murphy, Matthew Axelson, and Danny Dietz, as well as 16 SEALs and Nightstalkers, whose helicopter was shot down during the rescue mission, is heart wrenching, but the overall tone of the book is still uplifting.  Luttrell’s deep patriotism, his belief in the mission (not any specific mission, but the SEALs’ overarching mission to protect and defend), his abiding love for the SEALs, and the message that there are those who are willing to protect us, often from ourselves, ranks right up there with the most cheerful “feel good” book you can find.

So many people live pointless lives and die meaningless deaths.  One of the tragedies of the 6 million is that they were herded to death like cattle in an abattoir.  I don’t blame them.  They were ordinary people, living ordinary lives, when suddenly they were ripped out of normalcy, and without warning or preparation, sent straight to Hell on earth. Had I had the misfortune to be a Jew in Poland in 1942, instead of a Jew in America at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries, that would have been me.  Not just a short life that made no difference, but one that ended with a death that didn’t make a dent in the hide of my murderers.

Some people, however, seem to have bred in the bone and the heart the belief that they will not be ordinary in life or in death.  Mercifully, these are people who don’t need the tawdry fame of Hollywood.  They don’t need the quick fixes of drink and drugs.  They don’t need to become bullies who control others, whether their control is exercised over a country or an office.  Instead, they prepare themselves to serve causes greater than their own egos.  Their lives have purpose and their deaths are never pointless.

Because the genesis of my post is Luttrell’s book, I’ve written this as an homage to the SEALs.  Everything I’ve said though, can be applied equally to the men and women who have fought and, sometimes, died for America, beginning back in 1774.  The fact that they didn’t do it at the level of pain and training one sees in the SEALs does nothing to minimize their courage, their patriotism and their sacrifices.  They are the backbone of our country, the defenders of our freedom:  “The truly brave person is the one who knows the real risks in a situation, but still moves forward to save people, to fight a good battle or to remedy an intolerable situation.”

(Luttrell, the sole survivor of the SEALS pictured here, is third from the right.)

Other Memorial Day posts:

Flopping Aces

Blackfive

Blackfive (yes, again)

American Digest

Kim Priestap

Michelle Malkin

Mudville Gazette

Florence American Military Cemetery (slow-loading, so don’t worry if nothing happens right away)

Noisy Room

NewsBusters

Hot Air

JoshuaPundit

Radio Patriot

“Simplistic” and “primitive” *UPDATED*

As I’ve mentioned just a few times, I just read, and was very moved by, Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.  A liberal I know flipped through the book’s first few pages and had a very different reaction.  The following passages bugged the liberal:

My name is Marcus.  Marcus Luttrell.  I’m a United States Navy SEAL, Team Leader, SDV Team 1, Alfa Platoon.  Like every other SEAL, I’m trained in weapons, demolition, and unarmed combat.  I’m a sniper, and I’m the platoon medic.  But most of all, I’m an American.  And when the bell sounds, I will come out fighting for my country and for my teammates.  If necessary, to the death.

And that’s not just because the SEALs trained me to do so; it’s because I’m willing to do so.  I’m a patriot, and I fight with the Lone Star of Texas on my right arm and another Texas flag over my heart.  For me, defeat is unthinkable.  (pp. 6-7)

[snip]

[As they're taking off from Bahrain to Afghanistan:] There were no other passengers on board, just the flight crew and, in the rear, us, headed out to do God’s work on behalf of the U.S. government and our commander in chief, President George W. Bush.  (p. 12.)

[snip]

[Of the Taliban/Al Qaeda enemy in Afghanistan:]  This was where bin Laden’s fighters found a home training base.  Let’s face it, al Qaeda means “the base,” and in return for the Saudi fanatic bin Laden’s money, the Taliban made it all possible.  right now these very same guys, the remnants of the Taliban and the last few tribal warriors of al Qaeda, were preparing to start over, trying to fight their way through the mountain passes, intent on setting up new training camps and military headquarters and, eventually, their own government in place of the democratically elected one.

They may not have been the precise same guys who planned 9/11.  But they were most certainly their descendants, their heirs, their followers.  They were part of the same crowd who knocked down the North and South Towers in the Big Apple on the infamous Tuesday morning in 2001.  And our coming task was to stop them, right there in those mountains, by whatever means necessary.  (pp. 13-14)

The liberal felt that the above passages showed that the writer was simplistic and primitive in his thinking.  The whole notion of simple patriotism offended the liberal, who also thought it was just plain stupid to seek revenge against guys who weren’t actually the ones who plotted 9/11.  My less than clever riposte was, “so I guess you would only kill Nazis who actually worked in the gas chambers?”  Frankly, given the differences in our world views, I’m not sure there is a clever comeback or, which would be more helpful, a comeback that actually causes the liberal to reexamine those liberal principles.

UPDATE:  Here’s an apt quotation, written by John Stuart Mill, in 1862, as a comment upon the American Civil War:

A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.