Book Review: Don Mann’s four thrillers about Thomas Crocker and his SEAL Team Six guys

Hunt the JackalWhen it comes to Navy SEALS, Don Mann is the real deal.  He was an active duty Navy SEAL for seventeen years, including eight years on SEAL Team Six.  As he describes his experiences:

As a member of Seal Team Six for over eight years and a SEAL for over 17 years, he worked in countless covert operations, operating from land, sea, and air, and facing shootings, decapitations, and stabbings. He was captured by the enemy and lived to tell the tale, and he participated in highly classified missions all over the globe, including Somalia, Panama, El Salvador, Colombia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In addition to (or as augmentation for) his role as a SEAL, Mann is also a high endurance athlete, who has been in over 1,000 races (mostly extreme runs that make marathons look like a walk in the park).  At one time, he was the 38th highest ranked triathlete in the world.

If anyone is qualified to write thrillers about a Navy SEAL Six team, Mann is the one.  To date, Mann has actually written four such thrillers (in addition to a slew of non-fiction books about SEALS).  The four thrillers are (1) Hunt the Wolf: A SEAL Team Six Novel; (2) SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Scorpion; (3) SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Falcon; and (4) SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Jackal. (For all but Hunt the Falcon, Ralph Pezzullo is listed as co-author.)

I received Kindle copies of all four SEAL Team Six novels from a book review site with which I’m affiliated.  The reason behind this largesse was the fact that the official publication date for the fourth book is May 13.  With my fondness for Navy SEALs and for thrillers, it was a foregone conclusion that I would gobble the books down all at once.  I managed to read all four in a day-and-a-half.  Looking back, this was a mistake.  Because they are formulaic, reading them one on top of each other, without a decent interval of a few months between each one, highlighted their mechanical qualities and threw their flaws into relief.  I think I would have liked them more had I read them less.

Before I get too deep into this, let me say that I have no problem with formulaic books.  Most authors have a template they use, and readers keep returning to their books because they like that template.  A perfect example of this is Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, the 18th of which (Never Go Back : A Jack Reacher Novel) I had just finished reading just before I picked up Mann’s series.

The Reacher novels are pleasantly predictable:  Ex-military cop Jack Reacher wanders aimlessly and across the United States and invariably stumbles upon grotesquely violent criminals who leave a wide swath of destruction in their wake until Reacher comes along and turns them into mulch.  What makes the books work is Reacher’s character.  He should be ridiculous, because he’s something of a superman, able to out-reason and out-fight every bad guy he comes across.  Take away his impulse to be on the side of the gods, and he’d be a monster.

In fact, though, Child has made Reacher a very interesting character, because he walks us through Reacher’s logical process:  What does Reacher notice as the bad guys approach him?  How does he analyze the situation?  What moral decisions is he making as part of this analysis?  What tactics does he decide upon and why?  And finally, how effective were his chosen tactics when he finally used them?  Child puts you directly into the brain of a type of savant, a man preternaturally skilled at analyzing dangerous situations and turning them to his advantage.

Child’s books are also meticulously plotted.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that Child is a massive stoner.  He’s got the kind of obsessive attention to detail that makes sense only if someone is ripped on a drug that makes the hard work of imagining and writing such details fun, rather than deadly dull.  Indeed, Child’s attention to fascinating details is so good that one can forgive the absence of an actual plot.  For example, Child’s last book,  Never Go Back, had an insanely stupid, lame denouement, something that’s antithetical to denouements.  After all, a thriller, even if it can’t be thrilling, should at least be interesting.

When it comes to Never Go Back, though, Child didn’t even try.  Still, Reacher is such an enjoyable character, you want to read the book anyway, and are willing to forgive Child his sins as a writer at least long enough to read the next Reacher book (should there be one).

Mann’s formulaic novels aren’t as good as Child’s book, but they’re not bad.  Had I read them spread out over months, in the order in which they were published, I probably would have enjoyed them more than I did.

I know this sounds as if I’m damning Mann’s books with faint praise, and maybe I am.  I need to make a full disclosure here, which is that I soured on the books about halfway through the third and in the beginning of the fourth.  My low-level ill-will arose for a very specific reason, which is that Mann’s and my biases clashed.

In both the third and fourth books, Mann attacks the Israeli military.  In the third book, it’s a completely gratuitous swipe about the Israeli special forces not being as good as they think they are.  In the fourth book, the opening scene includes a quite detailed swipe at the Israeli military, implying that its members are rule-bound, cold-blooded, vindictive cowards.  This might have been forgivable if this detailed scene had related to the rest of the book, but it didn’t.  By book’s end, it’s clear that this anti-IDF sideline wasn’t necessary to the main plot.  Mann just felt he wanted it in there.

There is absolutely nothing antisemitic about Mann’s negative attitude towards the Israeli military, and I respect that fact.  It’s clear that Mann dislikes it as a military, not as a Jewish military.  I got the strong feeling that, at one time, or over a period of several times, Mann had some bad experiences with the IDF and he’s using his novels as a place to vent his negative feelings.

Being spiteful is Mann’s prerogative — and it’s my prerogative to get unpleasantly ruffled because of that spite.  I’m certain that the IDF has rotten apples in it, since all militaries do.  I have no idea whether the IDF and its special forces are overrated, but it’s entirely possible that they are . . . or not.  Nevertheless, I do feel that it was wrong for Mann to take self-serving, unnecessary swipes at a military that is on the side of the angels in the long war against the worldwide hydra of Islamic militants (along with the American military).  Israel is a sufficiently beleaguered nation to deserve some respite from creative vindictiveness.  The clash between Mann’s bias (not thrilled about the Israeli military) and my bias (supportive of the IDF) definitely dimmed my pleasure in his writing.

And now, finally, my review.  All four books have the same pattern.  Thomas Crocker is Mann’s alter ego:  he looks like Mann (mustache and thinning hair), he exercises like Mann (taking his team on extreme climbs in the Himalayas or extreme runs in the Sahara desert), and he works like Mann once did, heading a SEAL Team Six unit tasked with dangerous secret missions.  The book isn’t written in the first person, but we see everything through Crocker’s eyes and hear his thoughts.  He loves his country; hates the enemy; worries about the damage to his soul from the deaths he’s caused; cares for his team; loves his wife and his daughter, whom he constantly leaves behind because missions take precedence; looks at his rough childhood as the crucible that created the warrior that he now is; sublimates fear; and manages to continue moving despite the fact that he’s invariably concussed, wounded, bleeding, and sleep deprived.

Crocker’s teammates are more literary ciphers than real characters.  They exist to move the plot forward.  Akil, the team’s navigator, is the Egyptian-born Muslim who came to America as a child, is a stalwart defender of America’s freedoms against Iran’s Islamic totalitarianism and, when he’s not being incredibly brave and disciplined, thinks only of sex.  Mancini, the team’s weapons expert, is also the book’s expositor.  He’s a know-it-all with a photographic memory/  Wherever the book takes the team, he will offer commentary about the sights they see, the nature of the enemy, the weather, etc.  In other words, because the omniscient narrator never drops away from Crocker’s viewpoint, it’s up to Mancini to fill the reader in on everything Crocker cannot know.  The other term members are given names and details (beard, wife, smile, fiancée, etc.), but are sufficiently ill-defined as characters to be completely forgettable.

One of the two things I’ve taken away about SEALs from the non-fiction books I’ve read is that they are trained, and trained, and trained, and then trained some more.  The other thing that sticks in my brain is that they meticulously prepare for every mission.  Mann has realized that an action novel that spends too much time detailing all of the SEAL’s meticulous preparation will work best as a sleep aid, rather than a thriller.  Ironically, though, by avoiding all the mission detail, what Mann ends up with is a group of SEALs who rush unprepared into just about everything.  If it weren’t for their highly trained skills and their really cool weapons, these guys would be morons, doing everything by the seat of their pants and getting into big trouble because of it.

In the first three books, the team’s missions involve Iranian infiltration in North Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  In the last book, his team takes on a Mexican drug cartel.  In all four books, the team is constantly frustrated by politics, especially those emanating from the CIA, which is given over to extreme political cowardice.  In all four books, good people die, good people get wounded, bad people get horribly killed, and innocents get rescued.  The good guys usually prevail, but it’s a painful, demoralizing, bloody, bloody process.

I’d be more specific at this point, but I can’t.  Having read all four of the books in the same 48-hour period, they’ve run together in my mind, leaving only an overarching pattern without any defining details jumping out at me.

Looking at all four books a little temporal distance (I read the last one on Tuesday), I think the following is a fairly objective summary:  These books are not great, but they’re not bad.  They’re workmanlike thrillers that give some insight into (1) the never-ending training in which SEALs engage; (2) the enormous toll their work takes on their private life; (3) the terrible risks they take, partly out of love of country and partly because they’re very courageous adrenalin junkies; and (4) the genuine dangers in today’s world against which our armed forces and special forces protect us.  If you’re looking for a quick, easy-to-read, fairly interesting military thriller, you could do a lot worse than Don Mann’s SEAL Team Six series.  They won’t win any prizes, but they’ll definitely keep you entertained.

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, but their deaths in that time and at that place 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.

Nevertheless, 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 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 viewpoint, of course, 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, but 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, since he’d run on a platform claiming that Afghanistan was a good war. Of course, he probably didn’t believe that either. Both he and Hillary, after all, 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, and 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 Iraq death and wiped it of meaning. While they were once deaths 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, since 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 this travesty that the military’s last act with regard to Fallujah is 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.’

No surprise there, of course.  To Obama the narcissist, the men and women in the military are merely objects serving his ego. It’s therefore also no surprise 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.)

 

Navy SEALS do their job to the bitter end, even when it’s not actually their job

I wonder whether any branch of the military has lost a larger proportion of people than the Navy SEAL in the years since 9/11.  Certainly they’ve done their bit and more to fight for American freedoms.  We now learn that, in Benghazi, former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods, 41, and Glen Doherty, 42, gave their lives to try to Ambassador Stevens even though they were not at the embassy in any official capacity:

The two former SEALS,  Tyrone Woods, 41, and Glen Doherty, 42, were not employed by the State Department diplomatic security office and instead were what is known as personal service contractors who had other duties related to security, the officials said.

They stepped into action, however, when Stevens became separated from the small security detail normally assigned to protect him when he traveled from the more fortified embassy in Tripoli to Benghazi, the officials said.

The two ex-Seals and others engaged in a lengthy firefight with the extremists who attacked the compound, a fight that stretched from the inner area of the consulate to an outside annex and a nearby safe house — a location that the insurgents appeared to know about, the officials said.

The officials provided the information to the Washington Guardian, saying they feared the Obama administration’s scant description of the episode left a misimpression that the two ex-Navy SEALs might have been responsible for the ambassador’s personal safety or become separated from him.

Woods and Doherty were unable to save either Stevens or themselves.  Of course, if they haven’t fought, there’s no telling how many more Americans might have died.  It turns out that the State Department was so determined to keep a low profile in Benghazi (despite advance warning of a terrorist attack), that it hired a British security firm that happily complied with the State Department’s “no weapons” rule.  Here’s a question I wonder if anyone has asked:  If Woods and Doherty hadn’t picked up weapons and given their lives, how many of those British security people would have died along with the Americans?

Meanwhile, while American embassies burn (and Israel stares down another Holocaust), Obama fiddles and diddles away his time in Vegas, on Letterman, partying with Beyonce, and talking with pirates.  Feckless is too nice a word for him, and I’m too much of a lady to use the ones that apply.

A humbling video, a scathing indictment, and a possible Romney catch-phrase

Did Bill Clinton mean to paint Obama as so invested in himself that he is incapable of any finer feelings?  Bill’s a wily guy, so it’s entirely possible that, when he speak of dead SEALS being a bad outcome, not for the SEALS, but for Obama, he intended to make Obama look like the ultimate narcissistic political hack.  Many of us commented on Clinton’s statement at the time, but this video interview with Karen Vaughn, mother of fallen Navy Seal of Aaron Carson Vaughn, brings home the Obama calculus, one that is bounded by his own needs and no one else’s:

While we’re on the subject of Obama’s over-weaning self-involvement, Aaron Miller had an interesting discussion with his uncle, one that saw them trying to create a debate riposte for Romney that has the same power as Reagan’s ageless “There you go again.” I think Miller’s uncle may have hit upon something:

An uncle and I were discussing how Romney might get under Obama’s skin and force an error during the Presidential debates. He mentioned Reagan’s famous “There you go again” line and said Romney could use a similar rejoinder. His suggestion?

“It’s not all about you.”

If you go to Miller’s post, you’ll see other one-liners in the comments, but I don’t think any of them are as good as “It’s not all about you” — especially in light of Mrs. Vaughn’s dismay at the audacity of the Democrat ego.

Message to Obama: Never pick a fight with military professionals

You know that expression “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel”?  I think Obama might want to coin a new one, something along the lines of “Never pick a fight with the toughest, bravest, meanest, scariest-ass fighters in the world.”

I like watching martial arts fighting.  I bet I’ll like watching this fight too.  You know, this:

versus this:

 

Navy again moves to protect SEALS from angry Muslims

The Navy SEALS’ job, pretty much, is to deal with Muslims who have an axe to grind.  For years in Afganistan and Iraq, they’ve used their strength and skills to face down Islamists in the battlefield.  Facing angry Islamists in the political field, though, is apparently more than the SEALS — or, more accurately, their politically connected higher ups — can stand.  Today’s example:  the Navy’s decision to pretend that men and women wearing burqas aren’t legitimate targets against which the SEALS should train:

The Navy will not use a target depicting a Muslim woman holding a gun at a new training range for SEALs in Virginia Beach.

The announcement came hours after the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the Pentagon to remove the target. A picture of the cardboard target, which shows a woman in a headscarf holding a pistol, was published in The Virginian-Pilot on Tuesday. The image shows verses of the Quran hanging on the wall behind the woman, which also generated criticism from the group.

Greg, at Rhymes with Right, has some hilarious suggestions for targets the Navy’s Nervous Nellies might find less threatening.

This subject hits home with me, because I took a ton of flak a few months ago for suggesting that the SEALS cried craven when they decided to make their mass murdering terrorist warlord a Jew.  I learned through confidential sources that I can’t reveal here that the pivotal scene, the one in which the mastermind is revealed to be Jewish came about accidentally, and that the SEALS didn’t intend to make that point initially.  I’m willing to accept that claim in good faith.

But as I kept complaining, the powers that be, once that mistake was made, had two choices.  They could have corrected it, which would have been the proper and brave thing to do; or they could have run with it, happy that they could sit across the table from the white collar terrorists at CAIR and promise that no real Muslims would be maligned in the making of the movie.

Here’s a question for SEALS and their ilk to ask themselves:  How can I fight bravely when I’m commanded by cowards?

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.

“Act of Valor” cleared of antisemitism

Of the many, many things I do that irritate my husband, two are pertinent here.  First, I actually listen to what he says.  This can be frustrating for him, because he doesn’t always use his words with precision.  When we’re having a discussion and I say “But you said…” his return is usually “I know that’s what I said, but you know that’s not what I meant.”  Well, no.  If you said one thing, how the heck am I supposed to know that you meant another thing?

My other irritating habit is that I can totally read movies.  Aside from the fact that I don’t generally like what’s coming out of Hollywood, I also have a very low boredom threshold.  If I can figure out character, plot, and motive in the first ten minutes of the movie, and I don’t like where the movie is going, I’m so out of there.  This irritates my husband, although he can also find it useful:  “Why did that women get on the train?”  “But I thought those two characters were married?”  You know . . . questions like that.  If there’s foreshadowing or nuance in a movie, I get it.

These two traits are relevant to my perception of antisemitism in Act of Valor.  First, I was paying close attention to the dialog, so I heard what I heard.  Second, had there been nuance, foreshadowing, character development, etc., I would have gotten it.  The line “You’re a Jew,” was out there, and the nuance, foreshadowing, plot, or character development that would normally have explained that line’s meaning were missing, both before and after the line was uttered.  That’s my defense.

BUT — and this is a really important “but,” so please stick with me here.

I just got an email from someone purporting to be close to the SEALS involved in the production, and for the time being, I’m comfortable believing that this person is who he says he is, and that what he’s saying is the truth.  I won’t quote the bulk of the email verbatim, because I haven’t been given permission to do so.  I will, however, pass on the pertinent data, along with my apologies to the SEALS generally and the Senior Chief specifically for having misinterpreted their motives and for having done so very publicly.

First, I have been assured that the Senior Chief is not an antisemite, and I absolutely believe that to be true.  I actually never meant to accuse the real Senior Chief of being antisemitic, so I apologize for creating the perception that I did.  I didn’t even perceive his character as being antisemitic.  I perceived the movie as being antisemitic or, rather, having a rather stunningly antisemitic moment.  To the extent, though, that perception becomes reality, I apologize directly to the Senior Chief for accusing him of being antisemitic.

Second, the email writer explained to me that, in the context of the scene (and I am going to quote here) “it was a device to try to separate Christo from Shabal by appealing to the natural enmity between Jews and radical islamists.”  Further, the actor, Alex Veadov is, in fact, Jewish, so that charge against him in the movie was a form of method acting that brings together both reality and fiction that, to my mind, meshed in an unfortunate way.

I totally believe the above is true.  Indeed, in my earlier posts, I even explored the possibility that it might be true — but rejected it because the line “you’re a Jew” existed in a vacuum.  I don’t doubt that the SEALS and the other actors understood the subtext, but for the audience, the line stood there in glorious isolation.  The second, missing, line should have been “How can you make common cause with a man who is dedicated to your people’s destruction?”  Except that line wasn’t there.  As a literalist who listens, its absence was a potent force for me.  And I have to say that, as someone who reads movies, there was nothing else in the movie to help me understand that there was an unspoken line driving this scene.

My sense here is that, much as I really dislike Hollywood, Hollywood is adept at one thing, and that is telling the story at both the big, obvious level, and at the lower, more subliminal level.  When it’s doing pure entertainment, this works.  When it’s doing propaganda, this facility is irritating.  This movie bypassed Hollywood, something that I really appreciate.  It made an amateur mistake, however, which is to forget that the audience has to have things spelled out, and that’s true whether they’re spelled out explicitly or implicitly.  I can’t know what the movie’s makers intend; I can know only what they tell me.

The letter writer closed by asking me to correct my earlier email as quickly as possible lest it create dangerous risks for the men and women in the field.  He could have just appealed to my conscience, because I do have one.  If I do something wrong, I say so.  If I hurt someone’s feelings, I apologize.  And if I create the incorrect impression that a person or group has bad motives, I move as quickly as possibly to remedy that error.  I now have data showing I was wrong and created a bad impression.  This post, written as soon as possible, is meant to correct that, and I’m disseminating this post as widely as possible.  And I do most heartily apologize to the Senior Chief and the SEALS for wrongly impugning them.

 

More thoughts about “Act of Valor” and antisemitism. *UPDATED*

[UPDATE:  I received an email from someone who I have reason to believe is indeed close to the story, rebutting my charges.  I still think the film slipped up, but I am certain that the SEALS are not antisemites.  Read more here.]

In my earlier post, I accused Act of Valor of including crude antisemitism.  You can read my accusation here.  I have a few more thoughts that I want to put out here.

Readers of my blog know that I’m not someone who sees antisemitism under every rock.  Certainly, I do discuss antisemitism at the Bookworm Room, as you’ll see if you follow the category link.  I happen to believe that our President is not a friend of Israel, and I suspect that he doesn’t like religious Jews.  I also write a fair number of posts about modern Leftism’s hostility to Israel, a hostility that is hard to explain without looking to good old-fashioned Jew hatred.  If you want to see more of my thoughts on the subject, check the link.

Having said that, I don’t constantly watch movies and TV shows, or view news reports, or read books with a constant eye out for antisemitism.  People sometimes say or do things that can be perceived as offensive, but if their motives are clearly from innocence or ignorance, I just don’t care.  You’ve probably heard the expression that, to a hammer, everything is a nail.  That is not my approach to antisemitism.

One of my friends whom I greatly respect suggested that maybe I read something in the movie that isn’t there.  He pointed out that both Roger Simon and Phyllis Chesler, two other people I highly respect, gave the movie glowing reviews without any mention of that “Jewish” bit.  Taking his question seriously, I asked myself “Did I fall asleep?” or “Did I have a hammer/nail moment where I imagined that scene?”

I therefore did a reality check, asking each of my children if, in the interrogation scene, the Navy SEAL had said to the bad guy something along the lines of “You’re a Jew.”  The children (a tween and a teen) corroborated that this dialogue took place.  The older one said “It made me uncomfortable.”  The younger one said, “They had a good reason for doing it.  They wanted to show that Jews can be bad guys and work with Muslims too.”

My younger child may be right about the point the movie wanted to make, but he’s still fundamentally wrong about the point being made (as are the filmmakers, if this was their goal).  Yes, some of the worst antisemites in the world are Jews.  Yousef Al-Khattab is a Jew turned Jihadi and George Soros is, of course, Jewish. Puree these two nasty men into one individual, and you could come up with a billionaire Jewish jihadist.  But how likely is that?  Both Soros and Al-Khattab are pretty rare animals — sui generis, one might say.  There’s only one Soros, and he’s inspired by Leftism, not by jihadism, and there’s only one Yousef Al-Khattab, and he’s inspired by Islam, not by a Jewish desire to destroy capital.

The reality in this world is that the vast (and by vast I mean in excess of 99%) majority of Jews aren’t jihadists.  In the real world, Jews are Israelis who are front-line warriors in the battle against radical Islam; beleaguered European Jews who are realizing that the Europeans don’t like them any more than they did in 1939 and side more with the Islamists in the midst; and ostrich-like American Jews whose loosey-goosey Leftism blinds them to the fact that the Left’s movers and shakers are not friends to either Israel or the Jews.

The percentage of Jihadists who are Jews is incalculably small, and the percentage of billionaire, greasy-haired, hooked-nosed Jewish Jihadists is smaller still — to the point of zero.  Even Soros, bad person though he is, does not look like a Jewish caricature, nor is he a Jihadist.  He is a Leftist, which is a different beast — and Act of Valor makes no effort to put the character of Christo into that Leftist slot.

And that’s really the point:  the movie makes no effort to try to put Christo into any recognizable slot other than that of traditional antisemitic imagery.  Christo is not a Leftist who allies himself with Islamists because they share a common goal of destroying the West.  Christo is not a convert who has abandoned his Jewishness and immersed himself in the antisemitic fanaticism of the Islamists.  Christo is also not a tortured, self-loathing Jew who is at least psychologically interesting.  He’s just an ugly, greasy, sadistic billionaire, whose goal is mass murder in America and the destruction of the American economy.

Christo’s Jewishness — which is a one-liner that ruined an entire movie for me — is thrown out there for no discernible reason.  It doesn’t explain the story that preceded his being identified as a Jew, and it doesn’t affect the plot that follows that revelation.  It’s just out there.  To me, that’s antisemitism, pure and simple.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that a show that’s billed as ordinary entertainment digs deep into traditional antisemitic tropes.  Just last month, an NBC TV show called Grimm apparently did precisely the same thing.  That two 2012 productions should delve into the world’s antisemitic psyche to create their bad guys is more than disturbing.  It’s frightening.

One last thing:  I got mad at the Navy SEALS (and said so), because they star in Act of Valor and it’s billed as a Navy SEAL movie.  I understand that there are many more layers to a movie:  the creative side, the production side, the financing and, with this particular movie, presumably the Pentagon and State Department side.  I’d be deeply sorry to believe that this swipe at Jews originated with the SEALS themselves, although you can’t escape the fact that they participated in the movie.  Because of that participation, I don’t fully apologize to them for lashing out in my last post, but I somewhat apologize to them, and expand my anger to the other culprits behind this base act.

UPDATE:  Sadie has suggested that the Pentagon, fearful of angering Muslims, throw in a bad Jew as a sop to their delicate sensibilities.  Does that make it any better?

“Act of Valor” shoots self in foot with bullet packaged in a “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” label *UPDATED*

[UPDATE: I received an email from someone who I have reason to believe is indeed close to the story, rebutting my charges. I still think the film slipped up, but I am certain that the SEALS are not antisemites. Read more here.]

[I didn't want to clutter this post with endless updates, so I have further thoughts here, if you're interested.]

Let me begin by saying some nice things about the Navy SEAL movie Act of Valor.  The SEALS who star in it aren’t good actors, but they aren’t bad actors either.  None will win an Academy Award, but all managed to appear relaxed on-screen and seem like real people, not like real people struggling with a script.

The action scenes are every bit as good as advertised:  watching the SEALS glide through the jungles of Costa Rica, emerge like alligators from dark tropical waters, fire their guns from trucks while dozens of bad guys are shooting right back, jumping from planes — it’s all there, and it’s a total adrenalin rush to watch them.  It’s even more exciting knowing that the SEALS have actually done all this stuff for real.  They’re not a combination of pretty Hollywood actors and stunt doubles.  These guys have handled real guns, crawled through bug-infested jungles, and tangled with bad guys.

Throughout the movie, my kids kept leaning over to me and whispering “This is so cool” and “This is awesome.”  As the movie unfolded, I was already planning a review that incorporated their enraptured comments.  About halfway through the movie, though, cool and awesome came to a grinding halt, and I watched the rest of the movie stunned and confused.

Here’s the deal.  There are two chief baddies in the movie:  A crazed Islamic Chechen (who is actually Russian convert) and another guy who is introduced to us as Christo, a drug smuggling billionaire, presumably Slavic, who kills a CIA agent, orders the brutal torture of another (female) CIA agent, and uses his money to fund, and his smarts to facilitate, a massive terror attack on the United States.  The actor who plays him, Alex Veadov, looks like this in his IMDB photo:

He has sort of a hippie, geek, scholar look, right?  You’d see him in Starbucks, sipping a Chai Latte.

Interestingly, Veadov/Christo, despite being the chief bad guy in the movie, is absent from the trailers, something that’s rather peculiar.  Usually, part of the trailer’s allure is to show the bad guy, so that you know precisely who the good guys are going after.  It’s part of the audience’s anticipation.  Maybe the movie-makers thought that Veadov’s character was too ugly to show in a trailer.  I can’t find any pictures of him in the role but, with his beard, greasy hair, shiny face, and hook nose, I can help you out by telling you that the character looks like this:

Or like this:

Or like this:

For those who have missed my point, all of the above images come from Nazi antisemitic propaganda.

From the moment he appeared on-screen, I was struck by Veadov’s similarity to the propaganda images.  I assumed that the film-makers were trying to make him look like this, a familiar face to all of you, one that is both Semitic and one that is attached to one of America’s greatest enemies:

I was wrong in that assumption.  Halfway through the movie, in a very exciting action scene, the SEALS capture Christo and the Team’s senior commander interviews him.  Christo is oozing greasy sweat and even more greasy arrogance.  At any moment, one expects him to call his interrogator “infidel” or say “Allah is Great,” two things we hear with great frequency from those fighting against Americans in Afghanistan, those who fought against Americans in Iraq, and those who blow up Americans on 9/11.  Instead, though, what we hear the is the Senior say “But you’re Jewish!” 

Here’s the deal:  Our “brave” SEALS flinched.  Tasked with making a movie that could have shown Americans who the real heroes and the real enemies are, they chose, instead, to tear a page out of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and promote, very heavily (and especially heavily to Israel’s political friends), a movie that makes its greasy, ugly, rich, manipulative, American-hating bad guy . . . a Jew.

The other day, I saw a Newsweak headline calling the Navy SEALS “Obama’s Secret Army.”  At the time, I was incensed.  My thought was that the Newsweek team was annointing Obama king, with his own special force, answerable only to him.  The SEALS, I said to any who would listen, are America’s secret army or, at the very least, the military’s secret army.

Having seen this movie, though, my feeling is that Obama can have his SEALS.  They deserve each other, since both of them apparently feel very comfortable wallowing in the world of antisemitism.  I’m really, really disgusted.

Do not waste your money on this movie.  Hollywood movies are almost as good at portraying action and adventure and they, at least, are more subtle in their antisemitic tropes.  Or, even better, don’t see anything at all.  Take the money you would have spent on the movie and donate it to the Israeli Defense Forces — real warriors, fighting real bad guys.

UPDATE:  Turns out Debbie Schlussel noticed it too.

UPDATE II:  Just to clarify, as you’ll discover by looking at my military-themed blog posts, I am as pro-military as they come, without actually being military myself.  I support our military’s mission 100%, and greatly admire the brave men and women who put themselves on the front line.  Which makes this movie’s completely gratuitous (as in, it didn’t have any purpose) swipe at Jews all the more disgraceful.