‘Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging’: Junger’s must-read explains why America is tearing itself apart

tribe-cover

Roughly 17 years ago I exited the military after a stint as a mechanized infantryman in the U.S. Army. Even though the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and the nation’s “long war” had not yet begun, I found myself having a difficult time with the transition to civilian life. Understanding why I missed my old platoon — and why I felt a growing fear and sadness for the country I loved — took years (and a blog like this) to figure out, but author and former war reporter Sebastian Junger articulates it all in his must-read book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

Americans who have not lived under a rock for the past 20 years have witnessed the slow-motion implosion of our culture.

  • Cable news pundits obsessively talk of “red states” and “blue states.”
  • The politics of personal destruction reigns supreme.
  • Saying “all lives matter” is interpreted in a Twilight Zone-ish twist by millions of people as somehow racist.
  • Americans watch carefully constructed social-media feeds that tell them all Republicans are the equivalent of Darth Vader, or that all Democrats have shrines to Fidel Castro in their bedroom.

In short, the modern world is deficient in something that is causing tens-of-millions of people to feel isolated, alone, and empty. The void is filled with confusion, and that in turn fuels the kind of anger and hate that was the hallmark of the 2016 election cycle.

Why is it that many soldiers and civilians who have lived through war sometimes get nostalgic for it?

What are the consequences for society when a person “living in a modern city or suburb can, for the first time in history, go through an entire day — or an entire life — mostly encountering complete strangers”?

Why are we often surrounded by others, yet “feel deeply, dangerously alone”?

One of the answers can be found in tribal societies. And no, your friendly neighborhood blogger is not saying Native Americans should have won the clash of civilizations at our nation’s inception. I am merely saying, like Mr. Junger, that we can learn from their ability to provide “the three pillars of self-determination — autonomy, competence, and community.”

Mr. Junger writes:

“After World War II, many Londoners claimed to miss the exciting and perilous days of the Blitz. (“I wouldn’t mind having an evening like it, say, once a week — ordinarily there’s no excitement,” one man commented to Mass-Observation about the air raids), and the war that is missed doesn’t even have to be a shooting war: “I am a survivor of the AIDS epidemic,” an American man wrote in 2014 on the comment board of an online lecture about war. “Now that AIDS is no longer a death sentence, I must admit that I miss those days of extreme brotherhood…which led to deep emotions and understandings that are above anything I have felt since the plague years.”

What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender. There are obvious stresses on a person in a group, but there may be even greater stresses on a person in isolation, so during disasters there is a net gain in well-being. Most primates, including humans, are intensely social, and there are very few instances of lone primates surviving in the wild. …

Whatever the technological advances of modern society — and they’re near miraculous — the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.” — (Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York: Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2016), 92-93.

Tribe covers issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety among combat veterans, but it would be a big mistake to solely think of it as a book for the military community. It is much more than that, because it is a blueprint for getting the nation on a path to cultural healing.

The author continues:

“The eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs — and, more broadly, over liberal and conservative thought — will never be resolved because each side represents an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past.

So how do you unify a secure, wealthy country that has sunk into a zero-sum political game with itself? How do you make veterans feel that they are returning to a cohesive society that was worth fighting for in the first place? […] I put the question to Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. …

“if you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different — you underscore your shared humanity,” she told me. “I’m appalled by how much people focus on differences. Why are you focusing on how different you are from one another, and not on the things that unite us?” […]

Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge combat outpost are deluding themselves. (127-128).

Tribe is by no means “the” answer to the nation’s deep-seated cultural problems, but it is a significant piece of the puzzle. To get a good look at the big picture, I suggest pairing Mr. Junger’s quick-read with George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic. Each book provides a template for transcending dead-end partisan bickering, and in turn getting America efficiently focused on  becoming a more-perfect union.

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‘Black Hawk Down’: Read the book because the movie can never do the men who died justice

blackhawk-down

If you ask most people what they think of Black Hawk Down, then the vast majority of the time the response you’ll get will probably be something along the lines of, “Good movie.” That is understandable, given that it was a blockbuster film in 2001 produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Ridley Scott.

If you are like me, then perhaps you’ve always had an itch regarding the movie and, more importantly, the event — the downing of two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and the subsequent deaths of 18 American soldiers Oct. 3-4, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Sure, it made for a night out at the theater, but perhaps you’ve felt that it was somehow insulting to only know the tale through its Bruckheimerization.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been working on a book in my spare time that will eventually see the light of day (we’re at the artwork stage now, so hang tight!). There are parts of the novel that required knowledge of Task Force Ranger, and at some point I admitted to myself that it would be literary heresy to not read Mark Bowden’s masterpiece to assist with authenticity. It is safe to say that there probably is not a more comprehensive retelling of the ill-fated attempt to capture two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

And if you do not think any of this is still relevant, then I suggest you start reading The New York Times. The paper reported Sunday in a piece titled In Somalia, U.S. Escalates a Shadow War:

The Obama administration has intensified a clandestine war in Somalia over the past year, using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.

Hundreds of American troops now rotate through makeshift bases in Somalia, the largest military presence since the United States pulled out of the country after the “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993. …

In March, an American airstrike killed more than 150 Shabab fighters at what military officials called a “graduation ceremony,” one of the single deadliest American airstrikes in any country in recent years. But an airstrike last month killed more than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who were American allies against the Shabab.

Outraged Somali officials said the Americans had been duped by clan rivals and fed bad intelligence, laying bare the complexities of waging a shadow war in Somalia. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the Pentagon was investigating the strike.

Who, exactly, are we fighting? Why are we there? Should we be there?

Mr. Bowden’s book provides many of the answers, which unfortunately raise more questions:

“In books and movies when a soldier shot a man for the first time he went through a moment of soul searching. Waddell didn’t give it a second thought. He just reacted. he thought the man was dead. He had just folded. Startled by Waddell’s shot, Nelson hadn’t seen the man drop. Waddell pointed to where he had fallen and the machine gunner stood up, lifted his big gun, and pumped a few more rounds into the man’s body to make sure. Then they both ran for better cover.

They found it behind a burned out-car. Peering out from underneath toward the north now, Nelson saw a Somali with a gun lying prone on the street between two kneeling women. The shooter had the barrel of this weapon between the women’s legs, and there were four children actually sitting on him. He was completely shielded in noncombatants, taking full cynical advantage of the Americans’ decency.

“Check it out, John,” he told Waddell, who scooted over for a look.

“What do you want to do?” Waddell asked.

“I can’t get that guy through those people.”

So Nelson threw a flashbang, and the group fled so fast the man left his gun in the dirt.” — Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down (New York: Grove Press, 1999), 46.

If you want to know what it’s like to have an entire city honed in on killing you and those you hold dear, then I suggest reading Black Hawk Down. The book can be a bit arduous at times — it’s like trying to eat a steak the size of your head — but there is no escaping it because a.) Mr. Bowden leaves no stone unturned, and b.) the experience for the men on the ground was grueling.

Perhaps the best endorsement of the book that I can give is this: I did not know much about the author before picking up the book, and was surprised to find out he is not a veteran. He’s just a reporter who did a damn good job telling a story.

Black Hawk Down is a book about courage and fear, the nature of war, success and failure on the battlefield, and most importantly the experiences of the men who fought valiantly to save one another in situation that was so surreal that it seem like “a movie.”

 It was not a movie — it happened — which is why those who care about national defense issues should read it sooner rather than later.

Kudos to Mr. Bowden for writing a book that will be read by military men and women for generations to come.

‘The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics’: Pay a small price for the work of an intellectual giant

CS LewisFor years I only knew C.S. Lewis as the guy who was good for some really witty quotes and the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” I knew he was a Christian, and I knew he was friends with J.R.R. Tolkien. When I started writing a book roughly a year ago I told myself that I should really read his work to augment my knowledge of the Christian faith, yet I still procrastinated. Finally, after his name came up in the comments section of this blog, I vowed to get up to speed on C.S. Lewis — and I’m glad I did. “The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics” may be $34.99, but it’s worth every penny.

Here is what readers get for their money: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, A Grief Observed and The Abolition of Man. Another way of putting it: 730 pages of philosophical and creative works written by an intellectual giant. Even those who disagree with the man, if they are honest, will concede that he was powerhouse.

C.S. Lewis writes in “Miracles”:

“Let us suppose a race of people whose peculiar mental limitation compels them to regard a painting as something made up of little colored dots which have been put together like a mosaic. Studying the brushwork of a great painting, through their magnifying glasses, they discover more and more complicated relations between the dots, and sort these relations out, with great toil, into certain regularities. Their labor will not be in vain. These regularities will in fact ‘work’; they will cover most of the facts.

But if they go on to conclude that any departure from them would be unworthy of the painter, and an arbitrary breaking of his own rules, they will be far astray. For the regularities they have observed never were the rule the painter was following. What they painfully reconstruct from a million dots, arranged in an agonizing complexity, he really produced with a single lightening-quick turn of the wrist, his eye meanwhile taking in the canvas as a whole and his mind obeying laws of composition which the observers, counting their dots, have not yet come within sight of, and perhaps never will,” (Miracles, 387).

The beauty of Lewis’ work is that it’s smart, but it’s personable. A man without a high school education and a Rhodes Scholar can both appreciate the product. Lewis’ insights are sharp, but he never talks down to his audience. Just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence artfully articulates the rights given to all men by their Creator — in ways anyone can understand — Lewis makes the case for God in ways that individuals of varying degrees of mental acuity can comprehend.

“What can you ever really know of other people’s souls — of their of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You can not put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all the chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, unavoidable?” (Mere Christianity, 170).

One of the most interesting aspects of Lewis’ life is the fact that for many years he was an atheist. In many ways, his early atheism actually benefited Christianity because it is obvious that he thought long and hard about the existence of God. Those doubts are revisited in his journal entries pertaining to the death of his wife; the result is thought-provoking and hauntingly beautiful. Lewis says of dealing with his wife’s passing due to cancer: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” He is correct. His faith comes out in tact, but the journal entries from “A Grief Observed” leaves readers shaken because the truth can be jarring.

I highly recommend “The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics” for agnostics, atheists, Christians and non-Christians everywhere.

‘Unbroken’: Louie Zamperini’s story offers crucial lessons for improving mental, spiritual health

Louis Zamperini

Reviewing “Unbroken” is a difficult task. The story of famous Olympian and World War II hero Louie Zamperini’s life includes an endless list of lessons. Author Laura Hillenbrand, who also penned “Seabiscuit,” has churned out a product that is essential reading for anyone who seeks to improve their mental and spiritual health. Mr. Zamperini’s tale is a road map for greatness, and it is one that all Americans would be wise to study.

In short, the book can be divided into the following segments:

    • Louie’s defiant childhood and the moment he realized that his defiance could be channeled to bring him positive attention.
    • His time as an elite runner at USC and his 5,000-meter run at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
    • Louie’s training and missions as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.
    • The crash of the B-24 named “Green Hornet,” and his survival in shark-infested waters for 47 days.
    • His time spent as a prisoner of war at multiple Japanese camps, including Kwajalein (“Execution Island”), Ofuna (a secret interrogation center), Omari and Naoetsu (where Mutsuhiro Watanabe made it his all-consuming mission to break Zamperini’s spirit).
    • The end of the war, Louie’s decent into darkness with PTSD, and his salvation through Christ.

Each chapter of Mr. Zamperini’s life could be turned into its own book, yet Ms. Hillenbrand found a way to seamlessly tie them all together into a thought-provoking read that lives up to its billing: “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”

How does a man survive in the middle of the ocean on a tiny raft for 47 days? How does a man endure the horrors of a POW camp, where every effort is made to strip him of his humanity (e.g., injecting him with experimental drugs, beating him daily, and making him regularly clean up a pig’s bowel movements with his bare hands in return for food)?

The answer comes down to realizing that how you think about things — the conscious decisions you make every day regarding what to focus on — play a crucial role in shaping the outcome of your life.

Ms. Hillenbrand writes:

“Exposure, dehydration, stress, and hunger had quickly driven many of [World War I pilot Eddie Rickenbacker’s] party insane, a common fate for raft-bound men. Louie was more concerned with sanity than he was about sustenance. He kept thinking of a college physiology class he had taken, in which the instructor taught them to think of the mind as a muscle that would atrophy if left idle. Louie was determine that no matter what happened to their bodies, their minds would stay under their control. …

Within a few days of the crash, Louie began peppering the other two with questions on every conceivable subject. Phil took up the challenge, and soon he and Louie turned the raft into a nonstop quiz show. …

For Louie and Phil, the conversations were healing, pulling them out of their suffering and setting the future before them as a concrete thing. As they imagined themselves back in the world again, they willed a happy ending onto their ordeal and made it their expectation. With these talks, they created something to live for. …

Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perception of it appeared to be shaping their fates. Louie and Phil’s hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their physical and emotional vigor. Mac’s resignation seemed to paralyze him, and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped. Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most. Louie and Phil’s optimism, and Mac’s hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling,” (Lauren Hillenbrand. Unbroken. New York: Random House, 2010. 145-148).

While “Mac” would ultimately redeem himself for some of his early behavior on the raft (e.g., he ate the only source of food the men had while they slept the first night), his inability to change his focus from death to life appears to be a major reason for his failure to survive.

One way to explain what is going on is this: the unconscious mind never sleeps. Since the unconscious mind operates outside time and space (i.e., think of how time and space operate in your dreams), it is vitally important that you are aware of what you decide to add to the mix. During the day a person plants seeds of thought into his subconscious. Those seeds eventually take root, and the fruit they bear affects both the conscious and subconscious mind. When the mind is weighed down with negative thoughts, it in turn weighs down the spirit. The spirit is strong — stronger than we can ever imagine — but when it breaks, then the body and mind surely follow.

Louie Zamperini understood that just as it was important to exercise his body if he wanted to be a world-class runner, the real key to success is to exercise the muscles that can not be seen or measured on a scale. In order to excel in the physical world an individual must also concentrate on the metaphysical. For Mr. Zamperini, whose PTSD after the war led him to abuse alcohol as a way of dealing with flashbacks and nightmares, peace was finally found when he embraced Christianity.

“In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. Softly, he wept.” (376)

The night that Mr. Zamperini fully understood his own faith, his nightmares ended. He regained his life, saved his marriage and even found it within himself to forgive the men who tortured him during the war.

While “Unbroken” is scheduled to be released to the big screen this Christmas, I highly recommend buying the book and adding it to your reading list before then. I find it hard to imagine that by the time you turn the last page that you will not experience a “single, silent moment” that will change your life for the better.

‘Police State U.S.A.’ exposes the truth about our ‘good masters’ — they still want to rule over others

Police State USA

Most people have heard it explained that if you place a frog in a pot of water and slowly boil it that the frog will happily swim in its personal little death trap. The incremental rise in temperature deadens its senses (no pun intended) to what is really going on until it’s far too late. By the time the frog realizes he is in danger, he is essentially cooked. That is where the United States finds itself today, and that is why ‘Police State U.S.A.’ by Cheryl K. Chumley is worth checking out.

The problem with the American police state (itself a very different animal than what traditionally comes to mind when someone hears the term) is that it has come about by slowly chipping away at individual liberties. Tens-of-thousands of seemingly insignificant laws are passed, each one worded in a way that allows politicians and those in positions of power to filch just a wee bit of freedom here or there. Over time those “wee” bits have added up, and we now find ourselves in a world where the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is setting up roadblocks and pulling over random people for “voluntary” DNA samples that don’t come across as voluntary to the individuals who are being ushered to the side of the interstate.

Besides, is it even lawful for NHTSA officers to pull over Americans who have done absolutely nothing wrong? In 2014, the answer appears to be: ” Don’t worry about it. Just do what we say.”

One of the many illustrative quotes in ‘Police State U.S.A.’ comes from Daniel Webster:

“Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, bu they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” — Daniel Webster

What Cheryl K. Chumley does so well in her book is the way she highlights many of the random stories that a person hears about on the radio and says, “What? Is that true?” into one place. She chronicles examples of local, state and federal overreach to paint a picture of a nation that has long forgotten how important “the right to be left alone” really is.

Most Americans aren’t familiar with asset forfeiture laws or property seizures and how it could affect them as law-abiding citizens. (Hint: some laws are seemingly written by men who view “innocent until proven guilty” as a quaint little phrase only fit for Hollywood movies.) Likewise, many Americans don’t consider the implications of having a president who says things like “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone, and I’m ready to use them. And I’m not just going to sit around and wait for Congress to pass legislation.”

Checks and balances? Laws? The legislative process and the rule of law? Psssht! Who needs all that when you’ve got the imperial presidency at your disposal and an administrative state eager to do your bidding?

Ms. Chumley does an excellent job of detailing the current and future threats to our rights to life, liberty and property, but she does so in an approachable manner. Whereas many journalists and D.C. politicians talk down to their audience, Ms. Chumley (a writer with The Washington Times) delivers her information in ways that are reminiscent of conversations you might have with an intelligent and friendly neighbor.

‘Police State U.S.A.,’ unlike many other books that cover civil liberty infringements, does a great job of compiling all those times when the pot of water had the temperature turned up just a notch before our so-called “good masters” slipped their hands behind their back. Many books focus solely on the hot-button issues (e.g., The Patriot Act), but Ms. Chumley’s book deftly runs the gamut to show readers just how insidious of a web our power-hungry “masters” can weave.

As Americans, we are caught in a deadly trap of our own making. ‘Police State U.S.A.’ is a worthwhile primer for anyone who is interested in untangling the nation and setting their fellow Americans free.

Editor’s Note: In full disclosure, I work with Cheryl K. Chumley. However, I promise you that I would not create a blog post on ‘Police State U.S.A.’ if I did not feel it was worth mentioning. I would be more than happy to discuss my professional relationship with her in the comments section, if need be.

 

Lt. Cmdr. Rorke Denver’s ‘Damn Few’ is damn awesome

Rorke Denver Damn-Few

Lt. Cmdr. Rorke Denver’s ‘Damn Few’ hits bookstores on Feburary 19, and it is damn awesome. Given that there are roughly 2,500 SEALs, any book that delves into the mindset of America’s elite warriors has a high probability of being deemed “awesome,” but this effort earns the distinction for its ability to zoom in on some of the more intimate aspects of SEAL life before seamlessly pulling back to 10,000 feet to give readers the bigger picture. Lt. Cmdr. Denver is direct, but tactful. And unlike Chris Kyle’s ‘American Sniper’ (another amazing read), in which Kyle brings his audience a completely uncensored account of his exploits,  ‘Damn Few’ is diplomatic. It’s an instruction booklet that is more mindful of bridging the gap in understanding between civilian and special operations forces.

Lt. Cmdr. Denver may have led more than 200 combat missions overseas, and he may have been the officer in charge of every phase of training, basic and advance, for America’s ultimate assault teams, but like most SEAL books it really begins with BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL). And while most Americans are familiar with the grueling nature of BUD/S, (70 to 80 percent of the class washes out), they tend to focus their admiration on the physical demands of the class. Lt. Cmdr. Denver doesn’t disappoint on that level, but he also makes a point to stress that it takes a team player with extraordinary mental toughness to earn the coveted SEAL Trident.

Winning pays. Losing has consequences. Nothing substitutes for preparation. Life isn’t fair and neither is the battlefield. Even the smallest detail matters. We are a brotherhood. Our success depends on our team performance. And we do not fail. These are precepts are driven home constantly as we make new SEALs. …

You have to want to win. You have to want to win so badly, losing is not even a possibility for you. If you feel that way, there is no obstacle the instructors can put in front of you that you won’t figure out how to get past. …

As a student at BUD/S, I never allowed myself to think, I have a choice here. I never let that concept anywhere into my consciousness, not even the faintest possibility I might not survive Hell Week and BUD/S. It wasn’t like I answered the should-I-leave question with “I’m staying.” It was that no such question was ever even asked.

Lt. Cmdr. Denver makes a very profound point here. An incredibly profound point. How our lives take shape are largely determined by the questions we ask ourselves. When you ask yourself a question, you get an answer. There is an extremely large divide between “How am I going to complete this task?” and “Is completing this task possible?” Your success and failure in life is, to an enormous extent, determined by the endless string of questions and answers — the perpetual conversation — you are having with yourself. But what most people don’t understand is that they have the power to control the questions! Once we realize this, we possess the keys to happiness and success. The SEALs inherently know this, which is why they are a cut above.

While “Damn Few” does discuss terrorism, the Middle East, tyrannical regimes and any number of hell holes around the world, passages like those mentioned above are what make the book a compelling read. Readers who cuddle themselves in the freedom and liberty SEALs secure, while simultaneously mocking the national security threats they’re sent to neutralize, will not be swayed by the first-hand accounts from a war zone. If they see America as an imperialist oppressor before opening the book, they will likely see America as an imperialist oppressor after the book. Lt. Cmdr. Denver’s anecdotes are worth the purchase price alone, but as mentioned, it is his insight into the mind of a warrior that solidifies the book as a must-read for military enthusiasts.

I had confirmed what I believe was the case, that I was capable of executing the most intense exchange between two human beings, the attempted taking of another life, a deadly force connection. And that I was the one who’d come out alive.

I was now in a new category of warrior. I was a “meat eater” now. That’s the expression SEALs use for someone who has killed on the battlefield. When I entered the category of those who had done that, it was a special distinction to me.

Because of our training and temperament, SEALs are attuned to a more primitive version of what men were once required to be — and still are — when our special skills are called for. …

Nevertheless, I am cognizant of the fact that people we took off the battlefield had families, too. I know that I have changed a family, that this is a son, a brother, a father, or a husband whose life is now over while mine continues. … I didn’t see anyone we shot at who wasn’t prepared to shoot at us — or who wasn’t already shooting. I’ve never shot at a target or an individual I didn’t believe was absolutely the enemy. …

The ability to perform the ultimate act of a warrior lives inside me. I know because I have let it out. And that’s given me a higher sense of responsibility and a stronger appreciation for all that life offers. Those who have fought in combat units in any way know what I am talking about. When you have fought for your life, that life means more to you.

There aren’t many true warriors out there, and there are even fewer who are willing to offer the rest of us a glimpse into their minds and souls. “Damn Few” is part of a rare collection of books, in which our most highly-trained special operations forces tell their side of the story. Give it a read if you want to expose yourself to the kind of mentality that produces winners, on the battlefield and off.

Related: ‘Act of Valor’ SEAL blasts Washington’s attempts to lower standards in ‘Damn Few’
Related: Act of Valor: A conservative review
Related: Act of Valor SEALs: Ambushed by liberalism

No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account … of a great book

Apparently, the Pentagon isn’t happy with the release of ‘No Easy Day’. Possible national security issues aside — readers will be.

What does a member of SEAL Team 6 do after he’s killed the most wanted terrorist alive — the mastermind behind the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor? He does what anyone else would do: He goes to Taco Bell. By himself.

No Easy Day apparently has heads fuming at the Pentagon, and author Mark Owen might be persona non grata with his former teammates  (his real identity is known, but I’m still going to refrain from using it), but it’s a book that I’m glad he wrote. It’s a story that needed to be told, even if the timing of it could be called into question. And, while some of the information disclosed in the book is surprising, someone should remind the Navy SEALs that they were the ones who also worked with filmmakers on Act of Valor. Owen is most definitely one of the good guys.

There seems to be three factors that drove Owen to write the book. They are:

  1. To inspire other young men to become better than they knew they could ever be.
  2. To vent frustration over having to fight a war increasingly designed to protect the sensibilities of the politically correct civilian chattering class.
  3. To draw attention to politicians in Washington, D.C. who are much more of a threat to OPSEC than a retired SEAL.

As with other standout books by Navy SEALs, such as Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor or Chris Kyle’s American Sniper, where the words make the book worth its hardcover price is in the personal story — not the details of any specific mission. You care about Owen not because he’s a Navy SEAL, but because he’s a good person. You want to keep reading his story — not because he’s a badass — but because he embodies the a kind of honor, commitment, selflessness and love of country that seems endangered in modern America.

The forward says it all:

‘No Easy Day’ is the story of “the guys,” the human toll we pay, and the sacrifices we make to do this dirty job. This book is about a brotherhood that existed long before I joined and will be around long after I am gone.

My hope is one day a young man in junior high school will read it and become a SEAL, or at least live a life bigger than him. If that happens, the book is a success.

It only takes Owen a quick 299 pages to complete his mission. It’s hard to believe that any young man could read No Easy Day without having his patriotic passions stirred.

Since Owen is a smart guy, he also provided plenty of lessons for public policy makers. Case in point:

It felt like we were fighting the war with one hand and filling out paperwork with the other. When we brought back detainees, there was an additional two or three hours of paperwork. The first question a detainee at the base was always, “Were you abused?” An affirmative answer meant an investigation and paperwork. And the enemy had figured out the rules. …

On more recent deployments, they started hiding their weapons, knowing we couldn’t shoot them if they weren’t armed. The fighters knew the rules of engagement and figured they’d just work their way through the system and be back to their village in a few days.

It was frustrating. We knew what we were sacrificing at home; we were willing to give that up to do the job on our terms. As more rules were applied, it became harder to justify taking the risks to our lives. The job was becoming more about an exit strategy than doing the right thing tactically.

The best trained, best equipped, most-disciplined fighting force in the world is asked to go to war — provided it’s a politically correct war. Al Qaeda members sleep soundly in their beds (or caves or on floorboards) because they know they can take advantage of the rules of engagement. “Shoot, move, and communicate” has become, “shoot, move, and do ‘sensitive site exploitation’.” SEALs need to spend endless amounts of time on each mission documenting everything for the kind of person who sees any U.S. military action as an Abu Ghraib waiting to happen. It’s sad and sick, it’s going to come back to haunt us,  and it gets soldiers killed.

Mark Owen’s personality reminds me of a lot of the guys I once served with. He’s an intelligent guy, but he’s humble. He strives for perfection. He never gives up because failure isn’t an option. He’s a professional, and he most-certainly goes about his job with the ‘failure to prepare is preparing for failure’ mentality. He loves his country and has done amazing things for freedom and liberty. He’s a real-life hero, but at the end of the day he’s perfectly content … with Taco Bell. In short, he’s everything I’d like my future son to be.

I highly suggest No Easy Day.