I heard about a book called “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command” in early September. Pentagon officials were not thrilled that author Sean Naylor wanted to shed light on the Herculean efforts required to keep Americans safe. Given that special operators tend to work in the shadows, the Pentagon’s position makes sense — but I bought the book anyway — and found myself relentlessly reading it until the finish.
It is incredibly hard to review a book that spans the entire history of JSOC. Perhaps the best way to approach the book is to say how painful it was to read of all the many successes these elite operators had since Sept. 11, 2001, only to see much of their work squandered since 2008.
Towards the end of the book, Naylor discusses the rise of the Islamic State group and what its gains in Iraq meant to JSOC.
The list of Iraqi cities the Islamic State had taken by the end of the summer was a roll call of places where the JSOC task force had engaged in hard, vicious fights to dislodge Saddam Hussein’s forces and then to eviscerate Al Qaeda in Iraq: Haditha, where the Rangers withstood a fearsome artillery barrage to take a vital dam during the 2003 invasion; Tikrit, where Task Force Wolverine and Team Tank fought it out with the Fedayeen; Fallujah, where Don Hollenbaugh had earned his Distinguished Service Cross by holding off an insurgent assault single-handedly in April 2004; Rawa, where Doug Taylor’s Delta troop had impersonated farmhands to snare Ghassan Amin in April 2005; Al Qaim, where Delta operators Steven Langmack, Bob Horrigan, and Michael McNulty had died in the bloody spring of 2005; and Mosul, where the Rangers killed Abu Khalaf in a perfectly executed assault in 2008. (Sean Naylor. Relentless Strike. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015, 437)
By the time this summery occurs, the reader has been familiarized with details of every one of the hard-fought battles mentioned. It is tough to read without wincing.
The vast majority of Americans will never comprehend the amount blood, sweat, and tears shed by special operators. Naylor’s work, as prolific as it is, scratches the surface in terms of heroic tales known only to a select few.
Regardless, if nothing else, “Relentless Strike” makes it obvious that while millions of Americans are watching cat videos on YouTube or mindlessly uploading selfies to their social media page, shadow wars are raging all around them.
There is a thin veil of peace and tranquility over most Americans’ eyes, and it is only kept in place by the rough hands of those who are willing to fight and die on the other side of the globe.
I highly suggest “Relentless Strike” for anyone who wants to know what, exactly, it takes to provide national security to 350 million Americans on a daily basis.
“American Sniper” Director Clint Eastwood was given a difficult task: he had to somehow squeeze Chris Kyle’s incredible life story into 132 minutes. What could have turned into an incredibly bloated mess had he tried to do too much was successfully streamlined in a way that stayed true to the autobiography while also teasing out the most important themes. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller both give strong performances, and audiences across the U.S. have rewarded them for all the hard work: “American Sniper” made $105 million in its first four days of wide-release.
Clint Eastwood seemed to have two goals with “American Sniper”:
Show the audience what makes guys like Chris Kyle tick.
Demonstrate the destructive power of combat on the war fighter’s psyche, as well as the family unit.
A glimpse of what Mr. Eastwood was able to transfer from the page to the screen comes towards the end of Chris Kyle’s autobiography, where he writes:
“My regrets are about the people I couldn’t save — Marines, soldiers, my buddies. I still feel their loss. I still ache for my failure to protect them.
I’m not naive and I’m beyond romanticizing war and what I had to do there. The worst moments of my life have come as a SEAL. Losing my buddies. Having a kid die on me.
I’m sure some of the things I went through pale in comparison to what some of the guys went through in World War II and other conflicts. On top of all the shit they went through in Vietnam, they had to come home to a country that spat on them.
When people ask me how the war changed me, I tell them that the biggest thing has to do with my perspective.
You know all those everyday things that stress you here? I don’t give a shit about them. There are bigger and worse things that could happen than to have this timely little problem wreck your life, or even your day. I’ve seen them. More: I’ve lived them,” (Chris Kyle, American Sniper. Harper Collins, 2012. Page 379.)
As I mentioned in my review of the book when it came out in 2012, Chris Kyle said that a guardian angel must have been looking over him on the battlefield on multiple occasions, yet he never really stopped to dwell on just how much of a guardian angel he was to his brothers-in-arms. The pressure he put upon himself to save everyone under his watch — an impossible task —would break any man. Yes, even Navy SEALs have a breaking point.
Families have breaking points, too. Again, Eastwood brings it home in a scene that takes place just before Chris Kyle’s fourth tour in Iraq:
Taya:Do you want to die? Is that what it is?
Taya: Then just tell me. Tell me why you do it. I want to understand.
Chris: Baby, I do it for you. You know that I do it to protect you.
Taya: No you don’t.
Chris: Yes, I do.
Taya: I’m here. Your family is here. Your children have no father. […] You don’t know when to quit. You did your part. You sacrificed enough. You let somebody else go!
Chris: Let somebody else go?
Chris:Well, I couldn’t live with myself.
Taya:Well, you find a way. You have to. Okay? I need you — to be human again. I need you here. I need … you here. If you leave again, I don’t think we’ll be here when you get back.
Even to those who are closest to these very special men, it often seems like they have a death wish. But that is not the case. Even those who are supposed to understand what motivates a war fighter, can not. The question becomes: How do you dedicate your life to a man who has dedicated his own to ideas that are bigger than all of us?
At one point during “American Sniper,” Chris laments how obsessed civilians are with their cell phones, trips to the mall, and a variety of other seemingly-trivial things when he should be “over there.” But that’s the conundrum: Just as the principles a SEAL is willing to fight and die for make life worth living, it is also those little moments — a conversation on a lazy Sunday afternoon with your wife, or a quiet night alone with that very same woman — that make it special.
“American Sniper” is about one man’s attempt to successfully balance the desire to selflessly serve one’s country while also living up to the commitment to love and cherish his spouse with all his might.
“American Sniper” is a box office hit. In four days of wide-release, it has pulled in $105 million. Audiences across the country have been moved by the Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Director Clint Eastwood did a marvelous job showing the kind of selfless service displayed by American war fighters while also not shying away from the psychological toll that combat takes on them and their loved ones. It’s a stellar film about an American hero, which is why Michael Moore and Seth Rogen responded just as the world expects Hollywood liberals to act: like pathetic men who deep down resent the fact that for all their fame and fortune they are still glorified clowns.
Chris Kyle was a real hero, and instead of just dealing with their envy and jealousy in the privacy of their own home, Michael Moore and Seth Rogen lashed out on Twitter so the world could see how truly petty they are.
Using Michael Moore’s logic, anyone who uses cover and concealment during the course of battle is a “coward.” Perhaps we should do away with camouflage and just wear bright red jackets with white pants in the middle of open fields, but I digress. Once negative feedback came rolling in, Michael Moore decided to just make it abundantly clear that whenever he talks about cowards, he is really just projecting his own inner demons.
Translation:“What are you so upset about? I wasn’t disparaging Chris Kyle with my sniper comments, even though I made them on the very day millions of Americans were talking about him. Where would you get that idea?”
And then there is Seth Rogen, whose main achievement in life is that he made a dumb movie about North Korea (we all know why he didn’t target Iranian mullahs), which forced millions of Americans to confirm: yes, we will defend Hollywood actors’ right to the freedom of expression, even if they are classless imbeciles.
Seth Rogen’s tweet proves that he did not see “American Sniper,” or that he is a hate-filled buffoon (perhaps both?). The movie wasn’t a celebration of war or a piece of propaganda similar to faux-Nazi films created by Quentin Tarantino; if anything it was a clarion call to policy makers to think long and hard before sending men like Chris Kyle into war zones. Only a miserable person as defined by John Stuart Mill could watch Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” and think “coward.”
“The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” — John Stuart Mill.
C.S. Lewis, who fought and almost died during World War I, puts it another way in his famous essay, “Why I am not a pacifist”:
“For let us make no mistake. All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love. Like the gallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. It threatens every temporal evil — every evil except dishonor and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it. On the other side, though it may not be your fault, it is certainly a fact that Pacifism threatens you with almost nothing. Some public opprobrium, yes, from people whose opinion you discount and whose society you do not frequent, soon recompensed by the warm mutual approval which exists, inevitably, in any minority group. For the rest it offers you a continuance of the life you know and love, among the people and in the surroundings you know and love.” — C.S. Lewis
Michael Moore and Seth Rogen are very much like the “miserable creatures” referenced in Mill’s “On Liberty.” On many levels they are not worth writing about; they run in social circles with like-minded fools who would never point out that maybe — just maybe — the dough-like man-boys disparaging Navy SEALs might have a few insecurities hiding in those rolls of skin. However, because of their Hollywood connections, men like Michael Moore and Seth Rogen do affect American culture. The bully pulpit they have access to almost demands that those who can push back against their attempts at character assassination, should.
Congratulations, Michael Moore and Seth Rogen: you’re the type of guys who take shots at deceased Navy SEALs and the creative works that respectfully honor their sacrifice. Try doing that outside Hollywood circles and see how much it endears you to the crowd.
Update: Seth Rogen is now backtracking with the incredibly lame “Apples remind me of oranges,” excuse. Next he’ll say that every once-in-awhile he sits down, bites into a banana, and thinks, “Zucchini.”
When it was first announced that Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s life would be made into a movie by Steven Spielberg, my first thought was, “Ummm, how is that going to work? Did Spielberg even read the book? Knowing his politics, I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be a horrible movie.”
Interestingly enough, Mr. Spielberg dropped the project and Clint Eastwood was there to pick it up. “That makes much more sense,” I thought. Now that the trailer is out, it appears as though the world will get the Chris Kyle story it deserves.
“They fry you if you’re wrong.”
How do you win a war when the men responsible for securing victory are paranoid that any mistake they make will land them in prison for the rest of their lives? The answer: You probably don’t win. You lose. Or you wind up pulling out of that country for political reasons and then having to go back in when things spiral out of control…
Chris Kyle wrote in American Sniper:
“You cannot be afraid to take your shot. When you see someone with an IED or a rifle maneuvering toward your men, you have clear reason to fire. (The fact that an Iraqi had a gun would not necessarily mean he could be shot.) The ROEs were specific, and in most cases the danger was obvious.
But there were times when it wasn’t exactly clear, when a person almost surely was an insurgent, probably was doing evil, but there was still some doubt because of the circumstances or the surroundings —the way he moved, for example, wasn’t toward an area where troops were. A lot of times a guy seemed to be acting macho for friends, completely unaware that I was watching him, or that there were American troops nearby.
Those shots I didn’t take.
You couldn’t — you had to worry about your own ass. Make an unjustified shot and you could be charged with murder.
I often would sit there and think, “I know this motherfucker is bad; I saw him doing such and such down the street the other day, but here he’s not doing anything, and if I shoot him, I won’t be able to justify it for the lawyers. I’ll fry.” Like I said, there is paperwork for everything. Every confirmed kill had documentation, supporting evidence, and a witness.
So I wouldn’t shoot.” — Chris Kyle, American Sniper. (Harper Collins, 2012), 149-150.
If you’re not familiar with Chris Kyle’s life, then check out American Sniper — the book. And then make sure to see Clint Eastwood’s cinematic take on the Navy SEAL’s life. I’d recommend seeing Angelina Jolie’s take on ‘Unbroken,’ but she apparently gutted one of the most crucial aspect’s of World War II hero Louie Zamperini’s life — his conversion to Christianity that kept his world from falling to pieces and allowed him to personally forgive the men who tortured him in Japanese POW camps. If you’re wondering why I feared Spielberg’s take on Chris Kyle’s life, just think about Ms. Jolie’s “Unbroken” for a few moments, but I digress.
I’m looking forward to seeing “American Sniper” when it opens in theaters December 25. If you are as well, then stop by here shortly after its release, check out my review, and let me know what you thought.
“Winning here is a conscious decision. Make up your mind whether you want to pass — or choose to fail.” … “Just prove to your bodies through your mind that you can push yourself further than you thought possible.” … “Whatever you have to do — just find an excuse to win. Keep going.”
And so begins ‘Lone Survivor,’ the true story of former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s fight to survive in the mountains of Afghanistan with his band of brothers of Seal Team 10. Director Peter Berg wisely uses real footage of potential SEALs undergoing Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) during the opening credits to set the stage. These are men who believe winning — on the battlefield, in the business world or life in general — is a conscious decision. Men who willingly submit themselves to instructors of the “I’m going to introduce you to something called ‘not being able to breath,'” variety are, quite obviously, of a different breed. They are special on many levels. From a cinematic point of view, it also lets the audience know that death is about the only thing that can prevent a SEAL from his quest to “keep going.”
By this time in history, most people know the general details of Operation Redwing. In 2005, Luttrell and his team were sent to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to take out a high-value target who was responsible for killing scores of Marines. Their mission was compromised, and they were put in an impossible situation: Do you kill a small group of people who you believe are likely allied with the enemy — even though they are unarmed and could end up being innocent civilians — or do you let them go, knowing that if you are wrong it will unleash endless waves of Taliban soldiers on your position? The SEALs chose to let their captives go. The rest is history.
Given that so many people know how the story ends, it really comes down to whether or not Peter Berg, Mark Wahlberg and the cast and crew did it justice. Without reservation, the answer is “yes.” Peter Berg seemingly moved mountains in Hollywood to get the film made, Wahlbeg and the cast immersed themselves in their roles, and the realism of the violence is both gut-wrenching and satisfying — “satisfying” in the sense that viewers know it could have been given the “Hollywood” treatment, replete with unbelievable explosions that break the laws of physics.
Perhaps Berg’s greatest feat is his treatment of the mountain. As a “character,” the mountain is paradoxically vast and expansive while being claustrophobic and limiting. When you run out of real estate on a mountain from which to fight there’s only one way to go — down. And that’s exactly what happens. Fate dealt the SEALs the worst hand possible on that mission; even the mountain terrain seemed to be against them. It was chilling to watch it mete out punishment on their bodies as they attempted to find cover and concealment.
“There’s a storm inside of us. I’ve heard many team guys speak of this. A burning. A river. A drive. An unrelenting driver to push yourself further than anyone could ever think possible. Pushing ourselves into those cold dark corners where the bad things live. Where the bad things fight. We wanted that fight at the highest volume. A loud fight. The loudest, coldest, darkest, most unpleasant of the unpleasant fights.” — Mark Wahlberg as former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, ‘Lone Survivor.’
Critics of the film will respond to the SEAL desire for a fight with the “live by the sword, die by the sword” rejoinder, which is a fair argument. However, fans of the film are also spot-on by acknowledging a.) that evil exists, and b.) there is something truly special about a man who will go to the “coldest, darkest, most unpleasant” corners of the earth to stamp it out. In service to their nation these men say “Send me. Send me to the dangerous places that no one else wants to go to so that I may ensure that they never need to.” For that, we should be eternally grateful. For the cast and crew’s efforts to bring ‘Lone Survivor’ to the big screen, we should also give thanks.
“Brave men fought and died building a proud tradition and fear of reputation that I am bound to uphold. I died up on that mountain. There is no question that a part of me will forever be upon that mountain dead as my brothers died. There is a part of me that lived because of my brothers. Because of them I am still alive, and I can never forget that no matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets or how far you fall — you are never out of the fight.” — Mark Wahlberg as former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, ‘Lone Survivor.’
Why did Marcus Luttrell live while his brothers died? Perhaps so he could tell the tale. Perhaps so one day someone in a life-or-death situation will think back upon Marcus’ survival and remember that they too are “never out of the fight.” How many young kids will see ‘Lone Survivor’ and begin a path that will end with them in position to save others? Probably quite a few.
If you get a chance to see ‘Lone Survivor,’ do so. It’s an important film that is educational as well as entertaining.
Years ago I read ‘Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10.’ It’s the story of a 2005 mission along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that was compromised and ultimately the battle for Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell to stay alive long enough to tell the tale.
Years ago I said that if Hollywood was smart, the studios would make it into a movie. ‘Lone Survivor’ has been made into a movie, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Walhberg, but Hollywood made Mr. Berg do some serious heavy lifting to get it done. I guess we can say that Peter Berg is a smart guy… Regardless, it will be out in January, 2014.
For those who want to really get a taste of what these guys volunteer for, I suggest watching Anderson Cooper’s recent ’60 Minutes’ interview with Luttrell. Although I’m very familiar with the ‘Lone Survivor’ tale, I still had a hard time watching the full interview without tearing up. To know that there are men like Marcus Luttrell, who are willing to lay their lives on the line for the rest of us, is incredibly humbling. It’s nearly impossible to hear his tale without wondering how you would react in the same situation. More often than not, my mind tells me that I’d fall far short of the bravery and heroism he displayed.
What must it be like to be Marcus Luttrell? The vast majority of Americans call him a hero — and yet a part of him believes he is a coward. I can only pray that one day he accepts that his self-evaluation is harsh and unfair, and that he might find the peace that will come along with that realization.
Here is how Luttrell recounts the final moment’s of Lt. Mike Murphy’s life, who sacrificed himself so that the rest of his team might have a chance to live.
Luttrell: Mikey was up and pushed out onto this boulder out in the middle of the draw in this wide open — no cover, nothing — He was on our satellite phone.
Anderson Cooper: Luttrell saw his lieutenant make the call. A call Mike Murphy knew would likely cost him his life.
Luttrell: He took two rounds to the chest because it spun like a top and it dropped him. And I tried to make my way up to him. He was my best friend, and I already lost Danny and I knew that Ax was dying and I didn’t want to lose him. That’s all I wanted him to do, was to come down to me. That’s all I wanted him to do, was come down to me. I heard his gun go off and a lot of gunfire in his area. I was trying with everything I had to get to him. He started screaming my name. Hey was like, ‘Marcus man, you gotta help me! I need help, Marcus!’ It got so intense that I actually put my weapon down and covered my ears because I couldn’t stand to hear him die. All I wanted him to do was stop screaming my name. And they killed him. And I put my weapon down in a gunfight while my best friend was getting killed — so that pretty much makes me a coward.
Anderson Cooper: How can you say that? …
Luttrell: Because that is a cowardice act, if you put you weapon down in a gunfight. They say every man has his breaking point. I never thought I’d find mine. The only way to break a Navy Seal is you have to kill us. But I broke right there. I quit right there.
Marcus was later blown off the side of the mountain he was fighting on, but managed to crawl his way to a source of water — with a broken back. It was there that he met the man who would save his life.
Luttrell: When I got to that waterfall and got those two sips out of there I was actually looking around thinking, ‘you know, this is a pretty good place to lay down and die.’
Cooper: You were ready to die.
Luttrell: I wasn’t ready to die. I just knew I was dying.
Anderson Cooper: That’s when an Afghan man appeared. Luttrell later learned his name was Mohammed Gulab.
Luttrell: He came up over this rock ledge and started screaming at me. ‘American! American!’ and I swung around on him. I had my finger on the trigger with the safety off. He started walking at me. He was like “Okay, okay.” He lifted up his shirt to show me he didn’t have a weapon. He was like: “Okay. Okay. Okay.” I lowered my weapon and I pulled the grenade and pulled the pin and said, ‘I’ll kill all of us.’
Anderson Cooper: You were prepared to blow yourself up along with everyone else.
Marcus Luttrell: Yes. I wasn’t going to get taken.
Ander Cooper: Why do you think you didn’t kill him?
Luttrell: I can’t tell you. I don’t know why.
Anderson Cooper (narration): Luckily, for Luttrell, Mohammed Gulab, who lived in a nearby village, was not a member of the Taliban.
Luttrell: He gave me water. I was bleeding real bad. Three other guys plus him picked me up and carried me down to his village.
Without Mr. Gulab’s help, who protected Luttrell at great risk to his tribe, the soldier would have died. Like Luttrell, Mr. Gulab’s story is worthy of its own movie: An Afghan tribal leader stands up to death threats from the Taliban to protect a severely wounded American, shuttling him from house to house (and ultimately a cave) to keep him safe, just long enough for a rescue team to extract him from the area. After the American leaves, the threats to his Mr. Gulab’s family and friends are far from over.
If you have time, seriously consider watching the full ’60 Minutes’ interview.
Editor’s note: A friend mine who was a Ranger let me know this morning that his buddy — who was part of the extraction team sent to find Luttrell — has just published a book: ‘Lest We Forget: An Army Ranger Medic’s Story,’ by Leo Jenkins. If Mr. Jenkins is anything like my friend it’s bound to be a very frank and honest book.
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:
To inspire other young men to become better than they knew they could ever be.
To vent frustration over having to fight a war increasingly designed to protect the sensibilities of the politically correct civilian chattering class.
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’sLone 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 gave American Sniperan abridged review upon its release, but it’s a book that deserves an extended version. Chris Kyle may be “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, ” but he’s much more than that. Throughout the book, Kyle wrestles with the many roles he must play (i.e., husband, father, soldier) and the responsibilities he must balance with God, Family, and Country. We ask our soldiers to be killing machines, but then expect their humanity to remain unscathed. We order them to extinguish pure evil, but then give them Rules of Engagement better suited for a cricket match. If for no other reason, civilians should read this book just for a glimpse into the psychological ringer we put our war fighters through without ever giving it a second thought.
One of the other topics that comes up repeatedly throughout American Sniper is the idea of a guardian angel. Chris postulates that there must have been one looking over him on multiple occasions (as does his friend Marcus Luttrell in the fabulous book Lone Survivor). What’s interesting about both of these soldiers is that on some level they downplay the fact that THEY are guardian angels. Chris’ obsession becomes saving every solider in harm’s way—and impossible task that begins to take a psychological toll on him as the war moves on. After his battle buddy is shot, he blames himself:
I’d put him in the spot where he got hit. It was my fault he’d been shot…A hundred kills? Two hundred? What did they mean if my brother was dead? Why hadn’t I put myself there? Why hadn’t I been standing there? I could have gotten the bastard–I could have saved my boy. I was in a dark hole. Deep Down. How long I stayed there, head buried, tears flowing, I have no idea.”
Chris often observes the unpredictable nature of war, but when it comes to an injury or a death of a fellow soldier he seems to (unfairly) place full responsibility on his own shoulders. What Chris fails to realize is that even a guardian angel can not be all places at all times. His insatiable thirst to find and kill every last enemy is commendable, but readers will know long before he addresses the issue that yes, even Navy SEALS are human, and such a mentality lends itself to the kind of physiological problems (e.g., high blood pressure) he would experience later in his career. Luckily for Chris, this story has a happy ending.
The final aspect of the book that needs to be covered concerns how wars are won—something that is not taught in college classrooms, which might be the reason for the bongo-drumming anti-war protests I experienced years ago at USC:
YOU KNOW HOW RAMADI WAS WON? We went in and killed all the bad people we could find. When we started, the decent (or potentially decent) Iraqis didn’t fear the United States; they did fear the terrorists. The U.S. told them, “We’ll make it better for you.”
The terrorists said, “We’ll cut your head off.”
Who would you fear? Who would you listen to?
We went to Ramadi, we told the terrorists, “We’ll cut your head off. We will do whatever we have to and eliminate you.” Not only did we get the terrorists’ attention—we got everyone’s attention. We showed we were the force to be reckoned with. That’s where the so-called Great Awakening came from. It wasn’t from kissing up to the Iraqis. It was from kicking butt.
The tribal leaders saw that we were bad-asses, and they’d better get their act together, work together and stop accommodating the insurgents. Force moved that battle. We killed the bad guys and brought the leaders to the peace table. That is how the world works.
Chris Kyle makes a compelling case, and it’s one that doesn’t get the attention it deserves among the civilian population, which is sad. Regardless, I’d like to narrow the scope of his argument: The United States “works” because guardian angels like Chris are willing to enter into a realms of pure evil and push back. They do so selflessly. They do so at the expense to family and loved ones.
In the late 90s I enlisted in a mechanized infantry unit. I wore a chain with the prayer to Saint Michael inscribed on it. Reading American Sniper made me realize that for a span of three years I lived and worked with guardian angels every day and I never adequately showed my appreciation to a great group of guys. Chris Kyle’s book will make you realize just how much we take the civilized world—and life—for granted. I highly recommend this book, for soldier and civilian alike.
Update:Please pray for the Kyle family. Chris was shot and murdered on February 2, 2013.
On Saturday I bought American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. On Sunday I started reading it. Tonight, I finished it. Needless to say, it was worth the $27.00 I laid down on the counter. If you’re a fan of Marcus Luttrell, you’ll want to add this one to your collection. If you’re a fan of Harry “surrender monkey” Reid, you might not. My full review will come in the near future, but there is one excerpt that I think sums up the essence of the book:
One night a little later on, we were in an exhausting firefight. Ten of us spent roughly forty-eight hours in the second story of an old, abandoned brick building, fighting in hundred-degree-plus heat wearing full armor. Bullets flew in, demolishing the walls around us practically nonstop. The only break we took was to reload.
Finally, as the sun came up in the morning, the sound of gunfire and bullets hitting brick stopped. The fight was over. It was eerily quiet.
When the Marines came in to relieve us , they found every man in the room either slumped against a wall or collapsed on the floor, dressing wounds or just soaking in the situation.
One of the Marines outside took an American flag and hoisted it over the position. Someone else played the National Anthem—I have no idea where the music came from, but the symbolism and the way it spoke to the soul was overwhelming; it remains one of my most powerful memories.
Every battle-weary man rose, went to the window, and saluted. The words of the music echoed in each of us as we watched the Stars and Stripes wave literally in dawn’s early light. The reminder of what we were fighting for caused tears as well as blood and sweat to run freely from all of us, (American Sniper, 84-85).
American Sniper is a very telling book. Patriots exist. But the patriotism displayed by Chris Kyle is not instilled in children today. It’s ironically very foreign to them, which is why Kyle’s run-in with anti-war protestors earlier in the book has such a profound effect on him. Once upon a time an overwhelming majority of Americans knew what it was the Chris Kyle’s of the world stood for, even if they could never know what it was like to be a SEAL. Once upon a time an overwhelming majority of Americans were rooted in the same love of country, even if military service wasn’t their calling.
Today, it’s different. It seems as though decades of moral and cultural relativism, taught in universities and reenforced through media, has taken its toll. The country is desperate for someone—anyone—who can articulate why the bedrock values the country was built on (e.g., limited government, free markets, and a strong national defense), are still relevant today. The Tea Party and the “Occupy” movements have charted two very different paths for Americans to walk down, and those in the middle are confused as to which road to take. American Sniper is a portrait of the type of American we should all aspire to be, and while Chris Kyle isn’t particularly political, the principles that guide him are deeply tied to our political discourse.
I highly suggest reading American Sniper. When you’re done you’ll have a deeper respect for the work that guys like Chris do, but you’ll also see why modern American conservatism is the last, best hope to preserving our great nation.
Update: Please pray for the Kyle family. Chris was murdered on February 2, 2013.
Men’s Fashion Week for Summer 2012 just wrapped up in Paris, which means I now get to write about it. Although, truthfully, I really should just post a slew of pictures, all of which would be humorous if they weren’t so sad. I’ve touched on the subject before, but every time I see a bunch of artsy males get together in skimpy outfits fit for an Adam Lambert choreographed dance number, I can’t help but think of Marcus Luttrell of Seal Team 10.
The fact is, I’m torn. It’s a marvel that Western Civilization has granted us the kind of peace and prosperity that allows grown men to walk around (and get paid!) in bush costumes masquerading as fashion and art. I also don’t want to outright dismiss “the bushmen” because, on some level, maybe they are portraying something of artistic value, even if I just “don’t get it.” But when I juxtapose pictures of former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrel with the male models of Paris, I can’t help but get a little depressed. It’s as if the ideal has been turned upside down. Instead of duty, honor, valor, and strength, the modern man is encouraged to become a hairless (leafy green?), passive man-boy who plays up any inner femininity that he might have. Instead of the selfless service of the seasoned soldier, it’s the vain, narcissistic, pouting man-children of Jersey Shore that get air time and viral videos. Perhaps that’s why I want so desperately for Captain America to rule the summer box office. See you on opening night—unless you’re disguised as a bush.