Sniper One and Lone Survivor

“It was all just people trying to pay their last respects.  The same everywhere.  And I am left feeling that no matter how much the drip-drip-drip of hostility towards us is perpetuated by the liberal press, the American people simply do not believe it.  They are rightly proud of the armed forces of the United States of America.  They innately understand what we do.  And no amount of poison about our alleged brutality, disregard of the Geneva Convention, and abuse of the human rights of terrorists is going to change what most people think.”  – Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

Most of my Modern Military History reading has centered on WWII and Vietnam.  The ghosts of all that went wrong in Vietnam still haunt the edges of my generation brought on by whispered stories from fathers and grandfathers.  Like a toothache, we continue to poke at it and explore it trying to figure out what went wrong.  WWII shines like a lighthouse in the dark history of war.  It was the good war.  The war we were right to fight.  Light and dark.  WWII and Vietnam.  But I have yet to explore much about the Korean War or my own generations war in the Middle East.  Another blogger, who has since passed away, reviewed Sniper One on his blog around the time Chris Kyle was murdered spurring me to add more modern warfare books to my reading list.  Reading only two modern warfare books so far, I have come to two completely unsubstantiated and personal observations.

If you get tired of all the political correctness that saps the courage from our moral fiber, read some modern warfare books.  These soldiers don’t mince their words in their personal observations about how our wars are and aren’t fought.  The politically correct ruling class imposes sometimes-impossible, often frustrating, rules on our soldiers when they’ve never been in combat.  It’s a fact.  They haven’t reexamined the Rules of Engagement (ROE) that US and British soldiers operate under in the context of fighting terrorist.  Terrorist known our ROE and use them against us all the time.  They use them to kill our soldiers while the ROE and the media – waiting to cry ‘Barbarian!’ at the drop of a hat – tie our soldiers’ hands by behind their backs.  This is the rub in both the books I read on our war in the Middle East.  What was meant for good has ended up costing us many lives.  (Unsubstantiated, Personal Observation #1)

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Sniper One by Sgt. Dan Mills is the story of a British sniper unit besieged in Iraq in 2004.  They go in on a peacekeeping tour and end up fighting for their very lives.  This book is great not only for its exciting and amazing story, but also for the historical perspective it provides.  At one point, the unit, while out on patrol, visits an ancient cemetery where they find the tombs of English soldiers from forgotten wars.  It was eerie to realize we have been fighting over the same dusty plot of land for hundreds of years.

Sgt. Dan Mills never apologies for being a soldier in Sniper One.  These men trained to fight.  No apologies.  These English soldiers love what they do and believe they are doing the right thing.  They’re not out to hurt everyone they can.  In fact, they spend a fair amount of time worrying about a family stuck in the line of fire and a dog they adopt.  But, they don’t think the way to handle terrorist is with kid gloves.  It’s refreshing to read about men being men and doing what men do without apologizing for a job well done.  They took the fight to the terrorist and won with superior training, weapons, mentality, and a little help from the USA.  These men were dedicated, well-trained warriors.  I’m thankful for men like them.

My only caveat for this book is that due to it being written by an Englishman it lacks the moral lines we favor here in the USA.  You expect a bit of language when you read anything military oriented, but this book didn’t pull any punches.  (Part of it could be that I’m not used to British cussing, so it really stood out.)  It also didn’t pull any punches about what men do in the down times between battles.

Have I just had my head in the sand for too long?  Most of the books I’ve read about WWII have a certain carefulness to not indulge.  They will mention a few cuss words, or a few illicit meetings, but it is always mentioned in passing, or not at all.  It’s not the point because it’s not appropriate.  (The joys of reading older books!)  Books about Vietnam are not that much different.  Every war has its ugly parts.  You can’t escape that.  And I don’t mean just killing innocents, or bloodlust, or sociopaths.  I’m talking specifically about the language and sexual dalliances that go along with warfare.  Many books on warfare don’t focus there.  They might mention them in passing, but they’re only in passing.  Sniper One didn’t pass.  It dedicated a whole chapter or two to it and it was a bit disconcerting.  Are all modern military books so immoral, I asked myself?  Am I going to have to bypass anything written about the War in the Middle East because modern writers don’t know the line between history and gossip?

The answer, so far, is no.  (Unsubstantiated, Personal Observation #2)

After reading Sniper One, I read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell.  This book has a little bit of language and none of the other problems.  Americans, on some subconscious level, still cling to the idea that a good story, true or fiction, doesn’t have to be quiet that earthy to be ‘good’.  We all understand that life is not clean, it’s full of sin, it’s gross, indulgent, and full of lust, but that doesn’t mean we need to bathe in it every second.  I think it’s important for someone to know the sinful struggles faced by our military….that someone isn’t me.  For this reason alone, I enjoyed the modern American military story better than the British one.  I respect the British military, no doubt, but I don’t want to read that kind of stuff.  Does it make them seem more human and less heroic?  Yes, which can be good.  It keeps us from naïvely idolizing them.  It also borders on gossip – indulgent, tantalizing – we just don’t need to know.  There are other, better ways to show the humanity of our soldiers.  I think Marcus Luttrell does this well. He talks about his fear, his pain, his confusion, and what he views as his moment of cowardice: when he puts his gun down in combat and covers his ear because he can’t stand the sound of his dying fried screaming his name.  That’s humanity.

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Lone Survivor.  Now there’s a book.  I first picked it up while my husband and I were on vacation last August.  I had a passing knowledge of Operation Red Wings from a Facebook fan page dedicated to the American hero Michael Murphy who died during the Operation.  I knew it was going to be a rough, emotional story.  Marcus – the only SEAL to survive – starts the story with his visits to the families of the other three men who died up in the Afghan mountains.  Talk about instant tear-jerker.  I put the book down for a few weeks, just not ready to emotionally deal with it.

When I picked it up again, it became my workout partner.  I read it on my Kindle and boy-howdy!  If you want some motivation to work up a sweat, read about Navy SEAL training.  It makes you proud of them and it makes you feel like quite the wimp.

Lone Survivor detailed out the battle fought on Murphy’s Ridge between four Navy SEALS and about 100+ terrorist.  It’s a heart-wrenching story.  Marcus, the only survivor, fell down mountains, was shot, and blown up, before he’s taken in by some friendly Afghans.  They protected him, at the cost of their own village, for several days before a group of Army Rangers found him.  Marcus explained how his buddies fought and died beside him, how he agonized over them, went back out to retrieve their bodies, and came home to his family still haunted by their screams.

The more light-hearted side of this book, the part that brings a smile to my face, is Marcus is a tried and true Texan.  He’s politically incorrect and conservative.  It’s refreshing to read a book like Lone Survivor where your beliefs are appreciated instead of disparaged.  It’s refreshing to hear President Bush spoken of in a positive light.  It’s refreshing to know men like this fight for us on foreign soil.

“Before the dust had settled on lower Manhattan, the United States demanded the Taliban hand over bin Laden for masterminding the attack on U.S. soil.  Again the Taliban refused, perhaps not realizing that the new(ish) U.S. president, George W. Bush, was a very different character from Bill Clinton.” – Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

If you want a great story with great heroes, read Lone Survivor.  If you feel the need to uproot your “first-world” problems just a bit, read Lone Survivor.  If you want to understand what it’s like to be a Texan, read Lone Survivor.  If you just want a little reminder that there are a few moral people, under God’s common grace, still out there, read Lone Survivor.

I would love to have my nephews hear the story of the Battle for Murphy’s Ridge.  Someday, when their older I’ll share it with them.  Sniper One is a good story, but I would want my nephews to be much older, maybe in their late teens or early twenties before I would recommend it based totally on the level of inappropriate content.  (If you’re a parent with a son joining the military and you want the harsh reality of the temptations he will face, you might consider reading Sniper One to help you have some frank conversations with him.  This is the only good I can think of from reading those parts and not skipping them.)  On the other hand, Lone Survivor would be a great companion to modern military history studies for boys in high school.  (As always, this is purely my thoughts.  You, as a parent, need to know what you want your kids to know and what they can handle.)

My two unsubstantiated and personal observations remain just that.  As far as #1 and the ROE, I can do little about that but try to understand the history going on around me.  #2 and the lack of morality in modern warfare writing remains to be seen, but I’m more hopeful for good stories about our brave soldiers that don’t reduce themselves into blood baths or gossip.

Here’s to the Navy SEALS who died in service to our country.

(This article is dedicated to Steve at Imagineer-ing who suggested Sniper One but passed away before I could share my thoughts on the book.  Thanks for all your support, Steve.)

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