Lone Survivor

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Let’s get this out of the way first.  Deanna, you can’t see this movie, though I wish you could.  Second, prepare to put on your Christian-colored glasses. Ready?  Good.

I think war movies are important.  I think they help us civilians connect with the men and women who are fighting and serving.  I think they help civilians realize the cost to our soldiers in a way a dry history book never can.  Don’t get me wrong, you should read about the great sweeps of history.  The changes in power, the wars won and lost, the how and the why behind those victories, but you don’t want to lose the human element.  You don’t want to forget that while one country is winning a war and the other is losing, someone’s son, brother, father, husband, nephew, grandson is out there bleeding and dying.

More importantly, I think war movies have great value in a spiritual sense.  We are in a spiritual battle.  We are called to spiritual warfare.  Do you know what that means?  Do you have any sense of what war takes?  Do you understand the training and dedication needed to fight a war?  Paul and the other apostles didn’t pick their language at random.  The Holy Spirit inspired them.  He chose the language of war to describe our fight against sin, both inside us and around us.  Watching war movies and reading warrior stories helps flesh out that illustration. It helps you understand the bond we are to have in our local churches.  We are soldiers, brothers and sisters, together.  We should act like it.  Don’t let yourself be removed from war and warriors in some vain attempt at earthly peace that will never happen.  See the illustration, and be strengthened by it.

There are a few movies I have found helpful in fleshing out some of the emotional sides of history, and expanding my understanding of spiritual warfare….or, maybe these are just my favorites:

Band of Brothers – This series follows Easy Company, who suffered devastating losses during WW2 to their ranks, from basic training to the end of the war.  It gives you a sense of the way war broke these men and the bond between soldiers. I actually recommend you watch the series before reading the book.

Saving Private Ryan – This was the first war movie I saw in the theater.  I watched it the night before my brother shipped out.  After seeing that movie, I begged him not to go, but he’d already signed the dotted line.  I’m glad he didn’t listen to me as an 18-year-old.

We were Soldiers – based on the book with only a few historical inaccuracies, this film features one of our greatest American heroes at his finest, Hal Moore.  It shows his dedication to his troops and his skill in battle.  This movie doesn’t get into the Vietnam argument – should we be there or not – but focuses the viewers’ attention on the families left behind as the boys fight and die.  It shows Moore’s dedication to bring his boys home, dead or alive.  I highly suggest reading the book as well as watching the movie.

Black Hawk Down – Vietnam was over by the time I was born.  Obviously, I heard about it, it was still being widely discussed and all those broken men were coming home, but it wasn’t my war.  The fight in Somalia was the war of boys a few years older than me.  I didn’t really learn about this war until a few years after it happened.  This movie shows how quickly things breakdown on the battlefield.  I watched it while my brother-in-law was in Marine basic and my brother was still deployed.  I prayed a little more faithfully for them after watching this film.  Again, I highly suggest reading the book as well as watching the movie.

Lone Survivor – The movie for my war.  I watched those towers fall on 9/11.  I watched President Bush declare war on terrorism.  I listened and prayed as my fiancé, now husband, seriously considered joining up, and my brother, now home, expressed frustration at being home.  This was a war I saw.  But I saw much of it through the eyes of the media, and through the eyes of a happy girl busy planning her wedding and getting ready to run her first business.  I also wasn’t into military history just yet.  That came a few years later.  So, I watched this war from the sidelines, never really affected by it, other than to be proud of our troops.

About a week ago, I went on a father/daughter date with my Dad to see Lone Survivor.  Now, you may recall that I’ve already read the book by the same title, and loved it.  I followed all the news I could get my hands on about the movie for the last few months, and familiarized myself with Marcus Luttrell’s story.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The movie is gritty, as accurate as it can be for a movie, moving, well filmed, well acted, and even has Marcus as a background SEAL, which I almost yelled out in a movie theater, but instead just whispered to my Dad.

When you watch a war movie after reading the book, it’s like getting all the highlights of how someone you know died or was broken.  The book gives you insight into the heart and mind of the soldiers it’s about, and then the movie gives you the visuals.  It’s a rough way to learn about war, but I find it works well for me.  The men involved and the events stick in my brain when I’ve both read the book and watched the movie.  My Mom(in-law) asked me if I cried when I saw Lone Survivor.  I told her yes, but not through the whole film, just the beginning, middle, and end.  I mean the thing opens up with a corkboard covered with pictures of Murphy, Axe, Danny, and Marcus.  The real guys, not the actors.  The real heroes.  How could I not cry?

Lone Survivor wasn’t filmed like an action flick.  There were very few slow motion scenes, massive explosions, or acts of ridiculous physical gymnastics.  What it did show was how difficult it is to hold things together once the bullets start flying, how important the bond between our SEALS is, how well trained they are, and how heroic this team was.  The movie is violent, but I don’t think it’s indulgent.  It wasn’t violent just to be violent.   It was violent to help the viewer see and know what these boys suffered.

I think just about everyone needs to see this film, or read the book, to know and understand modern warfare.  It’s gonna make you mad.  It’s gonna make you proud of some Texans.  It’s gonna make you proud of our SEALS.  It’s gonna help you understand the cost of war.  They lived it.  They died in the fight.  These are the real American Heroes.  Not actors, not entertainers, not athletes.  Soldiers.  These soldiers.  Murphy, Luttrell, Axe, and Danny are the Heroes of my generation and my war.  Don’t forget them.

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“Never out of the Fight”

For two hours, I sat tensely in a movie theater unsure of the emotional impact of seeing four men I’ve read a lot about actually fight for their lives.  I’ve read about their parents, their friends, their wives and fiancés.  I’ve read the accounts of their families waiting to find out if they were alive or dead.  I’ve read about the funerals given for these men.  I’ve read Marcus Luttrell’s own account of being on Murphy’s Ridge while his brothers died around him.  I was tense and armed with lots of tissues.  But I thought it was important to see this film.  I thought it was important to remember them.  I’m thankful for how many people are aware of them now.  To be honest, I might have been a little more excited about this film, than the Hobbit.  Why?  This story is real.  These are real, earthly, flesh and blood, American Heroes.

What did I take away from it?  Go see it!  I can’t wait to see it again.  I respect our military more than ever, and wish our media did the same.  If they did, we might not have lost those men that day.  But, deeper than that, richer than that, more long-term, more enduring, I dovetailed Lone Survivor with the message preached the Sunday before:  ” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)  The church is commanded to love the members of its local congregation.  Love the person hardest for you to love in your church family.  If you want an earthly, visual example of loving one another, go see this movie.  Be inspired to get back in the fight, to stand, back to back, shoulder to shoulder with your fellow soldiers, your fellow church members, and fight against sin and the evil one.  We have a greater war to fight, the only good war.  We have a greater captain to follow, the greatest Captain.  We can’t see this war.  We can’t see the wounds, battle scars, and bullet holes in one another as we sit in our pews and live our lives, but they’re there.  We’re never out of the fight.  Love your brothers and sisters sitting next to you on Sunday morning.  They’re your family.  They’re your brothers in this war.

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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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