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The Worst War Memoir Since 9/11: An Introduction to Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor" Week

We've collected all of our posts on Lone Survivor below. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.

- Really!?! with Quotes from Lone Survivor Pt. 1

- Really!?! Quotes from Lone Survivor Pt. 2

- A 300 Page Ethical Dilemma

- Really!?! Quotes from Lone Survivor Pt. 3

- He Got The Title Wrong? and 6 More Mistakes from Luttrell's Lone Survivor

- A Literary Review of Lone Survivor

- An Open Letter to Universal and Peter Berg

- BTW, Insurgents Have Rules of Engagement As Well

- The Rules of Engagement are Democratic, and Thank God For That

- Haters Want to Hate or...If You Haven’t Been to Afghanistan Then F*** You Hippy and Get Off My Internets!

- Shout Out to Ed Darack and a First Look at Lone Survivor!

- Marcus Luttrell Stands by His Mistakes: An Update to Our Lone Survivor Week

- The Tale of the Tape: The (Dis)Similarities Between Luttrell, Mortenson and Montalvan

- A New Game: Spot the Navy SEAL!

- Lone Survivor on Counter-Insurgency: Read It, Then Do The Opposite

- On V’s Thoughts on the New “Lone Survivor” Trailer

- Weapons of Mass Dis-information: 5 Different Books By or About Navy SEALs That Repeat the Same Misinformation

- Luttrell No Longer Stands By his Mistakes: Lone Survivor vs. the 60 Minutes Interview

- Bad, Bad Ahmad Shah...the Baddest Shah in the Whole Damn Valley

- Eric C’s Lone Survivor (Film) Review: I (Almost) Loved This Movie

- You’re Welcome, Peter Berg: Why the Lone Survivor Film is Better than the Lone Survivor Memoir

- A List of the Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality

- It’s Not Just "Hollywood”: Why the Accuracy of Lone Survivor (Film) Matters

- Is Operation Red Wings Important?

- The Worst Media Coverage of Lone Survivor (film and memoir)

- Why Fact Checking Matters: On V in Other Places, Slate "How Accurate is Lone Survivor?”

- The Missed Counter-Insurgency Lessons in Lone Survivor (Film)

- Our Favorite "Unique Takes" on “Lone Survivor” (Film)

- More Updates on Lone Survivor

- On V In Other Places: Newsweek’s "Marcus Luttrell’s Savior, Mohammad Gulab, Claims ‘Lone Survivor’ Got It Wrong"

- Our Thoughts on Newsweek’s Mohammad Gulab and Marcus Luttrell Article

- The Loudest Quiet Professionals: An Academic Take

- The Loudest Quiet Professional (Marcus Luttrell) Endorses Donald Trump

Since last December, Eric C has been diving into war memoirs. He's read the best of the best--O'Brien's The Things They Carried, Rooney's My War, Herr's Dispatches--and others that weren't quite as good, but none that were atrocious.

Until now. Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor is so over-the-top, so poorly written, and so bad, one review just won't cover it.  

A quick synopsisThe story follows Marcus Luttrell--a right-wing, Christian, Texan-then-American--through his SEAL training, deployment to Iraq, and finally, deployment to Afghanistan. On a routine reconnaissance mission, a group of unarmed Afghan civilians walk onto his team's observation post. After releasing the civilians, Taliban fighters storm their position, eventually killing the three other SEALs. Luttrell escapes, only to be sheltered from the Taliban by a friendly village, and later rescued by Army Rangers.

Why spend an entire week on one book? Three reasons:

First, Lone Survivor is a terrible book on almost every level: historical, political, military, and literary. I believe I could find something wrong, misleading, idiotic or poorly written on every page, and probably one of each. How bad is it? For instance, Luttrell writes that...

...Iraq had WMD’s. (This book was published in 2007)
...Iraq had Al Qaeda training camps and Taliban fighters.
...the military upper brass personally called on Luttrell and his fellow SEALs to save Afghanistan from Taliban invaders, in 2005, because Navy SEALs are the greatest, toughest, most skilled war fighters in the entire military. (Seriously, he wrote this.)
...twins can literally read minds. (He’s not joking.)
...America’s God (Jesus) is at war with Islam’s God (Muhammad) and American soldiers are on the front lines waging this war. God personally intervenes to save Luttrell's life multiple times, despite letting 19 other service men die that same day.
...rules/laws should not apply to soldiers, and the media should not report on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (We assume this doesn't apply to Navy SEAL veteran memoirists.)
...Afghanistan had/has a democratically elected government.

There are lots of terrible books on the military, but only one of them is ranked #343 on Amazon. (To compare, The Things They Carried ranks #402, Fick's One Bullet Away ranks #5,185, Mulaney's Unforgiving Minute ranks #7,805, The War I Always Wanted ranks over 100,000) Twice, total strangers recommended Lone Survivor to Eric C. Comment threads and reviews across the milblog community heap praise upon the book (take this example). And Universal Studios and Peter Berg (of Friday Night Lights fame) are adapting Lone Survivor into a major Hollywood film, scheduled for release in 2013.

That movie is my second reason; we want to stop it. This book should not be esteemed, should not be considered a paragon of the genre, and should not be recommended, ever. This book should be considered a joke, but instead will become a major motion picture. His story could be a good film, but the book Lone Survivor cannot.

My final reason is one of legacy, determining how we as a country will remember Afghanistan in our media, in our culture, and in our history. Like it or hate it, The Hurt Locker is the closest most Americans will ever get to Iraq. Many, if not most, veterans loathed that film for its awful portrayal of the war. But we were too late to stop it from winning the Best Picture Oscar. With Lone Survivor I won't make that mistake. It paints Soldiers, Afghans, ROE, counter-insurgency, and America in the worst possible light. I won't let another bad film define our current wars.

Unlike Marcus Luttrell, I didn't live on Bagram Air Field, I lived in Konar, Province. Marcus Luttrell flew in for missions, then flew right back out. I worked with Afghans everyday, meeting, talking and living with them. I came to respect them. Marcus Luttrell describes the people of Konar as peasants, evil, hate-filled and primitive; I dispute that. He called Konar a land of "hellish undercurrents and flaming hatreds." If your only interaction comes through a sniper scope, you won't understand Afghanistan or counter-insurgency, and that is why Lone Survivor deserves its own week.


sixteen comments

Yeah, we hated this book, but I’m looking forward to other readers opinions. I know a lot of bloggers and milbloggers liked this book, basically I’m curious to see someone try to defend it.

I also want to state: we don’t hate SEALs or SOCOM or SpecOps, but we do hate the portrayal of them in this memoir.

He is a product of his environment, and unfortunately I think a lot of these kinds of opinions and beliefs were held by many soldiers and quite a bit of brass that early into the wars. I remember reading one counterinsurgency book in the hallway to my battalion HQ comparing Iraqis to abused children who loved Saddam and hated Americans similar to the way abused children love their real parents despite the abuse and hate their foster parents (this was written by Special Forces Colonel, someone who should have known better). As for this hardcore Christian almost crusader like mentality, well lets face it, the US military is the least secular appendage of the federal government that I know of (I hope thats as bad as it gets).

Its not a defense to the quality of the book, honestly it sounds like the “Spinal Tap” of military memoirs, but it can give you brief glimpse into the mentality some people who were making critical decisions had before 2007.

Well…I’ll guess I’ll have to read it. Unfortunately the thought of a movie makes me want to puke already. According to the NY Times, Justin Timberlake is cast in it. I used to really like Peter Berg too…oh well.


I recently worked with some Navy SEALS in Iraq. They, especially the officers, laugh at the book.

Rob! Do not buy the book! Get it from the library at Fort Benning, and read it if you must, but don’t buy it!

OK!!! I’ll try that, but it sounds like its so popular I might never get my hands on it… haha. Most every Navy SEAL I’ve ever met is full of himself so your review of the “book” doesn’t suprise me. They seem to be the “hollywood/prima donnas” of the Special OPS world, but maybe thats just me. I think that is probably because of Richard Marcinko and that terrible Michael Bien and Charlie Sheen movie from the 80s.

Any book about something as serious as war deserves critical (in the neutral sense) review, but I think it may be more credible (and helpful) to avoid some of the generalizations that have already appeared in this thread regarding units and even entire religions. While my own experience confirms there are some within the SEAL community who are overfull of themselves, not ALL of them are that way. In addition, while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it certainly does not impress me (in a positive way that is) to read this from one of the posts: “As for this hardcore Christian almost crusader like mentality, well lets face it, the US military is the least secular appendage of the federal government that I know of (I hope thats as bad as it gets).”

Since we are all stating our opinions here, I would point out in case it is lost on some, there is an undeniable religious element to the conflict(s) in which we are now embroiled. Of course we can debate the extent to which the on-going actual and attempted violence in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, including most recently a car bomb left in NYC, is a function of Islam generally, or extremist factions that either really believe they are doing Allah’s work or merely using it as a cover for other secular reasons. This, however, does not negate the fact that there is in effect a religious “war” being waged at some level and to denigrate the Christian faith in such sweeping terms is to also miss a key aspect of this “warfare.”

It is certainly appropriate to question our approach to the various iterations of this “warfare” in terms of how we should fight it and the perspectives that are helpful in this assessment (being in Bagram vs. being in the provinces on a day to day basis) but I suggest a bit more care in dismissing the importance of things with which you may disagree but that are still critical to understanding the complexities of this “warfare” and the best means to fight it. As a retired combat Marine and now academic I see this phenomenon of our post-Modern “sophistication” (and the elitist cynicism that usually goes with it) all too often cloud the thinking of otherwise intelligent people.

JumpingJarhead – I don’t believe anyone is discounting the religious motivation of Islamic extremist in acts of terrorism and their current relationship to the current wars. What was being asserted was that the current wars are not part of a larger holy war. Christianity is not at war with Islam and the statement to the affirmative is a misstatement of what is. Further, the statements above specifically state full respect for the SEALs but not for the portrayal in the memoir. No one is disputing the lack of importance of this point of view either; we’re all very concerned that this book and its subsequent movie will be regarded in the same bewildering manner Hurt Locker was.

Michael – I wonder how he and if he could tell the families of the 19 other soldiers that God him to be the lone survivor.

Chris – I would love to see a Spinal Tap-esk version of this movie. I think it would compare to Hot Shots with Charlie Sheen.

Hey jumpinjarhead – You second and third comments got caught by the spam detector, please try to repost it if you can. I’d love to hear a continuation of your thoughts on this.

I´ll definitely stand behind my assertion that the US military or at least the Army is not always the most secular of organizations. I sang some song in Baghdad about us being Jesus´s soldier in a former mosque across from Al Faw palace (I really don´t know that Jesus would want that many soldiers considering I seem to remember hearing about him being crucifixed by soldiers). I made a joke there that we were having our company meeting on holy ground to protect ourselves from the highlander and had to pus for blasphemy (and being a smart ass). I´m assuming its a coincidence every prayer breakfast I´d ever been to was scheduled on the same day as a 10k run on our PT schedule as well.

To even try to defend the US military as a strictly secular organization is a farce. I believe accommodations should be made for people´s beliefs, but religion shouldn´t be forced onto whole entire units. The missionary mindset is disturbing to me personally as it does create the perception, perhaps even justifiably, of this being the Crusades part deux, not a counter terrorism or nation building operation as it is being billed politically. Just because some of the people who fight the US military are religiously motivated doesn´t mean the US military has to be religiously motivated itself.

You can call me a cynic (I love Diogenes who found have found elitism and cynicism to be quite contrary to one another) but I wouldn´t say my mind is clouded, its more soaked. I live in Germany not Holland.

“I made a joke there that we were having our company meeting on holy ground to protect ourselves from the highlander and had to pus for blasphemy (and being a smart ass).”

That should be push.

Are you all serious? I thought it was a fantastic book, and you misinterpreted many of his thoughts. I understood all the humor and the underlaying joke themes. I geuss you guys didn’t see it that way.

Brennan I have to admit that calling all of Luttrell’s book a joke is a new take. I haven’t heard that one yet. Unfortunately, too much of Luttrell’s anger and rage is directed at liberals and the media in ways that can’t be construed as a joke. And the issue of four sailors dying in Afghanistan shouldn’t be considered a joke either.

Unless you are saying that Luttrell is a joke and you agree with us.

Ah, I get it now—let’s go after Luttrell as an individual rather than his book. Very consistent with the template used by our masters in Washington today. It is of course especially apt for poor old Marcus who is—gasp and gag—a conservative Christian and thus presumptively ignorant, red-necked and bigoted.

Very good work on here.

To be clear, I don’t think Luttrell is a joke, but in my comment earlier, I definitely made it sound that way. Luttrell clearly served his country admirably and has been through more than I could possibly imagine.

That said, Marcus Luttrell with his book and speaking tour invites himself to be criticized for his views. Not because he is a Christian or a conservative, but because he made mistakes in his book. The mistakes in his book are mistakes, and no one has yet refuted them.