The Lone Survivor posts so far:
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 synopsis. The 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.