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

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. 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.)

Long time On Violence readers know that we have issues with Marcus Luttrell’s memoir, Lone Survivor. First, it gets very basic facts wrong (for example: the title). Second, it advocates killing innocent civilians. Finally, it uses Luttrell’s military service--and the deaths of his fellow servicemen--to promote his political views.

Two of these issues came roaring back this weekend when Rick Perry’s campaign released a video called, “Securing the American Dream”, in which Luttrell endorsed Perry for president. In the video, Luttrell keeps repeating the errors of his memoir. Worse, he has begun campaigning for politicians using his service to support his viewpoints. (Hat tip to @BFriedmanDC, @InTheInfantry and @InkSpotsGulliver for bringing this topic to our attention.)

So let’s breakdown two of our main criticisms of Luttrell, updated since we initially reviewed Lone Survivor.

Issue 1: Marcus Luttrell stands by his story in Lone Survivor.

When we first reviewed Lone Survivor, several emailers and commenters claimed that Marcus Luttrell wasn't responsible for the content of his memoir. According to this New York Times piece, the Navy--or the book publisher--hired Patrick Robinson, a British military fiction writer to interview Luttrell and write the story. This, allegedly, explains the over-exaggerations and mistakes in Lone Survivor.

But Luttrell hasn’t recanted any of the facts in Lone Survivor. In fact, he repeats them in speeches and interviews. In the Perry video, Luttrell still refers to the SEAL’s target as a “high ranking individual in [Osama] bin Laden’s army.” He later claims that a “Taliban Al Qaeda militia” overran his position. As we wrote in “He Got the Title Wrong?”, Ahmad Shah--called Ben Sharmak in Lone Survivor--was allied to Hezb il Gulbuddin. Prior to the events of Operation Red Wings, Shah had likely never met bin Laden. As of Oct 3, 2010, his charity still referred to the mission as Operation Redwing. (It has since been updated to the correct mission name, Operation Red Wings.)

In this clip from The Today Show, Luttrell nods in agreement with one of Lone Survivor's more offensive passages (“I’d turn into a ****ing liberal, a jack-ass.”), continues the narrative about a “vote” taking place on the mountain (this was disputed by Lt. Patrick Murphy’s father), and describes getting attacked by “100 to 120” Taliban fighters.

In Luttrell’s original after-action report, he said he was attacked by 20-35 enemy soldiers. For the Medal of Honor documentation, the number climbs to 35-40. In the book, and the above interview, the number goes all the way up to “eighty to a hundred”. Finally, in this speech, Marcus Luttrell describes getting attacked by 40-50 enemy soldiers above, and 50-60 soldiers on both sides of his position. This puts the number of enemy attackers between 140-170. In Wikipedia and the book SEALs: America’s Elite Fighting Force, the number of enemy fighters jumps to 200.

Issue 2: Luttrell politicizes his story (and the deaths of his fellow sailors).

“I don’t get into politics and all that. I’m a soldier.” At least that’s what Luttrell claimed this week in the video for the Perry campaign. Except Lone Survivor is filled with political opinions, including dozens of ad hominem attacks against the “liberal media”, liberals and the Democrats he blames for the death of his fellow SEALs.

For a man who doesn’t “get into politics and all that”, Marcus Luttrell sure makes a lot of political statements. Luttrell regularly speaks before groups like The Goldwater Institute and the NRA, regularly gives interviews to Fox News, and regularly campaigns for Republican candidates. He even spoke at Glenn Beck’s rally on the mall.

And endorsing candidates for President? It doesn’t get more political than that.

Though I don’t think we have written it before, at On Violence, we don’t agree with using the deaths of soldiers to fill political stump speeches. Cindy Sheehan disgusted us when she used her son’s death to campaign against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Marcus Luttrell disgusts us when he uses his tragedy to promote political causes. Sure, a soldier’s experience will inform their views on certain issues (especially about rules of engagement, like it does with both Luttrell and me); but death and war should be above politics...

Though they rarely are.

(To be clear, we hate the memoir, but we don’t hate the man, as some emailers have accused us of doing. We disagree with using the deaths of our soldiers to promote political viewpoints, and we do not like memoirs with factual errors. For instance, see our week on Greg Mortenson.)

six comments

I think the exact two arguments could be used for the new book about the OBL raid.

Is it just me, or are there a lot of people in the military perpetuating the “Saddam really had WMD and we found them but the liberal media wouldn’t report it” myth?

From an unauthorized armchair anthropologist perspective contrasting the responses (or lack thereof) between the problems/inaccuracies/​politics-pushed of Luttrell’s memoir as compared to Greg Mortenson’s memoirs is fascinating. It says more about early 21st C America than either of the authors.

@ Starbuck – Luttrell, in Lone Survivor, goes further than claiming Saddam had WMDs, he claims he saw Al Qaeda training camps.

Interesting point about the new OBL book. It is really highly ranked on Amazon. The difference between Luttrell’s and that, though, is Luttrell’s had the tacit endorsement of the Navy, the latter did not. (The main reason we haven’t read it is that it really isn’t a memoir, and Luttrell’s is. That and there are tons of more educational/valuable reading than Target Geronimo.)

The “Saddam really had WMD myth”, which we debunked a while back, is really hard to kill. A classic example where you don’t have to provide proof, just say, “what if?” and people believe it.

At Marg K- I will say that Luttrell’s errors are smaller than Mortenson’s. Mortenson may have fabricated whole chunks, Luttrell exaggerated the importance of the target and the number of attackers. That said, Mortenson mainly eschews politics while Luttrell fills his memoir with them. Finally, Luttrell’s book basically argues he should have killed three innocent people and he sets up a false hypothetical based on that, Mortenson doesn’t really have anything approaching that.

How much time did Luttrell actually spend in a combat zone during his stint in the Navy? Thirty days? The book is fiction, and it takes a way from the real work that the Seals have been doing.

I feel that way about a lot of the books on military history that focus overwhelmingly on snipers and special operators, most leaning towards hyperbole and exaggeration. (Starbuck this definitely applies to SEAL Target Geronimo too.) Special Operators have specific missions that are vital to regular or unconventional operations. Exaggerating their abilities detracts from the mission.