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

(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.)

The trailer for Lone Survivor came out yesterday, and we’re going to write about it. (H/T Alex Horton) Though we don’t like obsessing about one memoir, since we’ve been writing about Lone Survivor for years, we want to update our readers.

For any new readers who may stumble across this post, our feelings on Lone Survivor summarized in three sentences: 1. This memoir has numerous inaccuracies at worse (or several heavily disputed problems at best). 2. Luttrell pushes his conservative politics, using the deaths of his fellow SEALs to push this viewpoint. 3. Luttrell misinforms the public about rules of engagement, again using the deaths of his fellow SEALs to push this viewpoint.

Without further ado, our thoughts on the trailer:

The Good

The Location/Scenery - The Korengal Valley really does look like that. That said, the Korengal valley looks unlike any other place in Afghanistan. This Dietz painting for the 2-503rd from our time in the Korengal captures the sense of the trees pretty well.

In all, great job, location scout.

The Facts - It appears that the film has moderated some of the more glaring errors from the memoir. For instance, the mission has become “Red Wings” like the hockey team, and not “Operation Redwing”, as it appears on the cover of the Lone Survivor memoir.

The vote disappeared? - I told Eric C when we started writing this post that I didn’t want to do the comic-book fanboy meme of disparaging a movie before I had seen it simply based on the trailer. That, however, applies to the good and the bad. Based off a couple of snippets of dialogue in the trailer, it appears that in this version Lieutenant Mike Murphy makes the decision to release the goat herders on his own, after taking input from the team. This would be nearly perfect leadership, and matches the story his family tells.

This is not how the story goes in the memoir. In the memoir, Luttrell casts the deciding vote, and blames his vote in part on liberals and the media.

The Bad

The central problem remains - Rules of engagement are not simple. In fact, no use of ROE can be boiled down to a simple yes or no decision. Very, very few ethical conundrums have only two options. Yet this movie will likely boil down the situation with the goat herders on the top of that hill to, “Release the goat herders or kill them” and that debate will influence more Americans than any other thing about ROE. I hate that a complicated and effective tool will be so simplistically critiqued. (As it was in the book.) From this limited information--again I hate only using a trailer--I am not optimistic.

The Unknown

The Size of Enemy Forces - In this trailer, someone says, “That’s not ten guys. That’s an Army.” Later in the trailer, the enemy forces don’t appear to be that large. Elsewhere in the trailer, the movie mentions the number “200” as to the size of a possible enemy force. For more on the size of the opposing force, read this post or this Marine Corps Gazette article.

What parts will the movie cover? - Obviously, the entirety of the Lone Survivor memoir won’t make it into the film. This has more to do with the limitations of cinema than anything else. The choices Peter Berg makes could create an Oscar contender or an action film. How much of the movie happens before versus after the central attack? Local Afghans saved and sheltered Luttrell and it will be interesting how much of that makes it in the film. (And we are waiting with baited breath to see if Luttrell includes the Iraq scenes from Lone Survivor.)

Will the politics make it into the film? The trailer doesn’t use the words, “mainstream media”, “liberal”, “rules of engagement” and other conservative talking points that litter the memoir. Will the movie use those words or did Peter Berg censor Marcus Luttrell?

nine comments

after speaking with Michael C, I wanted to make something clear: we’re open to liking the new Lone Survivor movie. If they cut the politics and inaccuracies, it could be a pretty great story. We’re looking forward to seeing it.

That won’t change how we feel about the memoir, which will become even more popular when the film is released.


The Good (cont.)

The AC130 Spectre gunship


Local Afghans saved and sheltered Luttrell and it will be interesting how much of that makes it in the film.

This is most interesting part of the whole tale, as far as I am concerned. A foreigner shows up followed by scary men the locals are going to have to deal with for the rest of their lives and he gets sheltered? How many places in the world does that happen?

I’m pretty dubious about this Lone Survivor, but I also think The Kingdom is one of the fairest GWOT movies, so who knows?


Mateo: I agree 100%. It is the most fascinating part of the story, and I am very, very curious how much makes it in the movie. Clearly, the draw for this movie isn’t the saving, but the battle.


The dilemma at the heart of “Lone Survivor” is a false one. As you have pointed out in previous blogposts there are more choices than kill or release the goat herders.

Moviegoers often like to pick holes in movies. Inconsistencies in plot, scenery, characters, continuity etc are often subjects of discussion. I’d like to think that many moviegoers will see that the there are more options than kill or release. Even within the trailer there is sufficient material to support a wider discussion. We see:

1) Goat herders captured and tied up. (They may be tied to a tree, but this is unclear).
2) Soldiers debate their release.
3) Goat herders released by cutting zip ties.
4) A goat herder running somewhat agilely down a hillside

The following questions pose themselves:
a) Why not just leave the goat herders tied to the tree, to be later found by their compatriots?
b) Why cut the zip ties pinning their hands behind their backs? This would somewhat slow down their descent of the mountainside. Even better why not hobble the goat herders by zip tying their legs, so that they can only take baby steps?
c) (Option not posed by the film) Why not force the goat herders to march with the soldiers, at least until they had put more distance between themselves and the enemy?

It will be interesting to see the full film, and also to see what public debate ensues.

(By the way, for me the most interesting part of the book was the bit about the Navy Seal selection process – that’s the only bit I really believed.)


Martin – You left out another supremely curious question, “Why didn’t the team call for evac immediately after discovery?” This question is only vaguely hinted at and never fully answered later. While the team wouldn’t have had a chance to take out the target, by letting the goat herder go, they didn’t have a chance anyways. I have never understood why they didn’t begin an immediate evacuation, with or without the goat herders.


You left out another supremely curious question, “Why didn’t the team call for evac immediately after discovery?”

There’s a bit in the trailer about the radio being down (or at least not getting reception), isn’t there?

I haven’t read the book and don’t intend to, so is there anyone willing to let me in on the timeline of the mission? Whether the goatherds were killed or restrained, at a promixal point in time their absence and/or the untended goats would have been noticed.


Michael C – There was mention in the trailer that the radio wasn’t working. It’s not clear whether this was because they were out of range, or if it was because the radio was broken. This would preclude an immediate evacuation. (I also remember in the book, they tried to radio to get orders about what to do about the goat herders, but couldn’t make radio contact (I remember thinking this was particularly implausible, since any such mission would have to include a briefing on what to do if spotted by civilians)).


Yeah, I am aware of that. Here is what I know based on reading the book about 3 years ago:

- The radio is broken in the book, and this is mentioned in the film. However, this is still a problem. First, why was the radio broken? (I believe Ed Darack has more information on this as well along the lines that the Marines encouraged the SEAL team to use a different radio.) Second, every special ops team always has redundant communication (PACE: Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency is the acronym.) Why didn’t the team use the satellite cell phone then?

- I do not remember when they made the first call. I thought it wasn’t until after they decided what to do, but I could be wrong.

- Finally, they still could have evacuated after the initial calls failed, taking the goat herders with them. Again, I have been to this part of Afghanistan, and this evacuation would have meant a hike, but it also would have brought them closer to Camp Blessing and put distance between them and the goatherders.