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

(Normally, we start the year with our “Most Intriguing Event of the Year”. But since Lone Survivor hits theaters across the country today, we’re devoting this week to that topic.

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.)

In the last week, almost every major news source has published something about Lone Survivor (film). The majority of these reviews or making-of stories relied on promotional material provided by the production. Some of the stories coupled the promotional material with the chance to interview Marcus Luttrell, Peter Berg, Mark Wahlberg or some other stars.

The incredible lack of journalistic curiosity has, obviously, disappointed us, along with the absence of fact-checking. But a few news outlets that we hold to a bit higher standard have really gone above and beyond in journalistic malpractice. If any of these sources had bothered to look up a single detail using either the U.S. Navy’s official documents, Ed Darack’s research or Marcus Luttrell’s memoir, they would have found the answers (or contrary accounts) to their questions.

(For nearly every mistake or correction, head over to our huge list here.)

To help clear up the record, here is our fact checking of the media reports around Lone Survivor (film and memoir):

ABC News

Men’s Journal

The Los Angeles Times

Associated Press by way of NPR, The Washington Post and Salon

60 Minutes

HBO Original Documentaries, Will of the Warrior

NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday

PBS’ Charlie Rose

Star-Telegram’s “The Big Mac Blog”


ABC News:

On ABC’s This Week, journalist Bob Woodruff asked a series of leading questions without challenging any of the responses. Many of the questions seem designed to mislead the viewer.

WOODRUFF: Ahmad Shah was right in your sight. Why didn't you shoot him, was it because you weren't getting a order?

LUTRELL: Right. Yes, sir.

“WOODRUFF: What are the rules of engagement?

LUTTRELL: Who knows?

WOODRUFF: You mean it just depends on where you are? You make the decision yourself.

WOODRUFF: There isn't an official protocol that was...

WAHLBERG: I was shocked even yesterday, finding out that, while we have these rules of engagement that are kind of constantly changing, nobody else does. Nobody else has to answer to any of that.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): With the vote, the SEALs let the herders go…

A whole bunch of corrections here:

Correction 1: Luttrell didn’t shoot Shah because that wasn’t the intention of the mission. As we recently updated our list of differences and mistakes, the SEAL team’s mission was never to shoot Shah. They were deliberately only a reconnaissance unit whose mission was to get eyes on Shah. A larger team of SEALs and marines was the lead element in the mission. (This fact was almost completely neglected in the movie’s briefing scene as well.)

Further, Luttrell never mentions in the memoir actually spotting Shah, as is portrayed in the film. Thus, either the film or the memoir is wrong. (We tend to think the film embellished the detail.)

Correction 2: There was no vote. This fact is in dispute between Luttrell and Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy’s family. Based on Luttrell’s various contradictory statements, we cannot establish what actually happened. (We can, however, say that no media outlet has actually asked Luttrell why his story changed on this very sensitive topic.)

Correction 3: Rules of engagement do NOT change mission to mission and every other country has rules of engagement. While there are legitimate criticisms about ROE, these statements are both completely false and inflammatory. Every country signed to the Geneva Conventions--including every ally America has in NATO--has ROE. Further, rules of engagement do not change mission to mission, and the leaders in Afghanistan tend to update them on an annual basis. Meanwhile these changes have always maintained soldier’s right to self-defense while adhering to the laws of land warfare. Further, the laws of land warfare are a topic taught to every soldier in basic training, every officer in their initial training, and a subject trained on by every unit before they deploy.

Men’s Journal:

In an article praising Lone Survivor for its dedication to realism and accuracy, reporter Stayton Bonner included this line:

“The film recounts the two-hour firefight that pitted Luttrell's team against some 100 armed Taliban fighters.”

Correction: As we’ve written about, Luttrell and his fellow SEALs weren’t attacked by 100 men. Based on Ed Darack’s analysis, including video footage, the actual number was around 8-10 fighters. Even the U.S. Navy’s Medal of Honor Official Citation only counts 30-40 fighters. Either number is a far cry from 100 insurgents. (Or the 200 insurgents Luttrell has referenced in speeches.)

NBC News:

NBC News has featured the Luttrell story twice. They first had Marcus Luttrell on the Today Show in 2007 when his memoir hit shelves. They recently updated their reporting, again on the Today Show, this time interviewing Gulab alongside. One exchange sticks out, starting at minute 1:55:

Kate Snow: “In the end, you voted to let them go.”

Marcus Luttrell: “Yeah I did... [pause]...Yeah, that’s what we did...”

KS: “Do you regret the decision [to let the goatherders go]?”

ML: “No.”

Correction 1: There was no vote. See above for the explanation.

Correction 2: Marcus Luttrell deeply regretted letting the goatherders go in his memoir. If anything, the memoir if filled with regret (page 206). Luttrell clearly said he regretted the decision to release the goatherders, a fact he first repeated on the Today Show with Matt Lauer, where Lauer read his words back to him from Lone Survivor (memoir).

The Los Angeles Times:

On Violence’s favorite “banter buddy” from the KCRW podcast The Business (we legitimately enjoy his work), John Horn, interviewed Luttrell for his paper. Here’s the most egregious section:

“It was more than a little hard for Luttrell to recount his ordeal in print. "I didn't want to write the book. I'm a private person," he said of his memoir, co-written by Patrick Robinson. He was compelled to pen it, he said, by his superiors.

"It was the Navy's idea, not mine," the 38-year-old Luttrell said. "They felt the story needed to be set straight."

His commanding officers were equally assertive in recommending that he support a movie adaptation, which opened to solid reviews in New York and Los Angeles on Friday before expanding into national release Jan. 10.

"I didn't want to do a movie," Luttrell said. "But Hollywood was going to do it with or without us. That's what came across the wire."

Correction 1: The U.S. Navy cannot compel you to write a book. Besides being outside the scope of his job duty, the U.S. Navy actually prefers to have its sailors not publish books. Further, the Special Operations community publicly says it discourages its troops from writing books. In this rare case, his command probably did support his writing, but that’s still a far cry from compelling someone to write it.

Correction 2: Marcus Luttrell wanted to write Lone Survivor (memoir). He did. In repeated interviews, he said that he personally wanted to set the record straight. Further, there was a significant monetary incentive to publish a memoir. (He signed a seven figure book deal which likely included participation in the film’s success.)

When the Lone Survivor memoir came out four years ago, Luttrell told the The New York Times about why he wanted to write the book on his own volition, which contradicts the quotes he gave to John Horn:   

“Mr. Luttrell, 31, first started thinking of writing a book because he was frustrated by media accounts of the battle...

“So he talked to his Navy superiors, hired a lawyer and searched for a writer…

“Little, Brown won it in an auction for a seven-figure advance...”

Correction 3: Hollywood was NOT going to make Lone Survivor without Luttrell’s involvement. Absolutely not. As a long time Hollywood watcher--and someone incredibly well versed in film production and marketing--Horn should know that first and foremost Hollywood cannot make a movie without someone’s book or life rights. Further, Lone Survivor (film) consistently struggled to find film financing, and eventually turned to two individuals with ties to organized crime and cocaine trafficking to make the film. Finally, Lone Survivor (film) also only happened because of Peter Berg’s desire to see it made. In fact, to even distribute it, Universal required Berg to first helm Battleship. Arguably, if Luttrell had refused to support a movie by not giving his rights and refusing to do publicity, it never would have happened.

This is also evidenced by the extreme lack of Hollywood films about Afghanistan. With the release of Lone Survivor, the number of films about the war in Afghanistan jumps to...1, Lone Survivor. To sum, Hollywood would not have made this film but for Marcus Luttrell, Little/Brown and Peter Berg fighting to make it happen.

Associated Press by way of NPR, The Washington Post and Salon:

An AP article by Jake Coyle deserves mention for an uncritical look at the Department of Defense’s role in supporting Hollywood films. Coyle’s article made it onto NPR, Salon and The Washington Post:

“Luttrell would rather not talk about any of it. He went along with "Lone Survivor" and wrote the book at the urging of his superiors...

For films like ‘Black Hawk Down’ and ‘Lone Survivor,’ the commonality is the notion that this is an important opportunity to set the record straight or at least to portray things as they believe they happened,” says Philip Strub, head of the Defense Department’s Film and Television Liaison Office.

It can make for a thorny mix of fictionalization, artist license and classification issues. Berg consulted frequently with military liaisons and the Navy Office of Information while writing the script.

“I read the after-action reports,” says Berg. “I looked at the autopsies. I went to Iraq. I met all these guys. We just followed the blue print that Latrell laid out in his book. We never set out to do something non-Hollywood or Hollywood. We just literally told the story.”

Correction 1: Luttrell wanted to write Lone Survivor (memoir). See the above correction.

60 Minutes:

When we wrote about Marcus Luttrell’s 60 Minutes’ interview last month in “Luttrell No Longer Stands By his Mistakes: Lone Survivor vs. the 60 Minutes Interview”, we were so gobsmacked by that fact that Luttrell completely changed his story that we didn’t call out 60 Minutes for failing to ask any hard questions about the changes in Luttrell’s story.

But put this interview next to the Benghazi story...or the NSA story...or the Susan Rice profile...or the Jose Rodriguez interview from last year...well, you get the idea. Frankly, we think 60 Minutes is incapable of doing a story that’s critical of the national security establishment.

HBO Original Documentaries, Will of the Warrior:

Last week, HBO aired a documentary, Will of the Warrior, about Marcus Luttrell and Lone Survivor. A couple of inaccuracies stand out:

Correction 1: The documentary included an interview with Billy Shelton, an Army veteran who lied to Luttrell about his service and the number of tours he did in Vietnam.

Correction 2: The documentary includes archival footage of Luttrell’s interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show incorrecting stating how many enemy attacked the SEALs.

NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday

Longtime On Violence readers know that we love NPR. We link to them all the time. Unfortunately, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin really stumbled when she interviewed Marcus Luttrell a couple weeks ago. Luttrell told Rachel Martin:

MARCUS LUTTRELL: We did have an uneasy feeling, going in. The intel on the numbers kept changing. And then when we got overrun, it was such a large force that - the numbers have been speculated, anywhere from 60 to 80, to 80 to over 100. And it was all of that. I have recently talked to one of the villagers who saved my life. And he was in constant contact with the Taliban. And he says that there was over 100. I'm sticking with the latter, from 60 to 80.

Correction: The SEALs were NOT attacked by 60, 80 or 100 fighters. Not that we have to rehash it, but find out more here.

The good news is that one question did have an interesting answer about Lone Survivor (film) changing the facts:

“MARCUS LUTTRELL: ...but I didn't kill anybody with a knife. And I remember sitting back and laughing. I go why did you put that in there? What does that have to do with anything? I mean, the story itself, I think, is enough to where you wouldn't have to embellish anything."

We agree, Marcus. We agree.

PBS’ Charlie Rose

Wow, there’s a lot of bad in this interview, which is unfortunate, because we like public media. But, man, the version of the story Luttrell tells Charlie Rose, well, it contradicts the movie, his book and reality. Here are the quotes:

Once the book came out and did what it did, then obviously Hollywood came knocking on the door. And it was one of those situations...an ultimatum was basically dropped on us, saying we’re going do this movie with or without y’all. So you can be a part of it and help us out to make sure it’s as authentic as possible, or you can let us go with what we think is right.” (minute 6:00)

Our mission was a special reconnaissance sniper overwatch intent. We were sent out to capture/kill a high ranking individual in bin Laden’s army. Had his own militia at his disposal. Conventional forces had been chasing him for probably about two years. Finally they slid him across our desk.” (minute 12:00)

We would have rather gotten into an engagement with 200 taliban militia than to get it wrong in that situation.” (minute 14:00)

“Shah killed twenty marines last week. Twenty.” Matt Axelson, from Lone Survivor (Clip from the film, minute 22:00)

This is not a vote.” Mike Murphy, from Lone Survivor (Clip from the film, minute 22:00)

Correction 1: Hollywood CAN’T make a movie without your life rights if you're not famous. And as we mentioned above, this film wasn’t a slam dunk. Universal clearly delayed this project for years, because of the failure of other war films. Without Luttrell’s support--especially making himself available for publicity--Hollywood would not have made this film. Even if a producer made the movie without Luttrell’s rights, they couldn’t use the name Lone Survivor, which was the most marketable part of the book. Maybe Luttrell’s book contract stipulated that the publisher could sell the films rights, but that’s not “Hollywood” demanding to make a movie and delivering an ultimatum.

Correction 2: Ahmad Shah was NOT affiliated with al Qaeda. The “bin Laden’s army” part has irritated us since the book was released, because calling al Qaeda an “army” dramatically overstates their capabilities.

Correction 3: The marines were in charge of this mission. They didn’t “slide a paper” across their desk. It was a joint operation between two branches, specifically for access to the air support that Special Operations forces used.

Correction 4: The SEALs were not attacked by “200 taliban militia”. What more can we say about this one? Oh, I know: it contradicts the account Luttrell gave to NPR above.

Correction 5: 20 marines were not killed by Shah the week before the mission.

Correction 6: As far as the vote goes, that contradicts the memoir. We wish Charlie Rose would have followed up on this.

Star-Telegram’s “The Big Mac Blog”

Not only does this interview have misleading information, but Luttrell tees off on some political subjects. Here are some select quotes:

“I’ve run over 300 combat missions in my career, a lot worse than Red Wing. We didn’t take as many casualties.”

"They think I got out, wrote the book, and that’s not it. The book was the idea of the military’s. I was in Iraq when it was on Amazon. I was doing what I was told."

“Who makes up the rules of engagement? I have no idea.”

Correction 1: It’s “Operation Red Wings”. Like the hockey team.

Correction 2: The military can’t make you write a memoir.

Correction 3: Not a correction as much as a statement of fact: the top officer in charge decides on Rules of Engagement under advisement from his staff. Luttrell might not know this, but he should.

[Update February 7th, 2014: We’ve updated this post to add in other examples from NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, PBS’s Charlie Rose, and The Star-Telegram.]


We’ll probably update this post as the media coverage continues.

You seem to be surprised about the sloppy work of journalists and their total lack of curiosity. I’m not. Every single time I came across a journalist, I (or whoever was being interviewed or written about) noticed shallow questions, general lack of knowledge of the topic they were covering, and a grand total of zero fact-checking before the article went to print or the interview was aired. This from the most respected German institutions (Der Spiegel, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, SWR radio). Once I read an article about a murder case in my home town, and the guy who wrote it invented high-risers in a neighbourhood were there weren’t any. He’d never visited the place he was pretending to write about, which saved time and money. You want good journalism, someone has to be ready to pay for it, I guess. I don’t know who’s paying you guys, but I hope you keep up your excellent work!

What exactly is your background with the military? ROE absolutely change, and they do so frequently based on your location/situation. What Wahlberg was referring to when he said that others don’t follow any ROE, he wasn’t talking about our allies! How could you even interpret it that way?? He was talking about insurgents, which is true. I agree that there are a lot of shady things going on with the book and film but you’ve got a lot of facts wrong as well pal. Oh, and SEALs fall under Special Warfare, the Navy doesn’t have a Special Operations community.

@ Jim – “What exactly is your background with the military?” We have an about page.

“What Wahlberg was referring to when he said that others don’t follow any ROE, he wasn’t talking about our allies!” Because he said, “nobody else does. Nobody else has to answer to any of that.” He didn’t say, “Our enemy”, he said, “nobody”.

SEALs fall under Special Warfare, the Navy doesn’t have a Special Operations community.” Original point still stands…they supposedly hate publicity.

@ Mike Six – We just deleted your comment because it contained a personal attack on my character in the first sentence. If you would like to re-post it without attacking my character, feel free. Simply put, this blog reflects the U.S. Army values. If you can’t treat us with respect, then feel free not to comment. Not to mention, we treat this blog like our home, and we expect the discussion on it to resemble the discussion we have at home. I don’t invite people to my home to personally attack me.

@ Jim – Rules of engagement are another way to say, “How leaders control the fire of their men.” Another way is, “Orders”. So for instance, a company commander might tell his men leading an advance unit not to fire, even if they see armed enemy units. He is doing this to control the fire of his men. Would you deny the company commander the ability to give that order?

So now, let’s move to Afghanistan. Say a commander wants to still control the fire of his men, do you deny him the ability to do so? Of course not, and that’s why we have rules of engagement.

Now let’s go to insurgents. Do they have rules of engagement? Of course they do, they just don’t write them down. So, let’s say a Taliban commander wants to woo a village elder. He would tell his men, “Don’t do anything to antagonize that guy.” That’s essentially an order…giving them rules of engagement. He could even say, “Hey, don’t plant IEDs on really populated roads, because I don’t want to hurt innocent Afghans and lose their support.” Again another example of ROE.

Yes, is this a bit theoretical? Of course, but at least it is nuanced, unlike the, “All ROE are bad” discussion that frequently goes up.

Why do you seem to hate this guy so much? I mean I read posts from you from 2010… have you really spent the last 4 years obsessing about “redwing” vs “red wing”,“cell or sat”, 30-40,140,200 blah, blah, blah. Does any of your criticism really take away from the heroic actions of the individuals involved? For God’s sake man, let it go.

@ Tom – Why do I hate Luttrell? I don’t, but simple answer to why we write about this topic so much:

- Luttrell used the death’s of his fellow soldiers for political purposes. (including claiming WMDs were in Iraq)

- He fundamentally distorted this country’s views of rules of engagement and counter-insurgency warfare, again, using the death’s of his fellow SEALs. (He did this in multiple interviews this week promoting the film. Funny you don’t fault him for that.)

- To prove these points, he used incorrect, inaccurate information.

- He explicitly blamed me, a liberal, for the deaths of his fellow SEALs. Again, he blamed me, liberals and the media for allowing three SEALs to die.

He didn’t have to write the book, greenlight the movie. He didn’t have to keep doing interview after interview trying to convince Americans that the Rules of Engagement kill our soldiers.

Many people will see the film then read the book. We’re just correcting the record.

Ask the Kurds if Saddam had WMD’s. I guess you don’t consider Yellowcake uranium to be a WMD, 500 tons were sold to a Canadian Company by the new Govt of Iraq. I guess you dismiss the Iraqi military officer who exposed the fact that the WMD’s were relocated to Syria. There are a lot of people who are convinced of Iraq’s possession of WMD’s not just Luttrell. It seems you have a political purpose in this blog also.

@ Frank – Luttrell also wrote that he saw al Qaeda training camps with his own eyes.

@Frank: No, uranium ore does not count as WMD. “WMD” actually meant nuclear fission weapon (fusion optional) until the GWB administration messed the term up with its propaganda.

About that unrefined uranium:
Both the unrefined uranium ore and a small quantity of enriched uranium were publicly known and had been sealed and under thorough surveillance by the IAEA.
The US released press reports when it removed that still sealed and still IAEA camera-observed material from Iraq and implied that it was newly found WMD shit. It was an InfoOp meant to deceive the gullible ones.

“On 7 June 2003, a team of IAEA safeguard inspectors began taking an inventory and securing nuclear
material at the Tuwaitha complex. The nuclear material – 1.8 tonnes of low-enriched uranium and 500
tonnes of natural uranium – had been under IAEA seal since 1991 (…)”

“the Iraqi military officer”
Only the gullible believe single source intel.

Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: “Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.”

First off, thanks for this blog. It’s actually very difficult to find a place online to read thoughtful, civil and reasoned argument regardless of point of view. So far only Tom Ricks’s “Best Defense” is the only other blog I read with regularity.

I am also glad to see those discussions of myth v. reality in the context of cinema and soldiers’ memoirs. I am an ex-Marine and ex-Navy Reservist so this is always an interesting topic for me.

Not a criticism but these discussions seem to be mostly Hollywood-focused. I wonder how British, German and other non-American movies and “I Was There” stories stand up to an accuracy test. Personally I find British and Australian veterans’ recounts of service in Gulf War 1 and 2 to be a bit over the top, especially when ghost-written. There was a book by an Aussie attached as a communicator to SASR and his story about Anaconda was virtually unreadable.

So far as movies go I liked the BBC “Peacekeepers” miniseries and another movie also about the Balkan Wars called “No Man’s Land”. A rare American treatment of those conflicts was the execrable “Savior” with Dennis Quaid and Stellan Skarsgard. I haven’t seen “Bravo Two Zero” in a while but I guess that whole story by “Andy McNab” has been blown out of the water. I can’t find the Canadian dramatization of Romeo Dallaire’s story but I’d like to see it.

“Hurt Locker” is a Navy and Marine Corps term. Why did the director select it for a (stupid) movie about Army EOD? And what’s with all the SEAL movies? Sheesh. NSW just ought to open their own studio up in Chatsworth. Also, Navy does have a special operations community as well as a separate and distinct special warfare community. The former refers to mine warfare, salvage and EOD, or it used to. The latter includes only the SEAL and SWCCC communities. The difference is there is no special operations command in the Navy; it’s just a generic term referring to those warfare communities and NECs.

Your main point, that news sources too readily accept Luttrell’s account as completely accurate, seems true enough.

However, the statements that “Hollywood cannot make a movie without someone’s book or life rights” and that this is the only film “about the war in Afghanistan” are incorrect. A movie titled “Lone Survivor” featuring the names of Luttrell and his colleagues might not have been possible without the book rights, but a generic action movie bearing resemblance to the events could have easily been made, as was done with “Behind Enemy Lines”, which was loosely based on the Mrkonjić Grad incident involving USAF pilot Scott O’Grady.

Also, at least two American mainstream non-documentary films have featured the war in Afghanistan: “Lions for Lambs” (2007) and “Brothers” (2009). Admittedly, neither film’s narrative takes place entirely within Afghanistan, though the war is crucial to the plots of both.

Of course, these are both trivial points that don’t change the validity of your article, but they should be noted so that film buffs everywhere (or perhaps just this one) can rest easy.


You said “He explicitly blamed me, a liberal, for the deaths of his fellow SEALs. Again, he blamed me, liberals and the media for allowing three SEALs to die.”

I’m finding it difficult to reconcile this statement with your overall premise of parsing even the most minute details of ML’s account in “LS”. Can you cite for me where he explicitly blamed you, my parents (both liberals) & the thousands of other professed liberals out there? I’ve read & heard him blame liberal policies & a few bogeymen by name, but not explicitly every liberal.

Look forward to your reply.


This website selects most every quote I would share: http://nottoobigtofail.org/2014/01/06/lo..

Multiple quotes would do the trick, but this sums it up best: “Look at me, right now in my story. Helpless, tortured, shot, blown up, my best buddies all dead, and all because we were afraid of the liberals back home, afraid to do what was necessary to save our own lives.”

Great blog, guys. I found it because of the Luttrell story, but I’ve bookmarked because of the other great posts. Good writing, too.

Sorry, horrible review. I loved the book and I know a lot of other people who did as well. Most of the normal people blame the liberals – that word defined narrowly – for good reasons. You don’t defend your country and the rights of the people – you just want your own way. For less than minimum wage some times people take up arms for the U.S. because they want to defend it. The government hacks with little to no ability to even understand what needs to be done or how it should be done to protect our men/wemon in harms way run the show and it’s only through gods hand that it doesn’t all go to hell in a handbasket. Forget about third world countries, go live in Germany or or some other EU country – its not that great and the so called down and out in the US have it much better than most.

@ Chris – Luttrell, in a video released on Thanksgiving, endorsed Rick Perry for President (2012). In the video, he recounts what happened on Operation Redwings.

It doesn’t get more political than that.

Michael C:

That was a very fine and clear explanation of what Rules of Engagement actually are. If the subject ever comes up in conversation I intend to use it, without attribution. Be forewarned.

War is Hell and in order to win you have to make it more hellish for your enemy.

I finally saw the movie Sunday. I have to say I was disappointed. The last third of the movie, completely deviated from the book and was utter sensationalism. It wasn’t lost on me at all too when the brief of the mission was discussed and the cameo of Luttrell was seen shaking his head in defiance. I am troubled by that. I believe there were many soldiers that put forth much effort and believed in the concept of “winning the hearts and minds” of these people. Victory Point discusses that and the ROE help to that end. Also, I have trouble with the conflict of only three solutions to their predicament.
I do have to ask though, your point about the film having ties to criminal activity; drugs etc.? That seems a body blow to ML; as if he somehow condoned such activity. It really makes your analysis more personal and less valid.

@ Bill Mc – The criminal ties had nothing to do with Luttrell. We mentioned that purely in a discussion of how hard it was for this film to find financing. Luttrell had nothing to do with that process.

We were making that point that this film wasn’t guaranteed to get made.

So MarineNCO, I got a question. Is it your contention that the truth only be spoken if it puts the men or the leaders or whomever you favor in good light? I would think that makes it kind of hard for us citizens, who pay the bills and for whom the military exists, to judge what is going on.

@ Chris – This website compiles the “10 Best ‘Lone Survivor’ Takedowns of Lib Media”



I say again, you are using a video you say isn’t real as proof of something else, or you suggest it is proof. I find that less than persuasive.

I saw the 60 minutes show and Anderson Cooper’s interviews, they brought out that Marcus has a real love for the Afghani who saved his life and has flown him here to the states multiple times and is working on getting him a Green Card. Marcus’s wanted this movie made to memoralize his lost comrades, his house is full of mementos of those comrades, have also seen an interview with Lt Murphy’s father who praised Marcus and the movie, and several of the mothers who also praise Marcus. And yes Operation Red Wings was a cluster but it was at the Command Level and not with Lt Murphy and his men.

@ Frank. I disagree. I believe it was a decision by those SEALs to complete a mission they were assigned. It had been canceled several times and with each cancelation, I think it heightened their eagerness even more. As difficult as it is to say, the same irrational behavior resulted in that CH47 taking the RPG. That isn’t to say those men died for nothing. No one wants to believe it or even contemplate that it could have been preventable. Nevertheless it is what is on everyones lips to be rehearsed and a lesson learned from.

I haven’t read the book nor have I seen the movie so I am curious whether either details the patrol going through their mission planning prior to launch. Every – and I mean every – movie I have seen that features SEALs or other special forces completely ignores the lengthy, detailed and exhaustive planning cycle that goes into every mission. How detailed? For example, the guide I am familiar with includes a section on how to deal with biological threats in a maritime environment (sharks, sea snakes, jellyfish, saltwater crocodiles), and that is just one small section in a very thick manual. That’s how detailed these things can get. I find it hard to believe any patrol doesn’t painstakingly lay out their routes, checkpoints, RVs, ROE, lost comms plan, personal kit, SOP pockets, actions-on, etc. These plans are in the hands of the operators and not the higher-ups.

I love some of these other mil-bloggers and their sycophants who insist that failed missions and the casualties they incur are always the result of meddling from the JSOTF commander, SOCOM, the White House (“Thanks Obama”), Congress, liberals, the media… That’s b.s. The guys conducting the mission have an incredible amount of latitude in how they plan it and execute it. They know the ROE backward and forward from the get-go. If they choose poor ground for a hide or didn’t bring enough radios it’s because bad decisions were made. “Bravo Two Zero” (the book) actually goes into that patrol’s mission planning sessions. Subsequent evidence points out that McNab and his team directly bear a lot of responsibility for the failure of the mission (he claimed they had a situation with goatherds or shepherds too).

I would be more inclined to trust an operator’s account of his mission if he concedes that he and his team mates were given the responsibility for much of the planning once they were given the mission order all the way up until they deliver the brief-back to the overall commander. Every member of the patrol is given part of the responsibility for mission planning and each guy has to stand up, look the skipper, the XO, the OpsO and the senior chief in the eye when they explain how they’re going to do this or that. Other guys sit in the back and rip into the team if their plans are weak. Then you go back and plan it again. Then rehearse. From isolation to launch this cycle can take days or weeks if it’s a deliberate session or at the least several hours if it’s a hasty mission.

My kids don’t understand why I laugh so hard when they’re watching “Tears of the Sun “, “Navy SEALs” or some such other trash and the commander (no staff or support cells anywhere to be seen) is giving the whole mission brief to the patrol officer (that’s opposite of how it actually works) on the flight deck just seconds before they load up in a helo for their insertion. Hilarious.


Have you ever been in the military? Been in a combat scenario?

I don’t feel the common citizen has a right to judge. You wanna judge what happens in combat go enlist or apply for OCS. Slap on a pack, grab a rifle and go see for yourself. I served from 90 – 98 and had my fair share.

Cracks me up to listen to or read some of this stuff. Angers me off to no end to watch a uniformed Officer criticize a mission or military member without actually being a part of that particular mission.

You want facts. Here are the most factual statements you will read in any of these posts:
1. Not one single person in this blog was actually an active member of the mission that took place on that mountain.
2. Not one single person here knows without a shadow of a doubt what actually took place on that mountain.
3. Not one single person on here actually knows how many combatants were on that mountain.

So, if you don’t have the facts why criticize? All you can do is bounce around from site to site claiming this story is different than that one. In the end nothing changed. If you believe in the almighty, at the end of days there will be one all incompassing judgement.

Every piece of information released in the book, in the movie and on TV is reviewed by the Government to ensure it does not interfere with National Security or give away strategic information. How do you know the government didn’t ask for the names to be altered at the time they reviewed? Who really knows how many armed combatants were chasing the four man team? How can we honestly sit here and act as though these people are innocent? The terrorists on the planes that hit the WTC, Pentagon and elsewhere weren’t armed? So are they innocent or combatants?

I’m not saying there aren’t good Afgan or Iraqi people but the challenge is determining who is playing a game and who is not. These people show no loyalty to one single group. They change sides quicker than someone flipping on and off the light switch. One minute your assisting in coordinating food and shelter for those that have no place and their grateful. The next time you check in on them they have moved some radical nut job into the shelter you provided and he’s now shooting at you or setting up plans to take you and your team out. Don’t take my word for it, even though I was there, go find out for yourself! Heck they love each other one day and the next day they set out to killing each other! The difference in them and us would be value of life!

I look at it like this,if you are harboring a radical 9.9 out of 10 your a radical or a supporter making you the enemy. I characterize the enemy as anyone intent on harming me, my men or my country. My men were my family and I would do anything in my power to protect my family!

@ Marine NCO – So the Benghazi coverage must really piss you off then? No one in Congress/conservative talk radio was there, but they sure do complain about it.


You raised a number of points so I will take them one by one.

Since the question at hand is one of veracity, truth telling, I figure anybody has a right to judge. You look at the evidence and make a decision. Lots of people have looked at this evidence, some who have been there and done that, and decided about the veracity of the account. None of them were there.

It is always interesting to me when people suggest that it is improper for civilians to make judgments on things military. Implied in that is the idea, I figure anyway, that there should be two classes of people, those that served and those that didn’t. Further those that served get an extra right over those that didn’t, the right to make judgments about things military. That leads pretty quickly to feudalism, a privileged military class set above the mass of people. Western civilization tried that and we didn’t like it.

You also suggest that officers can’t criticize missions without having been on those particular missions. From what I’ve read, that is what officers of every rank do every single day, judge the actions of units and men that occur outside their view. I figure you as a former NCO did that too.

You also suggest that we don’t have the facts. In an absolute sense you are right, nobody does who wasn’t there. And in that sense nobody who wasn’t there will ever have the facts. All any of us have is a second hand account. That’s all we can have. We then judge that account based upon evidence.

The Almighty may be a little discomfited getting dragged into this bit of mortal squabbling. He has more important things to attend to.

When you say that every piece of info in the book and movie is vetted by the gov in some way, that seems to be a suggestion that the information contained therein is to be trusted all the more. That is something I am very skeptical of.

I would be very cautious about making blanket statements about the characters of tens of millions of people. It seems to me whether any person anywhere can be trusted depends upon the individual character of the person and the circumstances in which he exists. I will say that on occasion my personal safety in a dicey place depended upon the trustworthiness of some guys and they never let us down.

As far as loving each other one day then killing each other the next day, go to the local PD and check out the domestic violence reports.

No, you are wrong. You wouldn’t do anything to protect your men. I imagine you would do anything to protect your men within the context of your mission and your duty. If you were willing to do anything, you would lead them all in grounding their weapons, going over to whomever was in authority, giving them whatever psychological profile will do the trick and get all of you out of theater on the next C-17.

There is one thing I just thought of about evidence and being there. No air force I ever heard of would give aerial victory credits on a pilot’s word. There had to be some kind of supporting evidence to confirm it, whether that be gun camera film, testimony from other pilots or aircrew, something. There had to be something more than the word of the guy making the claim. So not taking a guy solely at his word is normal in the military, or at least air forces.

You are the second guy who thinks I have the power to delete posts. I must come off a lot mightier than I am. Actually I’m sort of short.

Marine NCO – First off, please treat the authors of this blog as you would expect junior enlisted and officers to treat you: with respect. You continue to insult us and our blog with personal attacks which we have to remove. If you cannot maintain the basic decency demanded in any professional environment (like the military) then please feel free to not participate.

Carl did a great counter and so did Eric C, but in short you are making what we call the “Have you been there” argument. It is a really faulty argument we debunked here: http://onviolence.com/?e=339

But really your first post shows the silliness of your post. If you got out in 1998, then you never deployed to Afghanistan, so how can you talk about that conflict? You also didn’t deploy to the most recent war in Iraq, so how dare you talk about that? In short, the have you been there argument which you use to say we can’t talk about Luttrell means that half of your comment is invalid. That’s why its a silly argument.

Final point: Carl, I have no idea why people think you are the moderator and that we are academics. But I also have no idea why so many insist that I never served in the military either…

Either way its hilarious.

Eric C – Benghazi incident definitely lights a fire.

Carl – I respectfully disagree. Judgements should be based on facts and since neither one of us has the facts we should not be spreading hearsay calling them facts. As I have stated many times, you could be 100% correct but you could also be wrong. Either way it doesn’t matter to me.

An officer should have the right to pass judgement in proper military fashion. Behind closed doors and amongst his superiors or peers; not of a forum or blog for the whole world to see. A true professional would not run around spreading gossip or hearsay. Kind of like insider trading in the civilian world. I may know the direction of my company and be designated as an insider but it is illegal for me to go broadcasting what I know to the public or my family.

And no, you are wrong! I would have laid down my life to protect any of my men and every one of them new it. Heck, if you want I could have my wife verify that one after all she gave me the ultimatum to get out or get divorced because of that very reason. She figured I’d be dead.

Wasn’t referring to you with the delete comment. I have a real good feeling about who that might have been and it boils down to two.

I do appreciate the debate and your point of view. After all, that’s why I served; to protect your rights if need be.

Michael C – further more, I never claimed to have been in Afghanistan but I did spend time in the desert in 90 and Somalia in 93. I believe the sound of an AK-47, RPG and Grenade sound the same in both countries.

Michael C – One more thing and I’m going to gracefully bow out.

Interestingly enough, many of the non-rates that served with me are now the Staff Sergeants, Gunnery Sergeants, Master Sergeants and two CWO’s that are now or have served in Afghanistan. Nice thing is I have kept in contact with as many as I could over the years. Attended there wetting down parties and much more. That kind of gives me a bit of insight into what they have faced or plan to face. But I know the comment will come out that I’m using hearsay so I’ll go right ahead and agree. Difference is I don’t run around gossiping about whether they did their job right or criticize them for what they may have done or not done; especially in an open civilian forum. Kind of why they still respect me and feel open to sharing.

I can only hope you gain the same respect from your peers. But it would seem to me that wouldn’t be the case if they knew the statements you have made in this forum. Honestly, I have no idea what they would think; never served in the Army so maybe they train differently.


In examining an incident like this we have do have some hard, indisputable facts to look at. Those would be things like the lay of the land, autopsy reports, comm recordings, shell casing distributions, where the bodies were found etc. We would also have reports by people who were there. Those are not facts, those are reports. They can become facts after we examine them and see if the square with everything else we know about the incident, both physical evidence and other reports. Those reports are not facts in and of themselves, we judge them to be after examining them. And the may lose their status as fact if more information comes in. I add too that reports are suspect when they change from telling to re-telling over time.

As a citizen I need to know what is going on. If I don’t have good information I can’t be as good a citizen as I want to me. That includes military information. I need to know that the Army lied to me about how Pat Tillman got killed so I can do what I can to change the Army. I need to hear from Capt Swenson how a completely fubar’d command and support setup got some good men killed so I can call my representative and write letters to the editor and try to get things changed. I need to know when things go right but I especially need to know when things go wrong.

I have no doubt at all you would have died to save your men. None. But you would not have done anything, repeat anything to save them. The most certain way to save them is to get them out of the combat area or make sure they never go at all. I don’t think you would have advised them to desert to avoid deployment. I don’t think you would teach them to fake a psych problem to get them evacuated. I figure it sort of like the title of a book I read, The Mission, the Men, and Me.

Grinding a huge Axe here.

Carl – I honestly have ton of respect for you and your arguments. And I agree to a certain point that it is important for civilians to be informed. However, many times that information and the actions afterwards create an even worse situation. Point, Mothers of America got involved with how Marine Recruits were being treated on Parris Island so they started making changes. In all honesty, I would prefer they had not. I want to know that the man or woman standing next to me has been tested as far as possible. I tell my wife stories about my 3 month stint on the island and she gets shocked but she understands why. No one wants to be hit with a rifle, thrashed until your whole body is shaking uncontrollably or even running so much that you can barely lift your legs. There is a reason for that treatment and I whole heartily feel it is necessary to determine ones breaking point.

While stationed at Camp Pendleton I had a few boots check in and right away I knew there was something not right so I shipped them off to some detail. I later found out they were the first round of Flash Card Marines. I heard from some peers that when they got stressed out or couldn’t handle any more they held up a card to the DI which basically meant back-off. I don’t know if that is a fact or not but I can definitely tell you they should have never graduated. I would not have wanted them cover my rear.

No disrespect intended, but that is just ridiculous. Unlike the civilian world the Marine Corps is not a democracy. If I have orders to take that hill I am going to do the best I can to take it. In combat people are going to die and I have no control over which round or who it is that takes the round. All I can do is look at the mission, determine the most impactful but least compromising way of achieving the objective. Dropping my rifle and talking my way out of it is not even an option. If we were to start down that path more lives would be lost due to no order or discipline.

In all honesty, I wish you all the best but it is apparent that there is truly no way any of us will come to a compromise.

It all boils down to this, the government is only going to release what they want you to know. There are hundreds to thousands of people behind the scenes cutting, taping and proofing what they want you to know and how they want it to play out. Sure leaks may happen but I can assure you there is a whole plan surrounding disinformation just to confuse the public and take away focus on the actual leak itself.

Again, I wish you the best in all you do! Thanks for the interesting discussion.


I think the point of dispute here boils down to civilian oversight of the military. It tends to complicate things at times, especially nowadays when so few people have or know somebody who has had military experience and can explain things. Keeping things that happen on the down low and away from the eyes of nosy civilians, and that is what you are doing when you invoke the “You weren’t there” or the “Keeping things within our group” arguments, is an attempt to evade civilian control of the military. That is improper because it is at its heart against the spirit of the Constitution, where civilian control of the military is enshrined.

The big reason that is in the Constitution is that a military that is not firmly under the control of the civilian government can quickly lead to a military tyranny. That isn’t good.

There is a second good reason for civilian control, one that is more mundane. Us civilians pay the bills thereby making us the customer/boss. The customer/boss has to keep an eye on things otherwise the employees might start doing things for their benefit rather than that of the customer/boss. Naturally enough the employees are going to resent the customer/boss poking around, that makes their lives more complicated. But they are just going to have to live with it, comes with the territory.

Now it is time for me to throw the morning grenade. On the face of it, if a trainer hits a recruit with a rifle, that indicates to me that that trainer cannot get his job done without the recourse to direct physical force. If a trainer can’t do his job done without recourse to direct physical force that indicates to me the the force of his personality and character, his moral authority, isn’t strong enough to get the job done. If a trainer’s moral authority isn’t strong in a situation where the recruit’s existence is controlled totally at all times, that trainer’s innate ability to lead is suspect. And finally if a trainer’s leadership ability is suspect, it seems unwise to make him a trainer.

I think you are right that the gov is only going to release what they want us to know. That is why it is important that us civilians get info that comes from other than gov approved sources, like this OnViolence series of posts and Mr. Darack’s work.

New reader and poster here. I happened to come upon Audie Murphy’s memorial website the other day -http://www.audiemurphy.com/ . One section lists all his decorations, and since he is considered one of America’s most decorated soldiers – including be awarded the Medal of Honor. So I read the citations for his MOH and other top awards for combats in WW2, including MOH, Distinguished Service Cross, 2 Silver Stars, 2 Bronze stars, Purple Heart (three awards), a host of other awards.

No question he was a true “badass” and American hero (and became a movie star).

But my point is this, reading Murphy’s medal citations reads like a Rambo movie. Not saying he didn’t perform the acts listed, but he must have went on a “Superman” 6 month frenzy according to the records.

And then there’s the Dakota Meyer MOH deal. (You may have covered it but I only began reading your blog today). Once again the reports and citation are at times confusing and there were many articles that question the “official” version of that.

I think the main issue is that Americans want war “heroes” when we fight wars. And military top brass want heroes for their arm of the military. I remember reading about the clamor of the USMC brass to get a coveted MOH to ANY Marine that could be made to fit the criteria in some form or fashion. Not saying he didn’t deserve the MOH.

I honor ALL MOH and other combat related medal recipients from all wars. But honestly, those awarded the MOH posthumously seems to more believable citations. And I will NEVER question the bravery and honor of those who earned the MOH by throwing themselves on a live grenade or something like that.


Quick Question…I’m reading the Darack book now and it seems the command structure is very troubling. I was always under the impression that one of our Military’s strong points was letting our officers improvise and take initiative. However Darack points out that the Marines had a QRF ready to go right after Murphy’s call for help and it took over three hours to get a OK. Darack notes the Marine LT Col. frustration but he doesn’t do anything but wait. My question is could the LT. Col have given the GO command and deal with the consequences later knowing men were dying?? My only experience is in Law Enforcement and have had some shakebox bosses but have also had some that have not waited for a OK and went in anyway and came out all right.
Thanks in advance for responses and insight.