Lone Survivor Book Review

Lone Survivor

The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10
by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson
ISBN 978-0316067607
$15.99; 392 pages

Badass is the only way to describe Marcus Luttrell and his teammates. Everyone should know this about SEALs already, but reading this first-hand account will drive it home. Anyone who is familiar with the SEAL ethos and training methods could probably skim or skip the first half of the book. Luttrell needed to honor his comrades by describing what made them special, but there are no surprises here.

However, what does become clear is just how effective the selection process is. Part of SEAL training is just that: training. Another part is weeding out those who do not have what it takes. And what it takes is an absolute refusal to quit. As Luttrell makes clear in his memories of BUD/S, the men who wash out are not necessarily weaker or slower than those who persevere, although some are. Those who remain are massively determined, even obstinant. They would rather die than quit, and in fact will remain alive on sheer willpower long after another man would lie down to die.

Operation Redwing demonstrated this. The other three SEALs on the ground with Luttrell, Michael P. Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson continued to fight after being horrifically wounded when they were ambushed and enfiladed. Luttrell was saved by being blown off a cliff by an RPG, preventing his enemies from locating him.

The last third of the book has an excellent description of the reality of village life in the Hindu Kush, and the kind of ancient rights and privileges that persist in that part of the world.  Luttrell's life was saved by Lokhay Warkawa, which we might think of as sanctuary, granted by the headman of the village he stumbled into. Like the Clameur de Haro, it was impossible for the Taliban to ignore this protection. They did take the opportunity to abuse Luttrell further, but they could not take him as they wished.

I would have liked to know what the results of the final debriefing of this mission were. This was clearly a monumental Charlie Foxtrot, especially the ill-fated rescue attempt that cost the lives of the rest of the SEALs at his base, including their commanding officer. The SEALs have a principle that no man is left behind, but I am certain they are hard enough on themselves to see the rescue attempt cost more lives than it should have. If I find out what happened there, I will let you know.

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