29 October 2020

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell (with Patrick Robinson)



Following with this year's trend, this is another book I once got my husband that he's never read. We both really love the movie adaptation and I thought I'd see if reading the book was as intense of an experience. 

This book is about a Navy SEAL operation called Redwings II that took place in Afghanistan in 2005. Four SEALs were dropped off in a mountain range area execute a leader of the Taliban. Unfortunately the operation went very wrong and even though I feel like the title of the book gives this away, I feel the need to say *spoiler alert* - all of the SEALs but one end up dead. 

The movie spends it's entire time covering the actual operation, whereas the book spends a lot of time on the training to become a Navy SEAL and also the aftermath of the operation as Luttrell, the lone survivor, finds his way to safety. 

the SEALs from Operation Redwings II


I can't tell if having already read American Sniper this year positively or negatively affected my opinion of this book because I was constantly comparing Chris Kyle's voice with Luttrell's. Luttrell also spends the first ~150 pages of Lone Survivor talking about SEAL training which I think is important context and usually would love, but he didn't offer anything new that wasn't in American Sniper which I just read.

I think the military deserves a lot of respect but I found Luttrell to be an unbearable narrator. The book is ghostwritten of course but I have to assume the voice is still his own. He comes across as incredibly egotistical, especially in comparison to Chris Kyle, and it makes the book feel like slimy military propaganda which I never felt about American Sniper. You can tell Luttrell thinks SEALs are the most important, most perfect specimen to ever walk the planet.

'Marcus, the body can take damn near anything. It's the mind that needs training. The question that guy was being asked involved mental strength. Can you handle such injustice? Can you cope with that kind of unfairness, that much of a setback? And still come back with your jaw set, still determined, swearing to God you will never quit? That's what we're looking for.'"

Luttrell is also a twin, which I have an aversion to. Worse is that his twin brother is named Morgan and is also a Navy SEAL. In the parts of the book that follow Luttrell's survival once the battle is over, he alludes to a sharing mental connection with Morgan because they're twins that allowed his family to know he was still alive. I hate everything about this. Maybe it's true but it made me like Luttrell even less. 

One of my other issues with Luttrell was his continuous jabs at the "liberal media" for not "letting" SEALs do "what they needed to do". For context, the reason the operation fails is because the team accidentally stumbles onto two goat herders (one just a young boy) in the mountains and struggle with whether or not to let them go or kill them. They know it's wrong to kill civilians, but also know that if they let them go there's a good chance they'll go alert the Taliban of their whereabouts. It's a Catch-22 for sure, and I struggle to have a moral opinion on the matter, but they end up letting them go because they don't want to find themselves on trial for war crimes- a concept Luttrell thinks is absolutely stupid. 

Knowing that the fear of the consequences back home is what ends up getting them all killed, I can see why Luttrell would have some strong opinions on said consequences, and I expected it to come up in the book. However it comes up constantly. Every chance he can get he's going on about how the "liberals" won't let them do their jobs and use their judgement but demand they take all these risks in protecting them. To be clear, I'm not saying I disagree necessarily, but it rings bitter through the book and felt distasteful. Less of it would have made me like Luttrell, and the book, more.

The Navy SEALs can deal with that, as we can deal with any enemy. But not if someone wants to put us in jail for it back home in the U.S.A. And we sure as hell don't want to hang around in the mountains waiting for someone to cut our throats, unable to fight back just in case he might be classified as an unarmed Afghan farmer. But these are the problems of the modern U.S. combat soldier, the constant worry about overstepping the mark and an American media that delights in trying to knock us down. Which we have done nothing to deserve. Except, perhaps, love our country and everything it stands for."

I still love learning about Navy SEALs, and so I still enjoyed the book. I find the dedication to the profession and the training so fascinating and Luttrell was kind enough to write what they packed for operation snacks: beef jerky, chicken noodles, power bars, water, peanuts, and raisins. I also found the dedication extremely beautiful, especially since I am emotional about the entire operation since I love the movie so much: 

There is no waking hour when I do not remember them all [his teammates] with the deepest affection and the most profound, heartbreaking silence."

This is one of the rare times when I will confidently say the film adaptation is 100x better than the book. There is no comparison for me, and I'd say it's only 50% because of Taylor Kitsch. My heart was racing reading the book when the battle was underway, but it was such a small portion of the book where it's the entire movie. Whoever developed it for film knew the rest was too boring (sorry Luttrell) and knew to dramatize the parts of the battle that were miniscule in the book but played out very well on screen.

a still from Peter Berg's film adaptation starring Mark Wahlberg and my #1 celebrity crush, Taylor Kitsch


The movie does a cool thing with the training material that makes up the first ~third of the book by showing real SEAL training footage as the movie starts up with a classic Peter Berg type movie score playing to get the emotions running high. I also didn't hate Wahlberg's character the way I hated Luttrell, so whoever adapted the screenplay knew how to make him come off as less of an egomaniac. 

Because that's what happens. In all wars, down all the years of history. Terrible injustices, the killing of people who did not deserve to die. That's what war is. And if you can't cope with it, don't do it."

I didn't dislike this book but it wasn't a great read either and very disappointing in comparison to the movie. You can 100% skip the book on this one and just enjoy the movie. It's so good.

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