An Honest Look at the 'Right' War
As our presence in Afghanistan dwindles, Lone Survivor, the movie, couldn't have premiered at a better time.
It's been a little too easy to retreat from the "right" war for a commander-in-chief who is responsible for 74% of the 2153 American fatalities in Afghanistan.
Not so for the 2153 casualties, the thousands of wounded, and their families. At the risk of sounding trite, their lives are changed forever. They selflessly did what this country asked of them and all they ever asked in return is that we stay in the fight until we succeed, never marginalize their deaths and injuries like we did in Vietnam, and take care of their families. Leave no man behind is the soldier's promise to his comrades on the battlefield; leave no fight unfinished is supposed to be the civilian's promise to the soldier in the war.
Lone Survivor tells the true story of four Navy SEALs who fought to their deaths with love of country pulsating in their hearts. It also recounts the tragic death of the 16 SEALs who perished when their helicopter was shot down during the rescue mission.
I recommend both the book and the movie. I gave the book to my son when he was about 14 years old -- I think it is the only book he read several times and referenced in numerous papers. It is a compelling read. When I saw the movie and the New Jersey crowd applauded at the end, I turned to my husband and said "Honey, we're not in Marin County, anymore."
But, truth be told, I was furious when the movie concluded and not at all in a laughing mood. I intentionally blurted out "And now Obama's mucked it all up. Because of what he's doing, every loss we suffered in Afghanistan was in vain." No one challenged me.
For these men, risking life and limb to kill Taliban or Al Quaeda soldiers and secure the future for their families and fellow countrymen, was a risk worth taking. A noble death -- anathema to the left.
For some strange reason, this was lost on CNN journalist Jake Tapper. In his interview with the author of the book, Marcus Luttrell, and his Hollywood counterpart, Mark Wahlberg, Tapper claimed the deaths of the 19 Navy SEALs were senseless acts of an op gone haywire.
Tapper: "One of the emotions I felt while watching the film is, first of all, just the hopelessness of the situation, how horrific it was and also just all that loss of life, of these brave American men and I was torn about the message of the film in the same way that I think I am about the war in Afghanistan itself. I don't want any more senseless American death.
Thankfully, Marcus Luttrell didn't kowtow to Tapper's hackneyed assessment and confronted the seasoned reporter head on:
Luttrell: "Hopelessness never really came into it. I mean, where'd you see that [in the film]? We never gave up. I never felt that we were losing until we were actually dead. That never came across in the battle...."
Tapper: "Forget hopelessness. Just the sense that all these wonderful people who died... it seemed... senseless... I don't mean to disrespect in any way... but it seemed senseless all these wonderful people who were killed for... for an op that went wrong."
Ouch. Did he really say that? Seems to me Tapper was superimposing his own message on that of the film. While some leftwing commentary has defended Tapper -- claiming that he merely stated what we're all thinking -- any sentient human being who read the book and/or saw the movie knows the message was not about their senseless deaths. Quite the opposite.
Four Navy SEALs were on a reconnaissance mission deep in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan to confirm the presence of a high-level Al Quaeda leader in a Taliban stronghold. The pivotal moment in this tale occurs when they are discovered by two young goatherds and an old man and must decide whether to release them -- knowing they will inform the Taliban of their whereabouts -- and risk an open conflagration, or quietly kill them so they can save themselves and complete the mission.
A heated discussion ensues among the four about what to do. The costs are high either way. Their biggest fear isn't so much for their lives on the battlefield but for the battle they would face in the press, in the court of public opinion, and in a military court -- if they were to eliminate the goatherds. They ultimately decide to release the goatherds knowing they'd be sacrificing their lives on the altar of our politically correct Rules of Engagement.
Aware that the mission has been compromised, they seek higher ground to communicate with the forward operating base, which is when they encounter the Taliban forces who had been alerted -- not unexpectedly -- by the goatherds.
Outnumbered and out of touch with their command, they press on. In the book, they are above the tree line with almost no cover but a few rocks. They dig in and use their sniper skills to make each bullet count. And they do, killing a good ¾ of the enemy. They never give up, never feel sorry for themselves but fight until they cannot fight any longer. When there is no place to retreat, their only chance for survival is to throw themselves off the steep, rocky side of the mountain, tumbling to certain traumatic injury if not death.
The movie was excellent but fell short of the book in a few respects, focusing more on the actual mission than the events leading up to it. The first half of the book details their SEAL training -- a riveting account of the strenuous task to become a frogman. It's like being on simulated flight ride in Disneyland where you feel as if you are actually a part of the experience. I question whether anyone can put the book down without being in total awe of these men, maybe even feeling as if our lives are petty and insignificant by comparison.
Acquainting the reader with the harrowing nature of SEAL training isn't an act of braggadocio. It sets the stage for the drama that unfolds in the Hindu Kush mountains that fateful day. Getting "wet and sandy" after running for miles in the dark hours of the morning, plunging into the cold Pacific nearly hypothermic, deprived of sleep and food and creature comforts, in and out of exercises until they get it right, testing the physical limits of one's body and the mental fortitude to overcome those limits, explains how these mortals were able to do what they did on that mountain and how Luttrell was able to survive -- battle worn, bruised and battered from leaping down the sheer rock sides of a mountain to elude captivity and death.
It was their training and the meticulous study they did before embarking on this mission that saved Luttrell's life. Perhaps not the most articulate of soldiers, Luttrell is no dullard. He was familiar with enough of the language and had studied the local customs to know, when his only hope was seeking shelter in a nearby village, that the local customs of Pashtunwali might be his only chance for survival. This was addressed only in the book but demonstrates there is more to being a SEAL than brute strength and physical prowess. Crawling into the village with a broken leg, he recalled that if he was received as a "guest," Pashtunwali custom would obligate the villagers to do everything in their power -- even against the Taliban -- to keep him alive. And they did.
There were other deviations. For instance, U.S. rescue planes did not gun down Taliban forces that had invaded the village, as portrayed in the film. Nor did Gulab -- the Afghani who helped Luttrell -- stumble upon him and offer him his hand. In the printed version, Luttrell found his way to the village where the local tribesmen debated what they should do with him.
Even if you hadn't read the book -- which tells so much more about the men, their personalities and talents, their families, their training and powerful camaraderie -- the movie is very clear that their deaths were not senseless.Their goal was both punitive and preemptive: to eliminate those who attacked us on 9/11 or were in cahoots with the perpetrators, and to neutralize those who have sworn to kill more of us. They do not share the doubts that Jake Tapper, Obama, the entire Democrat Party, and many libertarians have about why we were in Afghanistan or Iraq.
They fought so we can armchair debate about the Rules of Engagement that they will live or die by in the heat of combat.And, the fact is, they were hamstrung by the Rules of Engagement which prevented them from acting in their best military interests, resulting in their deaths.
The bond they have with one another, and to the country, is sacrosanct. If you are a pie-in-the-sky, Burning Man kind of guy who thinks all war is wrong, you will never understand this. Their mission, the fighting, the blood, death, and pain were all purposeful. Tapper could no more fathom their deaths having purpose than Luttrell could fathom his claim that they were senseless acts of an op gone wrong.
It's heartwrenching that they died. But, in the same breath, I'm grateful that they died fighting an enemy that wants to wipe us off the face of the Earth, so my kids don't have to. They spared the lives of the goatherds who collaborated with the enemy and, in doing so, spared the country the hell that would have broken loose had they killed them. (Remember the ire brought on by the underwear and dog leashes in Abu Graib? One can only imagine how it would be received if an old man and two boys were slaughtered by four hulking Navy SEALs.) They initially disagreed about what to do, but once the decision was made, they were in it for the long haul. No regrets. No namby-pamby. No "I told you so's." No blame. No turning tail. No pulling out when the going got tough.
That's why everyone clapped at the end, eyes teared up and throats swelled. To those of us who aren't warmongers, but just get it, Jake Tapper, it makes eminent sense. We never leave anyone behind on the battlefield and we promise our soldiers not to abandon the fight. When we do, we render meaningless the sacrifices that they've made.
But Obama and Hillary Clinton left behind four men in Benghazi and, in prematurely withdrawing from both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration is leaving behind the souls of the dead.
No, Jake Tapper, their deaths weren't senseless because of an op that went wrong. But your comment sure is. And the actions of Obama and his administration sure are.
Obama and his fellow travelers cannot pick and choose -- claiming to support the troops and not the mission. When they don't support the mission, they abandon the troops. And that is an act of utter senselessness.
The only way we can honor the 2153 lives lost is to read the book, watch the movie and pass on to our children the lessons learned.