The Power of Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor, besides being an intense war movie, is also a heart-wrenching tribute to those who participated in Operation Red Wings.  Beyond that, it also allows the viewer to recognize what today's troops must go through while fighting the War on Terror.  American Thinker asked former SEALs their impressions concerning this film and reality.

The movie is based on the Marcus Luttrell book by the same name.  It examines how four SEALs -- Luttrell, Mike Murphy, Danny Dietz, and Matt Axelson -- were dropped onto an Afghanistan mountain on a reconnaissance mission, in 2005, to determine if a major Taliban leader, who had killed many American troops, was in a particular village.  Unfortunately, an elderly goat herder, a teenage boy, and a child came upon them, compromising the mission.  The fatal decision was made to release the Afghanis who notified the Taliban of the SEAL presence.  A furious firefight ensued, killing three SEALs, and another sixteen special forces operatives died in a helicopter crash while attempting a rescue mission.  Luttrell, the "lone survivor," was rescued by a Pashto village chief who provided him safety from the Taliban and medical aid for his major wounds, and sent a messenger to notify the American military.

The movie does not stray from the story.  This is apparent during a powerful scene in the film that shows how American troops are put in precarious situations.  The four SEALs had three choices: tie up the goat herders, release them, or kill them.  Paraphrasing a line from the movie, "If they get killed, CNN will be reporting how SEALs kill the elderly and kids."

W.E.B. Griffin, a Korean War veteran and a military thriller writer, put the SEAL predicament into perspective, commenting to American Thinker, "I put this quote in Hazardous Duty, 'to decide which is the greater evil: disobedience, or complying with an order he knows is wrong. Or choosing the middle path,' to show there is no black and white.  There is a moral question and a moral decision that good soldiers are faced with each and every day. What is the line between the duty of an officer and the duty of a human being."  Everyone interviewed agreed and noted that a commander has a duty to defend his unit from hostile intent but cannot order the killing of civilians.  Yet, in this war, the enemy is unrecognizable -- often he does not wear a uniform, and many times, age has no boundaries. 

Former SEAL Scott Taylor thought this movie was excellent in that it showed how "war is nasty.  Those fighting have to make split-second decisions.  With this war, the line is blurred between the good and the bad.  Many politicians and those in the media question the choices made without ever having been in similar situations.  The American public was able to get a glimpse of what we have gone through."

Those watching the movie also need to recognize the "brotherhood" of the military members -- how they will sacrifice their own lives to save a teammate.  A former SEAL, Chris Hagerman, who writes for, believes that it was "inspirational, since it showed how any one of us would have gotten on that helicopter to aid those four.  What the movie did not show was that people were champing at the bit to get to those guys, and how the military did everything it could not only to rescue them, but to recover the bodies."  Taylor agrees and added, "Do you know guys are alive today because they were made to get off due to the fact the weight was too much for the helicopter to support?  Hopefully, Americans will get out of this film that everyone wanted to be a part of the mission to rescue them.  That is what we do in the SEALs: not leave a man behind."

Nothing was spared as the film showed the brutality of the Taliban toward American troops and the villagers.  Yet it balanced that with the traditions of the Pashtun people, whose code of honor demands selfless humanitarianism when someone requests protection from a foe.  Luttrell noted to American Thinker in a previous interview, "I wanted to make sure Americans understand that the reason the Taliban will always hate us and want to kill us is because of the way we live our lives.  None of us would kill our son to make him a martyr.  We need to make sure we never lower our standards in fighting them.  Yet the villager who saved my life, Muhammad Gulab, helped me because 'that is what a man does, no matter what are the consequences.'  He had to endure his car being blown up and his house burned down.  I hope Americans recognize that there are very good people in Afghanistan."

All the SEALs interviewed hope that the film conveys the conditions and sacrifices all those defending America must experience, from their BUD training to leaving their families for months at a time, including wives without husbands and children without fathers.  They must endure the loneliness of being a small team in a hazardous and dangerous environment.  Former SEAL Jason Redman felt that many Americans "forget about those who are dropped into the middle of nowhere, completely outnumbered, on a mission as they live in their safety net at home."

Mark Wahlberg, who starred in the movie, also commented to American Thinker, "I have always had respect for these guys, but after making the movie and having to undergo some of the training, my respect has multiplied."

One former SEAL interviewed respects what Luttrell has "to go through.  I understand the movie was very informative and a great tribute.  But it bothers me that there is now a new book or movie coming out every year.  After Marcus's and Chris Kyle's book, every other guy has a book to write.  We are supposed to be the silent warriors, with an emphasis on the 'silent.'  Just look at the SEAL ethos, which calls upon us to be humble and silent."  Another former SEAL, Don Mann, explained to American Thinker, "SEALs are getting a lot of public recognition now, but let us not forget the other branches of the Armed Services.  They also do an exceptional job and should get the credit as well.  All these guys have put forth so much for their country."

Which is why the most powerful and touching part of the movie was the photo clips shown of those who had died in Operation Red Wings.  During the screening viewers applauded after each small collage that put a face to those in the military.  For those SEALs interviewed and the general public, Lone Survivor is intense and realistic.  However, the SEALs took it personally since they knew the ones who died during that operation.  As Tamara, wife of Chris Hagerman, summarized, "[t]he movie is heart-wrenching, and the tribute at the end brought to life that this wasn't just a movie, in the Hollywood sense.  These men were real people who had wives, children, mothers, fathers, friends, and an NSW community who loved them.  A must-see."

The author writes for American Thinker.  She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

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