Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reflections: Lone Survivor

There are only a handful of books like Lone Survivor in existence.  The reason for this is very simple; there aren't many human beings on this planet who experience something like Marcus Luttrell did and then are able to live to tell the tale.  Lone Survivor, like other true accounts of war and bloodshed, can sometimes only be described as stranger than fiction.  The book is at different times completely and totally heartbreaking as well as triumphant.  This is a book not to be missed.

A book like Lone Survivor cannot avoid comparisons to Mark Bowden's masterpiece Black Hawk Down.  I admit I wanted a book as riveting and emotionally engaging as Black Hawn Down when I started reading Lone Survivor.  Yet, they have different stories to tell.  Luttrell, even with the help of Patrick Robinson, is not as powerful a writer as Mark Bowden, which is not surprising when you consider Bowden's career as opposed to Luttrell’s, but Marcus just might be more raw.  Luttrell unabashedly makes commentaries on the liberal media, rules of engagement, the injustices of war, and pandering politicians.  Lone Survivor reads more like a journal than Black Hawk Down.  In the case of both books, however, I could not stop reading.

One of the events in Lone Survivor which sets it apart from other accounts of war is the gut-wrenchingly difficult moral question which is presented to Marcus and his SEAL team members when they are mistakenly discovered by Afghan goat-herders.  To let the goat-herders go, who are not particularly friendly but are certainly not armed, could mean their informing a small army of Taliban or al Qaeda operatives of the SEAL's location.  To kill them, and thereby protect themselves from unwanted discovery, brings with it the obvious moral implications, as well as the legal ramifications of the Western world.  The debate and subsequent decision is totally gripping.  It's an almost unthinkable situation which no doubt gives most of pause as we attempt to wrestle with questions regarding the definition of murder, self-preservation, and the protection of others.  With the decision made, Lone Survivor becomes an account of an incredible battle between four highly trained Navy SEALs and an opposing force many times their size.  It is gripping, shocking, unbelievable, and, in the end, terribly heartbreaking. 

Perhaps above all things, Lone Survivor reveals a breed of person that is unique and, quite frankly, awe-inspiring.  The individuals who become Navy SEALs are staggering in their persistence, dedication, focus, and loyalty.  Marcus's detailed explanation of Navy SEAL training, although it drags on too long, is a glimpse into a world most of us will never understand.  There are rough men, who go to rough places, and who do rough things, sometimes terrible things, but stand between the most violent forces and people in the world and the rest of us.  Lone Survivor proves the world can be a violent, terrible place, but also that there are good people that live in it. 

Lone Survivor is a book that really shouldn't be missed.  It's most lingering element is the moral dilemma at the heart of the book, but the re-telling of the consequences of that decision are no less inspiring or heartbreaking; in fact, the book brought me to tears.  Although Marcus's prose proves he isn't as adroit as Bowden as a writer, but his indomitable personality, humor, and honesty are on full display.  Lone Survivor will stay with me for a long, long time, if not forever, and perhaps in that way Marcus Luttrell, nor his beloved comrades, will never be left alone again.

Other Topics of Interest:
Page-Turners: Black Hawk Down
Memorable Moments: Heart of Darkness - 'The horror! The horror!

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