The Lone Survivor’s War Council & Marcus Luttrell’s experience with war

Image courtesy of Wikipedia  Image courtesy of Wikipedia

It strikes me that a lot of people are going to head out this weekend to see Lone Survivor this weekend.  It was directed by Peter Berg (he did The Kingdom and Friday Night Lights) and stars Mark Walberg as Marcus Luttrell – the “lone survivor” of a  SEAL team mission in Afghanistan that went incredibly wrong.  I feel it’s important to try to gain some educational value, or consideration, before the tickets and popcorn are purchased – particularly as I just wrote that we ought to think seriously about war more than we watch war.

So here goes.  Marcus Luttrell sat down with 60 Minutes a few weeks back, and gave a very revealing interview.  Watch it.  But if you don’t have time, here’s a shortened version of events: the SEAL team of four members, while on a remote reconnaissance mission of a significantly larger enemy force, encounters an Afghan goat herder and is forced to make a tough decision.  They are unable to detain him for obvious reasons; they can’t let him go because he might alert enemy forces; they can’t kill him because that’s against our military code of ethics.  So the team leader called an abbreviated Council of War.  What follows is the interview transcript from 60 Minutes:

Was this the right call?  What should he have done?  What’s incredibly sad – as is the case with most military innovation – a time release set of handcuffs was developed in response to this incident to enable a (potential) tech solution to a vexing moral dilemma.  The second revealing part to the interview, I think, is that Marcus Luttrell is a real testament of the human limits in combat.  Here’s what he said about breaking down – as he listened to his SEAL teammate and friend die:

If intense combat can “break” a SEAL – one who aspired and trained to be one his entire life – then I think it’s fair to conclude, at least anecdotally, this is powerful testimony to the human limits of combat.  Everyone has limits.

As I listened to Luttrell, I was particularly struck by a thought: how lonely he must have felt.  At the end, when he knew he was alone and that his time was short.  And on that same day I heard Robert Redford give an interview about his new movie, All Is Lost, which is essentially an entire movie about a man trapped aboard a life raft in the ocean.  Redford read the opening lines from the film, and they are worth considering in light of reflecting on Luttrell’s experience:

“13th of July, 4:50pm. I’m sorry.  I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried.  I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true. To be, strong. To be kind. To love. To be right. But I wasn’t. And I know you knew this, in each of your ways, and I am sorry. All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration.”

You can feel the isolation in Redford’s lines, and I think that connects to Luttrell’s experience.  The battlefield can leave one with an immense sense of loneliness.  Important to consider, although I’m not sure what to make of it.  I can say that I’ve come across a great essay on the subject that is well worth the read.

In sum: think about Marcus Luttrell’s moral (military) dilemma – and the limits to the human encounter with intense combat – as the theater goes dark.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.