Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lone Survivor - Marcus Luttrell

In 1970, the U.S. Navy set up a Navy Jr. ROTC unit at Box Elder High.  I joined.  Both the “Navy Men” who worked with us were wonderful.  Commander Michaels, an Annapolis graduate who had been to the South Poll, and Chief Petty Officer Bassett, a Navy SEAL.  If I had had any idea of what these men had been through, I am sure I would have been overwhelmed. 

This book is full of inspiration, wisdom, and heartache.  Marcus Luttrell knows first-hand the truth concerning America’s challenges and failures in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He can tell, based on empirical evidence and sense experience, what it is to become a hero warrior, and the challenges they face for America. 

Below I have selected some quotes that carry some of the key points he presents.  Mr. Luttrell gives valuable advice on how to succeed at difficult thing, and shows us the quality of those who become SEALS.  Also, please note the terrible impact of politics and the media on America and the world.  Mr. Luttrell also clearly explains what it means to lose a war – and why we are losing two.

1. On the sorrow of the families who have loss: There would be the familiar devastated sadness the kind of pain that wells up when young men are cut down in their prime.  The same hollow feeling in each of the homes.  The same uncontrollable tears.  The same feeling of desolation, of brave people trying to be brave, lives which had uniformly been shot to pieces.  Inconsolable. Sorrowful.   pp. 3-4

2. Marcus Luttrell’s description of the SEALs: ““In times of uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call; a common man with uncommon desire to succeed.  Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country and the American people, And to protect their way of life.  I am that man”

My name is Marcus.  Marcus Luttrell.  I’m a United States Navy SEAL, Team Leader, SDV Team 1, Alfa Platoon.  Like every other SEAL, I’m trained in weapons, demolition, and unarmed combat.  I’m a sniper, and I’m the platoon medic.  But most of all, I’m an American.  And when the bell sounds. I will come out fighting for my country and for my teammates.  If necessary, to the death.  pp. 6-7

3. The SEAL thing: “It’s a SEAL thing, our unspoken invincibility, the silent code of the elite warriors of the U. S. Armed Forces.  Big, fast, highly trained guys armed to the teeth, exert in unarmed combat, so stealthy no one ever hears us coming.  SEALs are master of strategy, professional marksmen with rifles, artists with the machine guns, and, if necessary, pretty handy with knives.  In general terms, we believe there are very few of the world’s problems we could not solve with high explosive or a well-aimed bullet.” p. 9

4. Essential equipment:  “We loaded and stowed our essential equipment” heavy weapons (machine guns), M4 rifles, SIG-Sauer 9mm pistols, pigstickers (combat knives), ammunition belts, grenades, medical and communication gear.”  p. 11

5. Who and Why: “That’s the way of our brotherhood.  It’s a strictly American brotherhood, mostly forged in blood.  Hard-won, unbreakable.  Built on a shared patriotism, shared courage, and shared trust in one another.  There is no fighting force in the world quite like us. . . headed out to do God’s work on behalf of the U. S. government and our commander in chief, President George W. Bush.”  p. 12

6. From the official philosophy of the U.S Navy SEAL:  “The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required, yet guided by the very principles I serve to defend.”  p. 15

7. Why the enemy must fear:  Because in the end, your enemy must ultimately fear you, understand your supremacy.”  p. 28

8. On Iraq’s WMDs:  “Did Saddam actually own the completed article, a finely tuned atomic bomb or missile?  Probably not.  No one ever thought he did.  But as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once remarked, “What do you want to do?  Leave him there till he does?”

You may remember the CIA believed they had uncovered critical evidence from the satellite pictures of those enormous government trucks rolling along Iraq’s highways: four of them, usual in convoy, and all big enough to house two centrifuges.”

9. Saddam’s link to al Qaeda:  “I also say the al Qaeda training camp north of Baghdad.  That had been abandoned, but it was stark evidence of the strong links between the Iraqi dictator and Osama bin Laden’s would be warriors.”  p. 35

10. The threat from U. S. Liberals and the rules of engagement:  “. . . I was more acutely aware of the growing problem which faces U. S. forces on active duty in theaters of war all over the world.  For me, it began in Iraq, the first murmurings from the liberal part of the U.S. A. that we were somehow in the wrong, brutal killers, bullying other countries; that we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should somehow be charged with murder for shooting our enemy.

It’s been an insidious progression, the criticisms of the U. S. Armed Forces from politicians and from the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training, and nothing of the mortal dangers we face out there on the front line.  Each of the six of us in that aircraft en route to Afghanistan had constantly in the back of our minds the ever-intrusive rules of engagement.”  pp. 36-37

11. On the Rules of Engagement, ROE:  “That situation might look simple in Washington, where the human rights of terrorists are often given high priority.  And I am certain liberal politicians would defend their position to the death. Because everyone know liberals have never been wrong about anything. You can ask them.  Anytime.

However, for the standpoint of the U. S, combat solider, Ranger, SEAL, Green Beret, or whatever, those ROE represent a very serious conundrum.  We understand we must obey them because they happen to come under the laws of the country we are sworn to serve.  But they represent a danger to us; they undermine our confidence on the battlefield in the fight against world terror.  Worse yet, they make us concerned, disheartened, and sometime hesitant.

I can say from firsthand experience that those rules of engagement cost the lives of three of the finest U.S. Navy SEALs who have ever served.  I’m not saying that, given the serious situation, those elite American warriors might not have died a little later, but they would not have died right then, and in my view would almost certainly have been alive today.

I am hopeful that one day soon, the U. S. government will learn that we can be trusted.  We know about bad guys, what they do, and, often, who they are.  The politicians have chosen to send us into battle, and that’s our trade.  We do what’s necessary, and in my view, once those politicians have elected to send us out to do what 99.9 percent of the country would be terrified to undertake, they should get the hell out of the way and stay there.

The entire business of modern war crimes, as identified by the liberal wings of politics and the media, began in Iraq and has been running downhill ever since.  Everyone’s got to have his little hands in it, blathering on about the public’s right to know.

Well, in the view of most Navy SEALs, the public does not have the right to know, not if it means placing our lives in unnecessary peril because someone in Washington is driving himself mad worrying about the human rights of some cold-hearted terrorist fanatic who would kill us as soon as look us, as well as any other American at whom he could point that wonky old AK of his.

If the public insists it has the right to know, which I very much doubt, perhaps the people should go and face for themselves armed terrorists hell-bent on killing every single American they can.” pp. 37-38

12. How the enemy uses the ROE against our troops:  “I promise you, every insurgent, freedom fighter, and stray gunman in Iraq who we arrested knew the ropes, knew that the way out was to announce he had been tortured by the Americans, ill-treated, or prevented from reading the Koran or eating his breakfast or watching the television.  They all knew al-Jazeera, the Arab broadcaster, would pick it up, and it would be relayed to the U.S.A., where the liberal media would joyfully accuse all of us of being murderers or barbarians or something.  Those terrorist organizations laugh at the U.S. media, and they know exactly how to use the system against us. 

I realize I am not being specific, and I have no intention of being so.  But these broad brushstrokes are designed to show that the rules of engagement are a clear and present danger, frightening young soldiers, who have been placed in harm’s way by their government, into believing they may be charged with murder if they defend themselves too vigorously.

I am not a political person, and as a Navy SEAL I am sworn to defend my country and carry out the wishes of my commander in chief, the president of the United States, whoever he may be, Republican or Democrat.  I am a patriot; I fight for the U.S.A. and for my home state of Texas.  I simply do not want to see some of the best young men in the country hesitating to join the elite branches of the U.S. Armed Services because they’re afraid they might be accused of war crimes by their own side, just for attacking the enemy.”  p. 39

13. Strength must be earned:  “But deep down I knew there was something more required to make it into the world’s top combat teams.  And that was a level of fitness and strength that could only be attained by those who actively sought it. Nothing just happens.  You always have to strive.”  p. 53

14. Facing hard work - Billy Shelton – teacher:  “Morgan and I were terrified of him [Billy Shelton]. I used to have nightmares when we were due to report to him the next morning, because he drove us without mercy, never mind our extreme youth.  We were in a class of maybe a dozen guys, all mid-teens.

“I’m gonna break you down, mentally and physically,” he yelled at us.  “Break you down, hear me?  Then I’m gonna build you right back up, as one fighting unit – so your mind and body are one.  Understand me?  I’m gonna put you through more pain than you’ve ever been in.”

Right about then, half the class ran for their lives rather than face this bulldog, this ex-Texas Tech tailback who could run like a Mac truck going downhill.  He had the support of the local high school, which allowed him to use their gym free of charge to train future special forces from our part of the world.

“I’m not your friend,” he’d shout.  “Not right here in this gym. I’m here to get you right—fit, trained, and ready for the SEALs, or the Berets, of the Rangers.  I’m not getting one dime from anyone to do this.  And that’s why you’re gonna do it right, just so you don’t waste my time.

“Because if any one of you fails to make the grade in the special forces, it will not be because you were too weak.  Because that would mean I’d failed, and I’m gonna make sure that cannot happen, because right here, failure’s not an option.  I’m gonna get you right.  All of you. Understand?”

He’d take us on twelve-mile runs, hauling the concrete blocks till we nearly collapsed.  Guys would have blood on the backs of their heads form the chafing.  And he never took his eyes off us, never tolerated idleness or lack of concentration.  He just made us grind it out, taking it to the limit.  Every time.

That’s what built my strength, gave me my basis.  That’s how I learned the fitness creed of the SEALs.  Billy was extremely proud of that; proud to pass on his knowledge.”  pp. 56-57

15. The Taliban and their tactics:  “A few weeks earlier, in February, the Taliban flatly announced they were increasing their attacks on the government as soon as the weather improved.  And from then on they launched a series of drive-by shootings and bombings, usually directed at local officials and pro-government clergy.  In the south and over to the east, they started ambushing American soldiers.

It’s a strange word, Taliban.  Everyone’s heard it, like insurgent, Sunni, ayatollah, or Taiwan.  But what does Taliban really stand for?  I’ve suffered with them, what you might describe as close encounters of the most god-awful type.  And I’ve done a lot of reading.  The facts fit the reality.  Those guys are evil, murderous religious fanatics, each one of them with an AK-47 and blood-lust.  You can trust me on that one.

The Taliban have been in prominence since 1994.  Their original leader was a village clergyman named Mullah Mohammad Omar, a tough guy who lost his right eye fighting the occupying forces of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.  By the mid-‘90s, the Taliban prime targets in Afghanistan – before I showed up – were the feuding warlords who (a) formed the mujahideen and (b) threw the Soviets out of the country.

The Taliban made two major promises which they would carry out once in power: to restore peace and security, and to enforce sharia, or Islamic law.  Afghans, weary of the mujahideen’s excesses and infighting, welcomed the Taliban, which enjoyed much early success, stamping out corruption, curbing lawlessness, and making the roads safe for commerce to flourish.  This applied to all areas that came under their control.

. . . Once in power, however, the Taliban showed their true colors.  They set up one of the most authoritarian administrations on earth, one that tolerated no opposition to their hard-line policies.  Ancient Islamic punishments, like public executions for convicted murderers and amputations at the wrist for those charged with theft, were immediately introduced.  I cannot even think about the penalty a rapist or an adulterer might anticipate. 

Television music, sports, and cinema we banned, judged by the Taliban leaders to be frivolities.  Girls age ten and above were forbidden to go to school; working women were ordered to stay at home.  Men were required to grow beards, women had to wear the burka.  These religious policies earned universal notoriety as the Taliban strived to restore the Middle Ages in a nation longing to join the twenty-first century.  Their policies concerning human rights were outrageous and brought them into direct conflict with the international community.

But there was another issue, which would bring about their destruction.  And that was their role in playing host to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda movement.”  pp. 61-63

16. On Clinton’s dealing with the Taliban:  “In August 1998 Islamic fanatics bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 225 people.  Washington immediately presented the Taliban leaders with a difficult choice – either expel bin Laden, who ws held responsible for the bombings by the U.S. government, or face the consequences.

The Taliban flatly refused to hand over their Saudi-born guest, who was providing them with heavy funding.  President Bill Clinton ordered a missile attack on the main bin Laden training camp in southern Afghanistan, which failed to kill its leader.  Then in 1999 the United States persuaded the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.  Two years later, even harsher sanctions were put in place in another attempt to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden.

Nothing worked.  Not sanctions nor the denial of Afghanistan’s U.N. seat.  The Taliban were still in power, and they were still hiding Osama bin Laden, but their isolation, political and diplomatic, was becoming total.

But the Taliban would not budge.  They took their isolation as a badge of honor and decided to go whole hog with an even more fundamentalist regime.  The poor Afghan people realized what they had done: handed over the entire country to a group of bearded lunatics who were trying to inflict upon them nothing but stark human misery and who controlled every move they made under their brutal, repressive, draconian rule.  The Taliban were so busy trying to enslave the citizens, they forgot about the necessity for food, and there was mass starvation.  On million Afghans fled the country as refugees.”  pp. 63-64

17. The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas:  “All this was understood by the West.  Almost. But it took horrific shock, delivered in March 2001, to cause genuine international outrage.  That was when the Taliban blasted sky-high the two monumental sixth-century statues of the Bamiyan Buddhas, one of them 180 feet high, the other 120 feet, carved out of a mountain in central Afghanistan, 143 miles northwest of Kabul.  This was tantamount to blowing up the Pyramids of Giza. 

. . . The Taliban effectively told the whole lot of them to shove it.  Whose statues were they, anyway?  Besides, they were planning to destroy all the statues in Afghanistan, on grounds they were un-Islamic. 

The Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed in accordance with sharia law.  Only Allah the Almighty deserves to be worshipped, not anyone or anything else.  Wraps that up then, right?  Praise Allah and pass the high explosive.”  Pp. 64-65

18. 9/11, the Taliban, and George W. Bush:  “The blasting of the Buddhas firmed up world opinion that something had to be done about Afghanistan’s rulers.  But it took another explosion to provoke savage action against them.  That took place on September 11, the same year, and was the beginning of the end for the Taliban and bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

Before the dust had settled on lower Manhattan, the United States demanded the Taliban hand over bin Laden for master minding the attack on U.S. soil.  Again the Taliban refused, perhaps not realizing that the new(ish) U.S. president, George W. Bush, was a very different character from Bill Clinton.”  p. 65

19. The Pashtuns – Tribalism:  “The Pashtuns were the tribe who refused to buckle under to the army of the Soviet Union.  They just kept fighting.  In the nineteenth century, they fought the British to the verge of surrender and then drove them back into Pakistan.  Three hundred years before that, they wiped out the army of Akbar the Great, the most fearsome of India’s Mogul rulers.

. . . The concept of tribal heritage is very rigid.  It involves blood-lines, amazing lineages that stretch back through the centuries, generation after generation.  You can’t join a tribe in the way you can become an American citizen.  Tribes don’t hand out green cards or passports.  You either are, or you aren’t.

20. The blood feud:  “And killing throws the whole system into confusion, because death must be avenged; killers and their families are under permanent threat.  Which puts a big air brake on violence.  According to the learned Charles Lindhorn, a professor of anthropology at Boston University, homicide rates among the Pashtun tribes are way lower than homicide rates in urban areas of the United States.”  p. 71

21. Taliban/Pashtun attitudes toward women:  “The Taliban creed comes right out of the Pashtun handbook: women are the wombs of patrilineage, the fountainheads of tribal honor and continuity.  Their security and chaste way of life is the only guarantee of the purity of the lineage.  This seclusion of women is known as purdah, and it is designed to keep women concealed, maintaining the household and it give them a high sense of honor.

Purdah represents the status of belonging.  A woman’s husband can go fight the invaders while she controls the household, enjoying the love and respect of her sons, expecting one day to rule as matriarch over her daughters-in-law and their children.  That’s the basis of the Taliban view of women.  And I guess it works fine up in the Hindu Kush, but it might not go over too well in downtown Houston.”

22. Hospitality (lokhay warkawal):  Their tradition of generous hospitality, perhaps their finest virtue, includes the concept of lokhay warkawal.  It means “giving of a pot.”  It implies protection for an individual, particularly in a situation where the tribe might be weaker than its enemies.  When a tribe accepts lokhay, it undertakes to safeguard and protect that individual from an enemy at all costs.

I, perhaps above all other Western visitors, have reason to be eternally grateful for it.”  p. 72

23. Navy motto:  Honor, Courage, Commitment, the motto of the United States Navy, the core values that immediately become the ideals we all lived by.  p. 78

24. On the pride of finishing boot camp:  “There’s something about graduating from boot camp; I guess it’s mostly pride in yourself.  But you also know a lot of people couldn’t have done it.  Makes you feel pretty good.”  pp. 79-80

25. Buddy system:  “This is also where you first understand the concept of a swim buddy, which in SEAL ethos [fundamental and distinctive character] is an absolutely gigantic deal.  You work with your buddy as a team.  You never separate, not even to go to the john.  In IBS (that stands for “inflatable boat, small”) training, if one of you falls over the side into the freezing ocean, the other joins him.  Immediately.  In the pool, you are never more than an arm’s length away.  Later on, in the BUD/S course proper, you can be failed out of hand, thrown out, for not staying close enough to your swim buddy.”  p. 81

26. No one left behind:  “This all come back to the ironclad SEAL folklore—we never leave a man behind on the battlefield, dead or alive.  No man is ever alone. Whatever the risk to the living, however deadly the opposing fire, SEAKs will fight through the jaws of death to recover the remains of a fallen comrade.”  p. 81

27.  Allowing failure strengthens those who do not fail:  “Those instructors have watched men drop, watched them fail, watched them quit, and watched them quietly, with ice-cold, expressionless faces.  That’s not heartless; it’s because they were only interested in the others, the ones who did not crack or quit.  The ones who would rather die than quit.  The ones with no quit in them.”  p. 82

28. On taking notes:  “. . . he [Instructor Reno] wanted to talk to us briefly and we better pay attention. “Better yet, take notes.”

I was into my zipper bag instantly, getting hold of a dry notebook and a couple of pencils, the lesson of Billy Shelton [Marcus Luttrell’s boyhood coach] ringing in my ears; even an aside, even a suggestion, do it.

I looked around the room, and a few others were doing the same as I was, but not everyone, by no means everyone. Some of them just sat there gazing at Instructor Reno, who suddenly said, mildly, “how many of you have pencil and paper?”

I stuck my hand up, along with the other guys who had them.  And suddenly there was a look like a storm cloud on Reno’s face.

Drop! All of you!”  he bellowed.  And there was an unbelievable commotion as chairs were scraped back and we all hit the floor in the straight-arm rest position. “Push ‘em out!” he snapped.  And we made the twenty then were left in the rest position.

He stared at us and said, “Listen.  You were told to have a pencil and paper with you at all times.  So why don’t you? Why the hell don’t you!”

The room went stone silent.  Reno glared.  And since I was not able to write while I was prostrate on the floor supporting myself with the palms of my hands, I can’t say verbatim the exact words he said, but I bet I can come damn close.

“This is a school for warriors, understand?  This is the most serious business there is.  And if you don’t want to do it, then get the hell out right now.”  p. 90

29. Abdominal Muscles:  “The instructors were consumed with abdominal strength, the reasons for which are now obvious: the abdomen is the bedrock of a warrior’s strength for climbing rocks and ropes, rowing, lifting, swimming, fighting, and running.”  p. 96

30. Peace through strength – The Roman strategist Flavius Vegetius Renatus:  “There’s no such thing as peace in Coronado.  The place is a living, breathing testimony to the Roman strategist who first told the world, “Let him who desires peace prepare for war” (that’s translated from the Latin Qui desederat pacem, praepart bellum—Flavius Vegetius Renatus, fourth century).  . . . That old Roman knew a thing or two.  His military treatise De Rei Militari was the bible of European warfare for more than 1,200 years, and it still applies in Coronado, stressing constant drilling, training, and sever discipline.  He advised the Roman commanders to gather intelligence assiduously, use the terrain, and then drive the legionnaires forward to encircle their objective.  That’s more or less how we operate in overseas deployment against terrorists today.  Hooyah, Flavius Vegetius. p. 101

31. Winners and losers:  “And then, only then, did Chief Taylor release them, and I remember, vividly, him yelling out to them that we, dry and doing our push-ups up the beach, were winners, whereas they, the slowpokes, were losers!  Then he told them they better start taking this seriously or they would be out of here.  “Those guys up there, taking it easy, they paid the full price,” he yelled.  “Right up front.  You did not.  You failed.  And for guys like you there’s a bigger price to pay, understand me?”  p. 117

33. The real battle is in the mind:  “He [Chief Nielsen] closed by telling us the real battle is won in the mind.  It’s won by guys who understand their areas of weakness, who sit and think about it, plotting and planning to improve.  Attending to the detail.  Work on their weaknesses and overcome them.  Because they can.

“Your reputation is built right here in first phase.  And you don’t want people to think you’re a guy who does just enough to scrap through.  You want people to understand you always try to excel, to be better, to be completely reliable, always giving it your best shot.  That’s the way we do business here.”  p. 123

32. Winners and losers 2:  “That line of lonely hard hats [belonging to those who had quit] was a stark reminder not only of what this place could do to a man but also of the special private glory it could bestow on those who would not give in.  It drove me onward.  Every time I looked at that line, I gritted my teeth and put some extra purpose into my stride.  I still felt the same as I had on my first day.  I’d rather die than surrender.”  P. 126

33. Never quit:  “I later learned that when a man quits and is given another chance and takes it.  He never makes it through. . .

I guess that element of doubt forever pollutes his mind.  And puffing, sweating, and steaming down there on the beach on the first night of Hel Week, I understood it.

I understood it, because that thought could never have occurred to me.  Not while the sun still rises in the east.  All the pain in Coronado could not have inserted that poison into my mind.  I might have passed out, had a heart attack, or been shot before a firing squad.  But I never would have quit.”  pp. 136-137

34. On “startup” fatigue:  “They weren’t completing each task as it came, living for the day.  They had allowed themselves to live in dread of the pain and anguish to come.  And he’d [Captain Maguire] told us never to do that, just to take it hour by hour and forget the future.  Keep going until you’re secured.”  p. 140

35. Gun safety:  “First thing was safety.  And we all had to learn by heart the four critical rules;

1. Consider all weapons to be loaded at all time.

2. Never point a weapon at anything you do not want to put a bullet through.

3. Never pout you finger on the trigger unless you want to shoot.

4. Know you target and what’s behind it.”  pp. 151-152

36. Only around thirty make it:  “There were in fact only around thirty left from the original 180 who had signed up on the long-ago first day n Indoc.”  p. 155

37. The goal of the Taliban:  “. . . the Taliban.  Angry, resentful men, regrouping all along the unmarked high border, preparing to take back the holy Muslim country they believed the infidel Americans had stolen from them and then presented to a new, elected government.”  p. 161 

38. The Rules of Engagement ROE:  “Our rules of engagement in Afghanistan specified that we could not shoot, kill, or injure unarmed civilians.  But what about the unarmed civilian who was a skilled spy for the illegal forces we were trying to remove? What about an entire secret army, diverse, fragmented, and lethal, creeping through the mountains in Afghanistan pretending to be civilians?  What about those guys?  How about the innocent-looking camel drovers making their way through the mountain pass with enough high explosive strapped to the backs of their beast to blow up Yankee Stadium?  How about those guys?

We all knew that we’d chosen to do what 999 American out of every thousand would not even think about doing.  And we were taught we were necessary for the security of our nation.  We were sent to Afghanistan to carry out hugely dangerous missions.  But we were also told that we could not shoot that camel drover before he blew up all of us, because he might be an unarmed civilian just taking his dynamite for a walk.

And how about his buddy?  The younger guy with a stick, running along behind, prodding the freakin’ camels? How about him?  How about if he can’t wait to scamper up those mountain and find his brother and the rest of the Taliban hard men?  The ones with the RPGs, waiting in the hidden cave?

We wouldn’t hear him reveal our position, and neither would the politicians who drafted those ROEs.  And those men in suits won’t be on the mountainside when the first grenade explodes among us and take off someone’s leg, or head.

Should we have shot that little son of a gun right off the bat, before he had a chance to run?  Or was he just an unarmed civilian, doing no harm to anyone?  Just taking his TNT for a walk right?

These terrorist/insurgents know the rules as well as they did in Iraq.  They’re not their rules.  They’re our rules, the rules of the Western countries, the civilized side of the world.  And every terrorist knows how to manipulate them in their own favor.  Otherwise the camel drovers would be carrying guns.

But they don’t. Because they know we are probably scared to shoot them, because we might get charged with murder, which I actually know they consider to be on the hysterical side of laughable. 

39. On the media:  “And if we did shoot a couple of them, they would be on their cell phones with the speed of ten thousand gigabytes, direct to the Arab television station al-Jazeera:



US Military Promises SEALs

Will Be Charged

. . . The media in the United States of America would crucify us.  These days, they always do.  Was there ever a greater uproar than the one that broke out over Abu Ghraib?  In the bigger scheme of things, in the context of all the death and destruction that Muslim extremists have visited upon this world, a bunch of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated does not ring my personal alarm bell.  And it would not ring yours either if you ever saw firsthand what these guys are capable of.  I mean, Jesus, they cut off people’s heads, American heads, aid workers’ heads.  They think nothing of slaughtering thousands of people; they’ve stabbed and mutilated young American soldiers, like something out of the Middle Ages . . .   And if the liberal media and political community cannot accept that sometimes the wrong people get killed in war, then I can only suggest they first grow up and then serve a short stint up in the Hindu Kush.  They probably would not serve.”  pp. 169-179

40. War is not a game and who’s going to win?:  “The truth is, any government that thinks war is somehow fair and subject to rules like a baseball game probably should not get into one.  Because nothing’s fair in war, and occasionally the wrong people do get killed . . .  In the global war on terror, we have rules, and our opponents use them against us.  We try to be reasonable; they will stop at nothing.  They will stoop to any form of base warfare: torturer, beheading, mutilation.  Attacks on innocent civilians, women and children, car bombs, suicide bombers, anything the hell they can think of.  They’re right up there with the monsters of history.

And I ask myself, Who’s prepared to go furthest to win this war?  Answer: they are.  They’ll willingly die to get their enemy.  They will take it to the limit, any time, any place, whatever it takes.  And they don’t have rules of engagement.”  p. 170

41. How the Rules of Engagement and the Media effect our troops:  “Thus we have an extra element of fear and danger when we go into combat against the Taliban or al Qaeda – the fear of our own, the fear of what our own navy judge advocate general might rule against us, the fear of the American media and their unfortunate effect on American politicians.  We all harbor fears about untrained, half-educated journalists who only want a good story to justify their salaries and expense accounts.  Don’t think it’s just me.  We all detest them, partly for their lack of judgment, mostly because of their ignorance and toe-curling opportunism.  The first minute an armed conflict turns into a media war, the news becomes someone’s opinion, not hard truths.  When the media gets involved, in the United States, that’s a war you’ve got a damned good chance of losing, because the restrictions on us are immediately amplified, and that’s sensationally good news for our enemy.”  pp. 170-171

42. Afghanistan is still a danger to U.S.:  “Right here in this remote dust bowl was the root of it all, the homeland of bin Laden’s fighters, the place where they still plot and scheme to smash the United States.  pp. 174-175

43. Show no fear:  “No SEAL would ever admit to being scared of anything.  Even if we were, we would never say it.”  p. 188

44. Why Axe voted for death:  “”We’re not murderers.  No matter what we do.  We’re on active duty behind enemy lines, sent here by our senior commanders. We have a right to do everything we can to save our own lives.  The military decision is obvious.  To turn them loose would be wrong.”  p. 205

45. Why Marcus voted to let them go:  “. . . I have another soul.  My Christian soul.  And it was crowding in on me.  Something kept whispering in the back of my mind, it would be wrong to execute these unarmed men in cold blood.  And the idea of doing that and then covering our tracks and slinking away like criminals, denying everything, would make it more wrong.”  p. 205

46. The “big” mistake:  “I just stood there.  I looked again at these sullen Afghan farmers.  Not one of them tried to say a word to us.  They didn’t need to.  Their glowering stares said plenty.  We didn’t have rope to bind them.  Tying them up to give us more time to establish new position wasn’t an option.

I looked Mikey right in the eye, and I said, “We gotta let ‘em go.”

It was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lame brained decision I ever made in my life.  I must have been out of my mind.  I had actually cast a vote which I knew could sign our death warrant.”  p. 206

47. Regrets:  “Lined along the top were between eighty and a hundred heavily armed Taliban warriors, each one of them with an AK-47 pointing downward . . .

My heart dropped directly into my stomach.  And I cursed those _ _ _ _ ing goatherds to hell, and myself for not executing them when every military codebook every written had taught me otherwise.  Not to mention my own raging instincts, which had told me to go with Axe and execute them.   And let the liberals go to hell in a mule cart, and take with them all of their _ _ _ _ ing know-nothing rules of etiquette in war and human rights and whatever other bullshit makes ‘em happy.  You want to change us with murder?  Well _ _ _ _ ing do it.  But at least we’ll be alive to answer it.”  p. 211

48. The death of a hero – Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy:  And I turned to Mikey, who was obviously badly hurt now.  “Can you move, buddy?” I asked him.

And he groped in his pocket for his mobile phone, the one we had dared not use because it would betray our position.  And then Lieutenant Murphy walked out into the open ground.  He walked until he was more or less in the center, gunfire all around him, and he sat on a small rock and began punching in the numbers to HQ.

I could hear him talking.  “My men are taking heavy fire . . . we’re getting picked apart.  My guys are dying our here . . . we need help.”

And right then Mikey took a bullet straight in the back.  I saw the blood spurt from his chest.  He slumped forward, dropping his phone and his rifle.  But then he braced himself, grabbed them both, sat upright again, and once more put the phone to his ear.

I heard him speak again.  “Roger that, sir.  Thank you.”  The he stood up and staggered out to our bad position, the one guarding our left, and Mikey just started fighting, firing at the enemy.”   p. 237

49. Power of a song [“American Soldier”]:  “I sang those words all night.  I can’t tell you how much they meant to me.  I can tell you, it’s little things like that, the words of a song, which can give you the strength to go on.”  p. 264

50. Marcus’ struggle to survive:  “That’s when the Taliban sniper shot me.

I felt the sting of the bullet ripping into the flesh high up at the back of my left thigh.  Christ, that hurt.  Really hurt.  And the impact of the AK bullet spun me around. Knocked me into a complete backflip clean off the _ _ _ _ ing mountain.  When I hit, I hit hard, but facedown, which I guess didn’t do my busted nose a lot of good and opened up the gash on my forehead.

. . . I couldn’t get down those steep slopes on all fours, not having been born a freaking’ snow leopard.

So every time I reached one of those small precipices, I just threw myself straight off and hoped for a reasonable landing.  I did a lot of rolling, and it was a long, bumpy, and painful ride.  But it beat the hell out of getting shot up the ass again.”  pp. 272-273

51. Lessons learned in combat (team – v –  individual combat):  “The last hour had taught me a few major lessons, the main one being I must gain the ability to fight alone, in direct contrast to everything I had ever been taught.  SEALs, as you now know, fight in teams, only in teams, each man relying entirely on the others to do exactly the right thing. That’s how we do it, fighting as one in a team of four or maybe ten or even twenty, but always as one unit, one mind, one strategy.  We are, instinctively, always backing up, always covering, always moving to plug the gap or pave the way. That’s what makes us great. 

But up here, being hunted down, all alone – this was entirely another game . . .

I resolved that when I next had to strike out against my enemy, it would be with our customary deadly force, always ensuring I held the element of surprise.  Those are the tactics that invariably win conflicts for the truly ruthless underdog like the mujahideen (sp.), al Qaeda, and, from now on, me.  pp. 275-276

52. Lokhay – commitment to the obligation of hospitality (think U.S. commitment to Afghanistan) “And yet there was something I did not know.  We’re talking Lokhay warkawal – an unbending section of historic Pashtun-walai tribal law as laid out in the hospitality section.  The literal translation of Lokhay warkawal is “giving of the pot.”

. . . Lokhay means the population of that village will fight to the last man, honor-bound to protect the individual they have invited in to share their hospitality.  And this is not something to have a chitchat about when things get rough.  It’s not a point of renegotiation.  This is strictly nonnegotiable.

So while I was lying there thinking these cruel heartless bastards were just going to leave me out here and let me die, they were in fact discussing a much bigger, life-or-death issue.  And the lives they were concerned with had nothing to do with mine.  This was Lokhay, boy, spelled with a big L.”  p. 286

53. Charity:  “. . . But I underestimated the essential human decency of the senior members of this Pashtun tribe.  Sarawa and many others were good guys who wished me no harm, and neither would they permit anyone else to do me harm.  Nor would they kowtow to the bloodlust of some of their fellow mountain men.  They wanted only to help me.  I would grow to understand that.”  p. 289

54. The Language Barrier: “He was an extremely nice guy, and we became good friends, or as close to good friends as it’s possible to be when the language barrier is almost insurmountable.” p. 307

55. The hope:  “There’s just something unbreakable about them all, a grim determination to follow the ancient laws of the Pashtuns – laws which may yet prove too strong even for the Taliban and al Qaeda.  p.312

55. U.S. policy – v – Taliban policy, a definition of defeat and victory:  “The enemy is prepared to go to any length to achieve victory, terrorizing its own people, if necessary, and resorting to barbaric practices against its enemy, including decapitating people or butchering them.

We are not allowed to fight them on those terms.  And neither would we wish to.  However, we could fight in a much more ruthless manner, stop worrying if everyone still loved us.  If we did that, we’d probably win in both Afghanistan and Iraq in about a week.

But we’re not allowed to do that.  And I guess we’d better start getting used to the consequences and permit the American liberals to squeak and squeal us to ultimate defeat.  I believe that’s what it’s called when you pack up and go home, when a war fought under your own “civilized” terms is unwinnable.”pp. 312-313

56. Don’t do war – if – fear of the liberals back home makes one weak:  “Look at me, right now in my story.  Helpless, tortured, shot, blown up, my best buddies all dead, and all because we were afraid of the liberals back home, afraid to do what was necessary to save our own lives. Afraid of American civilian lawyers.   I have only one piece of advice for what it’s worth: if you don’t want to get into a war where things go wrong, where the wrong people sometimes get killed, where innocent people sometimes have to die, then stay the hell out of it in the first place.  p. 313

57. On suicide bombers:  “There’s nothing heroic about suicide bombers.  They’re mostly just dumb, brainwashed kids, stoned out of their minds.”  p316

58.  Root of Pashtun power over the Taliban:  “This armed gang of tribesmen [Taliban], who were hell-bent on driving out the Americans and the government, could not function up here in these protective mountains entirely alone.  Without local support their primitive supply line would perish, and they would rapidly begin to lose recruits.  Armies need food, cover, and cooperation, and the Taliban could only indulge in so much bullying before these powerful village leaders decided they preferred the company of the Americans.   p. 341

59. The people don’t believe the media about the military:  “And I am left feeling that no matter how much the drip-drip-drip of hostility toward us is perpetuated by the liberal press, the American people simply do not believe it. They are rightly proud of the armed forces of the United States of America.  They innately understand what we do. And no amount of poison about our alleged brutality, disregard of the Geneva Convention, and abuse of human rights of terrorists is going to change what most people think.

. . . Some members of the media might think they can brainwash the public any time they like, but I know they can’t.  Not here.  Not in the United States of America.”  p. 376

60. Meeting George W. Bush:  “And it still felt to me like two Texans meeting for the first time.  One of’em kind paternal, understanding.  The other absolutely awe struck in the presence of a very great United States president, and my commander in chief.   p. 383

61. Honored to serve with heroes:  “It was my greatest honor to serve with these men on and off the battlefield.  They died doing what they loved, protecting this great country of ours, and in my eyes there is no greater sacrifice than that.” p. 387

62. Good people of Afghanistan:  “The people in that Afghanistan village put their lives in jeopardy just to save mine, and I have never seen a more selfless act in my life. No matter what you think or have heard, there are good people out there in this world, and I am living proof of that.”  p. 387

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Plato - The Phaedrus

The Phaedrus begins as a speech on erotic love; whether such passion is necessary for “friendship” or perhaps even detrimental to it.  However, it eventually pivots on that controversial theme into a discussion on the goal of speeches in general and finally to a discourse on writing and the dialectic and their relation to knowledge itself.  I begin by quoting from John M. Cooper’s introduction to the dialogue and then move on to present the words of Socrates, Lysis and their friend, Phaedrus.

As a debate coach for some eleven years, I particularly enjoyed Socrates’ dissertation on giving speeches.  In light of the dissimulation and deception so common in politics today, it might be particularly worthwhile to carefully read and consider 8, 10, and 16 below.

1. Knowledge can only be in the mind:  Socrates- “Writings cannot contain or constitute knowledge of any import matter.  Knowledge can only be lodged in a mind, and its essential feature there is an endless capacity to express, interpret, and reinterpret itself suitably, in response to every challenge – something a written text once let go by its author plainly lacks: it can only keep on repeating the same words to whoever picks it up.”  p. 507

2. The danger of explaining away the myths- science a dangerous answer: Socrates-  Anyone who does not believe in them [“monsters” of myth], who wants to explain them away and make them plausible by means of some sort of rough ingenuity, will need a great deal of time. 

But I have no time for such things; and the reason, my friend, is this.  I am still unable, as the Delphic inscription orders, to know myself; and it really seems to me ridiculous to look into other things before I have understood that.”   p. 510

3. Lovers are poor judges: Socrates-“A lover will praise what you say and what you do far beyond what is best, partly because he is afraid of being disliked, and partly because desire has impaired his judgment.”  p. 512 

4. To whom should we give our love: Socrates- “. . . not to people who will take pleasure in the bloom of your youth, but to those who will share their goods with you when you are older; not to people who achieve their goal and then boast about it in public, but to those who will keep a modest silence with everyone; not to people whose devotion is short-lived, but to those who will be steady friends their whole lives; not to the people who look for an excuse to quarrel as soon as their desire has passed, but to those who will prove their worth when the bloom or your youth has faded.”  P. 513

5. On Eternity, “the Source” has no beginning: Socrates-That is because anything that has a beginning comes from some source but there is no source for this, since a source that got its start form something else would no longer be the source.”   p. 524

6. Knowledge of what really is, of the Truth: Socrates- “Still, this is the way it is—risky as it may be, you see, I must attempt to speak the truth, especially since the truth is my subject.  What is in this place is without color and without shape and without solidity, a being that really is what it is, the subject of all true knowledge, visible only to intelligence, the soul’s steersman.  Now a god’s mind is nourished by intelligence and pure knowledge, as is the mind of any soul that is concerned to take in what is appropriate to it, and so it is delighted at last to be seeing what is real and watching what is true, feeding on all this and felling wonderful, until the circular motion brings it around to whether it started.  On the way around it has a view of Justice as it is; it has a view of Self-control; it has a view of Knowledge—not the knowledge that is close to change, that becomes different as it knows the different things which we consider real down here.  No, it is the knowledge of what really is what it is.”  p. 525

7. Earthly beauty reminds us of truth and is the source of love: Socrates- “Now this takes me to the whole point of my discussion of the fourth kind of madness [possession of our  soul by some higher force]—that which someone shows when he sees the beauty we have down here and is reminded of true beauty; then he takes wing and flutters in his eagerness to rise up, but is unable to do so; and he gazes aloft, like a bird, paying no attention to what is down below—and that is what brings on him the charge that he has gone mad.  This is the best and noblest of all the forms that possession by god can take for anyone who has it or is connected to it, and when someone who loves beautiful boys is touched by this madness he is called a lover.”  p. 527

8. On speeches and the power of persuasion: Socrates- “Well, then, we ought to examine the topic we proposed just now: When is a speech well written and delivered, and when is it not?

Phaedrus: Plainly.

Socrates: Won’t someone who is to speak well and nobly have to have in mind the truth about the subject he is going to discuss?

Phaedrus: What I have actually heard about this, Socrates, my friend, is that it is not necessary for the intending orator to learn what is really just, but only what will seem just to the crowd who will act as judges.  Nor again what is really good or noble, but only what will seem so.  For that is what persuasion proceeds from, not truth.”  p. 536

9. On the “art” of rhetoric: Socrates- “Well, then, isn’t the rhetorical art, taken as a whole, a way of directing the soul by means of speech, not only in the lawcourts and on other public occasions but also in private?  Isn’t it one and the same art whether its subject is great or small, and no more to be held in esteem—if it is followed correctly—when its questions are serious than when they are trivial?”  p. 537

10. On debate and the “adversarial” legal system manipulated by rhetoric:  Socrates- “Answer this question yourself: What do adversaries do in the lawcourts?  Don’t they speak on opposite sides?  What else can they do?

Phaedrus: That’s it, exactly.

Socrates: About what is just and what is unjust?

Phaedrus: Yes.

Socrates: And won’t whoever does this artfully make the same thing appear to the same people sometimes just and sometimes, when he prefers, unjust?

Phaedrus:  Of course.

Socrates:  And when he addresses the Assembly, he will make the city approve a policy at one time as a good one, and reject it—the very same policy—as just the opposite at another.

Phaedrus:  Right.” P. 538

11. Speakers misled their listeners; think Karl Marx etc.:  Socrates- “In fact, by some chance the two speeches do, as it seems, contain an example of the way in which someone who knows the truth can toy with his audience and mislead them.”  p. 539

12. On definitions: Socrates - “Just so with our discussion of love: Whether its definition was or was not correct, at least it allowed the speech to proceed clearly and consistently with itself.”  p.562

13. Parts of a Speech: Socrates - First, I believe, there is the Preamble with which a speech must begin.  This is what you mean isn’t it--the fine points of art?  p.543

Phedrus: Yes

Socrates: Second come the Statement of Facts and the Evidence of Witnesses concerning it; third, Indirect Evidence; fourth, Claims to plausibility.  And I believe at least that excellent Byzantine word-wizard adds Confirmation and Supplementary Confirmation.

Phedrus: Your mean the worthy Theodorus?

Socrates: Quite.  And he also adds Refutation and Supplementary Refutation to be used both in prosecution and in defense.  Nor must we forget the most excellent Evenus of Paros, who was the first to discover Covert Implication and Indirect Praise and who--some say--has even arranged Indirect Censures in verse as an aid to memory: a wise man indeed!”  p. 543

14. Making the worse appear better: Socrates - “How can we leave them out when it is they who realized that what is likely must be held in higher honor than what is true; they who, by the power of language, make small things appear great and great things small. . . “  p.543

15. More on Speeches:  Socrates -  And what shall we say of the whole gallery of terms Polus set up--speaking with Reduplication, Speaking in Maxims, Speaking in Images--and of the terms Licymnius gave him as a present to help him explain Good Diction? . . . As to the way of ending a speech everyone seems to be in agreement, though some call in Recapitulation and others by some other name.

Phadrus: You mean, summarizing everything at the end and reminding the audience of what they’ve heard?”  p. 544

16. Just say what the people want to hear: Socrates - “For the fact is, as we said ourselves at the beginning of this discussion, that one who intends to be an able rhetorician has no need to know the truth about the things that are just or good or yet about the people who are such either by nature or upbringing.  No one is a lawcourt, you see, cares at all about the truth of such matters.  They only care about what is convincing.  This is called “the likely,” and that is what a man who intends to speak according to art should concentrate on.  Sometimes, in fact, whether you are prosecuting or defending a case, you must not even say what actually happened, if it was not likely to have happened--you must say something that is likely instead.  Whatever you say, you should pursue what is likely and leave the truth aside: that whole art consists in cleaving to that throughout you speech.

Phadurs: That’s an excellent presentation of what people say who profess to be expert in speeches, Socrates.  I recall that we raised this issue briefly earlier on, but it seems to be their single most important point.

Socrates: No doubt you’ve churned through Tisias’ book quite carefully.  Then let Tisias tell us this also: By “the likely” does he mean anything but what is accepted by the crowd?”  p. 549

17. The creation of writing and a challenge to its value: Socrates - “Well, this is what I’ve hear.  Among the ancient gods of Naucratis in Egypt there was one to whom the bird called the ibis is sacred.  The name of this divinity was Theuth, and it was he who first discovered numbers and calculation, geometry and astronomy as well as games of checkers and dice, and, above all else, writing.

Now the king of all Egypt at the time was Thamus, who lived in the great city in the upper region that the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes; Thamus they call Ammon.  Theuth came to exhibit his arts to him and urged him to disseminate them to all the Egyptians.  Thamus asked him about the usefulness of each art, and while Theuth was explaining it, Thamus praised him for whatever he thought was right in his explanations and criticized him for whatever he thought was wrong.

The story goes that Thamus said much to Theuth, both for and against each art, which it would take too long to repeat  but when they came to writing, Theuth said: “O king, here is something that, once learned will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory; I have discovered a potion for memory and for wisdom.”  Thamus, however, replied” “O most expert Theuth, one man can give birth to the elements of an art but only another can judge how they can benefit or harm those who will use them.  And now, since you are the father of writing, your affection for it has made you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are.  In fact, it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own.  You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality.  Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing.  And they will be difficult to get along with since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.” pp. 551-552

18. What is the only true value of writing?:  Socrates – “Well, then, those who think they can leave writing instructions for an art, as well as those who accept them, thinking that writing can yield results that are clear or certain, must be quite naive and truly ignorant of Ammon’s prophetic judgment: otherwise, how could they possibly think that words that have been written down can do more than remind those who already know what the writing is about?”  p. 552

19. Socrates’ prayer:  “O dear Pan and all the other gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside.  Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within.  May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him.”  pp. 555-556