Lone Survivor—And Who Was Doing the Thinking That Fateful Time?

navy sealsThis is not a review of Lone Survivor, a competent war movie—minus one major detail that needs to be stated: the film is shot in New Mexico, on the assumption that none of us have ever visited the state and it will, therefore, be a perfect stand-in for Afghanistan. Having been to New Mexico twice, and recognizing the place within minutes, I had trouble in suspending disbelief. But never mind that: Hollywood’s permanent assumption is that moviegoers are far from discerning so, enough said. The problem stems from the story itself, if it is faithful to the events as they occurred in actuality.

During the War in Afghanistan, a highly trained four-man Navy SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team is dropped from a helicopter via fastrope in a saddle between two mountains. Their mission is to observe an Area of Interest, looking in particular for the commander of a group of fighters, Ahmad Shah.

After reaching a predetermined overwatch position, the SEALs are accidentally discovered by three local goat herders, an old man and two young boys. They are unarmed civilians, not combatants, so the mission is compromised. What to do with them?

The SEALs immediately start racking their brains. Tying the herders to trees would mean feeding them to the wolves, or letting them die of cold. Shooting them is not only morally repugnant (though one of the soldiers is willing to ignore that, as ubi maior, minor cessat), but may cause a media backlash in the US, should they find out that fully armed SEALs killed three unarmed and harmless goat herders. So Marcus Luttrell (he will be the lone survivor) “makes the call”—and releases them.

A decision they will soon regret.

Within two hours, still unable to reestablish communication with Bagram Airfield, a US military base in Afghanistan, the team is ambushed by Ahmad Shah’s men. A lot of gunfire ensues; three of the four SEALs are eventually killed, and many more in a helicopter that had flown there to rescue them but was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Luttrell barely escapes and is rescued first by local, Taliban-resisting villagers and finally, after further tribulations and casualties caused by the unrelentingly bellicose Taliban, by the US army.

In the film’s opening, we are shown the would-be Navy SEALs undergo some grueling training. Much of it, it would seem, has to do with oxygen deprivation (and we do wonder—why?). And then there is the proverbial emphasis on physical exercise and superior fitness. These two elements would seem to be at the root of the problem: not only are we not shown any intellectual/mental training to compensate for the physical, but the brains of such SEALs-to-be are routinely deprived of oxygen. The result is that (at least from what we are told, and I for one, having not read the book the film is based on, hope for this version to be inaccurate), when faced with the problem of what to do with the goat herders, none of the four SEALs involved can think up the obvious solution: Tie their hands behind their back, gag them, tie them up in a line, and make them walk back with you until you manage to reestablish communication and are extracted by helicopter; only at that time will you release them. The solution is so simple, you would think any person of no more than average intellectual faculties would arrive at it within minutes. But leave it to very brawny pros whose brains have been regularly deprived of oxygen and who flirt since adolescence with cupio dissolvi mistaking it for valor with overtones of Nietzschean Übermensch, and see what a brilliant plan they can come up with: roger that, lieutenant!

Guido Mina di Sospiro is co-author of the disinformation® book The Forbidden Book, co-authored with Joscelyn Godwin, and the recently published The Metaphysics Of Ping-Pong, published by Yellow Jersey Press, Random House, and long-listed for the William Hill Sports Book Award 2013.
Guido Mina di Sospiro

Guido Mina di Sospiro

Guido Mina di Sospiro is an award-winning, internationally published novelist born in Argentina but raised in Italy who lives in the United States.

Mina di Sospiro’s novel The Story of Yew (the memoirs of an age-old tree), published in the UK, is permanently featured on the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and has been translated into many languages, as has From the River, the memoirs of a mighty river. Both books have met with critical acclaim. He is the co-author of the disinformation® book The Forbidden Book, co-authored with Joscelyn Godwin, and Publishers Weekly’s recent staff pick The Metaphysics Of Ping-Pong, published by Quest Books.
Guido Mina di Sospiro

Latest posts by Guido Mina di Sospiro (see all)

63 Comments on "Lone Survivor—And Who Was Doing the Thinking That Fateful Time?"

  1. And how are they supposed to carry out the mission with these in tow? I guess everything seems easy to a keyboard commando like this article author.

    • Guido Mina di Sospiro | Jan 27, 2014 at 11:42 am |

      The mission was aborted the moment the SEALs were discovered by the herders. It was just a matter of reestablishing communication and being extracted. Their decision, their not even remotely thinking of the one option that would have saved their life, and that of the rescuers, is a case of un-intlligence on display.

    • uh, his point is that the mission should have been scrapped and the men extracted.

    • sonicbphuct | Jan 27, 2014 at 12:13 pm |

      speaking of keyboard commandos – here is one that presents the author’s point superbly. Assuming you’ve seen the movie, and that you’ve read the article, it appears that the portion of your brain that does the “reasoning” is ill-exercised.

    • What the author is doing is called “Monday morning quarterbacking”. With hindsight everybody thinks they are an expert. Sports commentators make good money doing this.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Jan 27, 2014 at 11:54 am |

    they shoulda made it a Disney cartoon
    it would be more believable
    and more realistic
    is this a movie or an after school special?

  3. SEALs are idiots by any measure. Would like to know what really happened out there. Marcus Luttrell sounds like a complete joke… reminds me of the fake-ass Jessica Lynch hospital rescue. A bunch of military losers.

    • Guido Mina di Sospiro | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:39 pm |

      Well, yes. Let’s do away with the art of euphemism: this is a case of dumb & dumber. I pass no judgement on foreign powers being in Afghanistan, on war in general or anything of the sort. Mine is simply a functional perspective. Since the mission was aborted and all the four SEALs wanted to do was reestablish radio contact and be extracted by helicopter, the obvious solution was the one I described. It’s so elementary, even Watson would have grasped it, and quickly. But the poor SEALs are portrayed (unwittingly but gloriously) as hopelessly dumb, their brains grinding away at various solutions except the obvious one. It must not be forgotten that their brilliant decision resulted in the (totally avoidable) loss of 19 SEALs. Roger that, lieutenant!

      • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:55 pm |

        Could this mission have occurred as portrayed. Sure.
        Is this war propaganda to show the noble (albeit intellectually challenged yanks) who die in a blaze of boyish glory honoring the ‘humanity’ of their decision – more likely.
        I can’t speak for SEAL training, but other units do train for scenarios exactly like this.

      • Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 2:30 pm |

        I don’t think it is exaggeration to claim that our era is now characterized by the systematic concealment of political biases and warped morality behind the veil of so-called ‘functional objectivity’. Buried beneath such functionality always lie the motives for requiring the function to begin with.

  4. Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm |

    Yeah, and signing up to play dress up with the boys so you can go to far-flung places and kill people is, by its own merits, an intellectually sound decision.

    • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm |

      yeah, well, it goes quite a bit deeper than that for most vetrans.

      • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 12:54 pm |

        Really? From an intellectual point of view most are nothing but cavernous echoes of whatever depth of propaganda that initiated the impulse to join and the programming that ensued. Get into the whole brotherhood thing and you get into a lot of unhealthy dynamics as well. It’s emotional manipulation of emotionally unhealthy persons and the prostitution and sacrifice of their bodies for profit in the name noble ideals.

        • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm |

          Well, Its kind of like you might be pissed off at various family members but that doesn’t mean you want to see other people shitting on them.

          All I know is that I know real vetrans and real soldiers currently serving right now and they are decent people. I think people get a little too caught up in their respective reality tunnels at times. People are people and most people are basically good.

          Being against various recent military actions, and thinking of soldiers as brain dead monsters, are too different things and I take exception to the latter.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:09 pm |

            I don’t know what you mean by the first statement.
            I am not questioning basic notions of humanity or decency. We were initially referring to an intellectual quality of which you said had deeper aspects. Am I to infer that the deeper aspect is human decency?
            It is indeed ‘reality tunnels’ that most must be captured within in order to perform the acts necessary for military service.

          • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:12 pm |

            Well, these realty tunnels cut both ways.

            Basically Rhoid Rangers point seems to be “only assholes join the US military so fuck them!”

            and I take exception to that. I think peoples reasons for joining up are deeper than that.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:20 pm |

            That they are decent people?
            I don’t see that RR has implied that such persons are inherently deserving of denigration or abuse nor that it is something solely attributably to the US.
            When you described reality tunnels and ‘cutting’ – essentially a bifurcation, it is reactionary and forms only in contrast to what you cannot attest to in another. So where is this reaction actually coming from then? Asshole, Fuck them. That’s from you Ted. What reality tunnel do want to be in?
            You’ve state multiple times now that their are deeper motivations but only wish to provide declarations that others are in deeper defiance to you, or something you identify with than is evidenced.
            What are the deeper motivations?

      • Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 12:55 pm |

        Forgive me if I’m not moved by the appeal to the ‘Things are different with this case, because it feels good’ argument. A gang is a gang is a gang.

        • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:04 pm |

          Well many people have a very different context than you obviously have. In some families its almost a given that you will sign up and do four years.

          • Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm |

            I can understand that you may take issue with my flippant tone, but the crux of my argument is that it is an utter put down of the inherent potential for human ethical decision-making to say that other contextual circumstances can justifiably mitigate the ethically questionable choice to pick up a weapon and put one’s self into a potentially violent situation.

          • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:22 pm |

            OK, so, nobody “picks up a weapon” and flies to Afghanistan, first of all. I mean do you know how this works? You think people are grabbing the ol deer rifle of the mantle and buying a one way ticket to Kabul?

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:23 pm |

            There are some that have essentially done that.

          • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:24 pm |

            Not SEALs

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 6:02 pm |


          • Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:37 pm |

            I was being brief for the sake of facilitating the dialogue, but I am familiar with the indoctrination process of signing up for the military. At any rate, the implication should be clear–even children understand this–the military is a violent institution. That is its raison d’etre.

  5. Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 12:45 pm |

    Well, I think being on the ground in the Armed forces is different from looking at things from a political/ideological perspective.

    I think people on the left (or from a dissenting viewpoint) tend to get a little self righteous their partisanship and judge soldiers the same way they judge politicians.

    As a vetran, when I meet soldiers and other veterans I have immediate rapport with them, politics doesn’t really enter the equation as much as you might think, even though am pretty much anti-military Industrial Complex.

    • Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 12:59 pm |

      A decision to pick up a weapon and go to someone else’s home to use it is a question of fundamental human ethics, and lies outside the realm of ideology and politics. In fact, it’s not second-guessing that ‘career choice’ that is a product political ideology–the ends justifying the means.

      • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:02 pm |

        Yes, it is very easy for you to judge, I see that.

        • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:12 pm |

          I don’t see that it is easy for him to judge at all. If you observe the of depth mental endeavor and exploration he has made in life, an ease of judgement would hardly be so readily attributed.

          • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:13 pm |

            Breaking out the thesaurus again I see, well, I feel I have made my point, carry on .

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:21 pm |

            No thesaurus was used. If there was a particular word you are having difficulty with, let me know, I’ll think of a simpler term for you.

          • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:24 pm |

            Yeah, well, the problem is you take such great pains to sound smart when common words could express the same thought more clearly.

          • Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:33 pm |

            Is ad hominem necessary here? Are you out on a lexicological witch hunt?

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm |

            No pain was involved. You are the one who has oft made declarations about my intelligence. In believing what I said was not clear and that there is in fact a simpler way to say the same thing, you are declaring that you not only do not understand what I have said, but at the same time see through it, divine its essence, comprehend and possess that essentially quality yourself, something to which I, either do not actually have, or attempt to obscure in an attempt to convey the presence of something even greater.

            The offer still stands to explain any difficulties you might have.

        • Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:13 pm |

          I think you might have to make a clear distinction eventually to avoid any philosophical paradoxes–do we have the capacity to make decisions based on our own ethical value system? or are those decisions made for us by other people? (if the latter, then some people have a capacity to make decisions while others do not?)

          • Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:19 pm |

            My point is, if you are 18 years old and you have an inter generational family tradition of joining the service, for example you have a Father who served in Vietnam and a Grandfather who served in either Korea, or WWII, if you have cousins or brothers in the Armed forces, etc. you may have more noble reason to join. You may feel like its something you need to do. Almost like its expected of you, like its part of becoming an adult. I think people often have altruistic reasons.

            I don’t think its accurate for you to assume people only join because they are macho assholes that want to shoot people. Especially if you are not a veteran yourself. There are some like that but it is not the norm and believe it or not a lot of those types don’t make it past Basic Training.

          • Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:31 pm |

            I understand how you are attempting to contextualize this. I also understand the perceived ‘power’ of tradition–incidentally, I departed from my family’s tradition of playing golf and working in the powdered metal industry. Perhaps not as challenging a decision as departing from a military family tradition, but it was a choice. (I assume that you agree with me that the honour associated with the military tradition is obviously a product of political propaganda, however.)

            I was not characterizing soldiers as macho assholes. In fact, I wasn’t characterizing at all. It may have appeared that way because of my glib statement, but beneath the words I chose I was bemoaning the induced state of not understanding that one has a choice. Picking up a weapon (in any vocation that demands the use of force) and joining others who wear the same clothes is obviously a choice where it would be reasonable to assume that one would be put into a situation where one would violate another in some way. Yet droves of people continue to make that choice. That is a lamentable state of society, indeed.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:37 pm |

            It’s noble to do things cause daddy did? Did daddy really go to war? If he did, did he tell you about it and is that what he really wants for you? Or is he passing on a tradition of honoring God, State, pretty uniforms, crackle of the flag, bugle call, the lump of ‘patriotic’ pain in throat; the only glisten in the eye a real man shows. Teaching you how to choke down the pain of friends dieing and killing an enemy.
            Or what if you don’t feel the pain, and the killing feels good, better than anything you ever did. Try finding your way back to altruism then.

          • So less judgement, a genetic predisposition to accept questionable orders, along with familial social reinforcements.

  6. Ted Heistman | Jan 27, 2014 at 1:32 pm |

    ” But leave it to very brawny pros whose brains have been regularly deprived of oxygen and who flirt since adolescence with cupio dissolvi mistaking it for valor with overtones of Nietzschean Übermensch, and see what a brilliant plan they can come up with: roger that, lieutenant!”

    First of all, they aren’t “brawny” most seals are 5’7 150 lbs. Rangers, Recon men, these aren’t body builders. Body builders can’t hack the training. Its all heavy cardio work.

    As far as reading Nietzsche from early childhood, I highly doubt it. I think if you ever talked to a Navy Seal or an Airborn Ranger, you would be disabused of this Caricature you have created here. You would no doubt find them soft spoken, polite and humble, with maybe a few exceptions.

    Few people who face real life and death situations are caught up in mach posturing.

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm |

      You read that passage and extracted from it that the author was stating that those who go into elite military forces read Nietzche from early childhood?

  7. InfvoCuernos | Jan 27, 2014 at 3:22 pm |

    Looky all the trolls: did some bridge burn down somewhere?

    Oh, and as a former resident of NM, I can say that New Mexico does look a lot like Afghanistan-enough so that the Army and Marines send people to NM to train. Even Allied Afghan troops that are stationed there concur that there is more than passing similarity. There’s ever the whole ass-rape by police similarity going on. Maybe New Mexico wouldn’t be so poor if the Pueblos started growing poppies.

  8. Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 3:46 pm |

    Some reports indicate the laptop belonged to the SEAL recon team.

  9. VaudeVillain | Jan 27, 2014 at 8:54 pm |

    Yes, how stupid. I’m sure that the experienced operators involved couldn’t possibly have had any reason for believing that KIDNAPPING 3 goat herders then DRAGGING THEM AROUND THE COUNTRYSIDE for an indeterminate amount of time would be a terrible idea.

    If you don’t like soldiers, then fine… but seriously, this just comes across as desperate. Especially since you are basing your judgment off of a Hollywood dramatization. Do you seriously believe that no details were omitted or changed for the sake of telling a more coherent, centralized story? These five guys decided not murder some people in cold blood, then four of them got shot to death because of it. Clearly they were complete monsters, incapable of making any meaningful decisions.

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 27, 2014 at 9:19 pm |

      The bluntly stated political message of the book is that if not for the ROE which were forced on them by ‘Liberals’ they would have been able to kill the civilians.
      Not questioned is the battalion and command level squabbles over control of assets that led to the structuring of a mission with divided resources and planning in order to make sure everyone got their share of the pie.

      • VaudeVillain | Jan 27, 2014 at 10:05 pm |

        Strictly speaking, had they killed the civilians shit probably wouldn’t have hit the fan. Whatever Luttrell believes to be the reasons they didn’t, or couldn’t, are his own. If he chooses to blame “the liberals” rather than the failings of his commanding officers, then so be it.

        That still doesn’t make the point of this article any less silly.

        • Guido Mina di Sospiro | Jan 27, 2014 at 10:31 pm |

          It’s a simple matter of intelligence quotient. The solution is elementary; however, if you decide to evade the issue at hand, it is your privilege. But the immense stupidity of the SEALs involved came shining through. I held them in much higher esteem before seeing the film. Again, such a film may have misrepresented them: they came off as glorified cops, in better physical shape and much more geared-up, but just as… clever. And I’m afraid with this I shall conclude, as I see no purpose in beating to death a very simple point that, with some effort perhaps, I assure you is quite easy to grasp.

      • You must have read the book too, because the main thing I remember from it is Luttrell’s endless whining about how they hypothetically weren’t allowed to attack a hypothetical camel-train laden with explosives because there’s a chance that it was hypothetically just some honest farmer who was simply out taking his dynamite for a morning walk and not the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

        • Calypso_1 | Jan 29, 2014 at 12:57 pm |

          Great Gran’daddy primed the stumps early in the morning before the heat and the slowly siphoned mason jar took a hold. Cicadle chorus broke with sun over the ridgeline as crackle of CitizenBand commenced between the mountains. The gnarled voices of elders, compressed & warbled as they traveled through the rising swelter, bitched about pinkos & niggers. The boys scoured the falls taking coup with canebrakes and diamondbacks waiting to regroup when setting sun touched the Sand Mtn fire tower.

          Donning Mason’s apron our primogenitor, with full spitcan and the smoke of sacrificial swine rising to the Lord God in Heaven, intoned ‘Bless this to Nourish Our Minds & Bodies Amen’.
          Silently the passing of longarms, caliber commensurate with age and stature.

          Those fishing on the lake below cursed as the hollers echoed with report and thunder while our fathers looked on, highboned and hollow cheeked, gaze locked against the communists, lawmen and John Browns that dare set into the deadfall of coming night.

    • Guido Mina di Sospiro | Jan 27, 2014 at 9:19 pm |

      If you reread the piece carefully, you would notice that I wrote, “The problem stems from the story itself, if it is faithful to the events as they occurred in actuality.” And, “(at least from what we are told, and I for one, having not read the book the film is based on, hope for this version to be inaccurate). I do give the SEALs the benefit of the doubt, but I have also watched a documentary about the shooting of the film. Actual SEALs were involved as consultants, and a tremendous effort was made to obtain verisimilitude. Also, in the film the three herders were immediately bound by the SEALs at gunpoint (they weren’t squeamish at all about taking prisoners while they discussed how they should handle the situation). They had most of the day to walk away from the position and reestablish communication before anyone would worry about the herders not coming back to the village, and all they needed was a couple of hours to get back to where they were able to communicate by radio. After that, they would have been extracted within half an hour, releasing the prisoners then, perfectly unharmed. This very simple and quite frankly obvious solution would have not only spared the life of the herders, but also and above all that of nineteen SEALs, all of whom were killed because of that immensely stupid decision. Being brave and well-trained is important; but equally important should be to be possessed of at least average intelligence. And depriving such already intellectually-challenged people of oxygen during bizarre training sessions can only make their brains… you get the picture—or do you?

      • VaudeVillain | Jan 27, 2014 at 10:00 pm |

        I guess I’m missing why you say they were “intellectually deprived” in the first place. Or why you think that extensive dive training which includes “what to do if your air supply is interrupted for an indefinite period of time” and “somebody is down here trying to kill you, what now?” done as part of a specialized training program with access to state-of-the-art medical facilities and personnel would necessarily exacerbate the aforementioned problem.

        Perhaps you were confused by the movie taking place in about 2 hours, but it really takes much longer.

        I guess what I’m saying is that you can be critical of soldiers, either as people or as state actors, without taking the unusual step of assuming that the information from a movie is accurate and complete.

  10. Calypso_1 | Jan 28, 2014 at 10:55 am |

    : ) Been waiting for those points.

    Hypoxia training (which is an excellent & most rapid form of stress inoculation training) is also used by:
    Fighter pilots & astronauts
    elite athletes

  11. Guido Mina di Sospiro | Jan 28, 2014 at 12:21 pm |

    And these master degrees are obtained at the University of Donkeyville?

  12. Guido Mina di Sospiro | Jan 28, 2014 at 12:30 pm |

    you don’t seem to get any of the nuanced irony, I shall write it
    plainly: oxygen deprivation is the last thing that feeble-minded people
    need. You are aware, I assume, of the clinical consequences of cerebral
    hypoxia, i.e., reduced supply of oxygen to the brain. While SEALs need
    to be fit, much emphasis should be placed also on the development of
    their intellectual skills, which, in the matter at hand, were shown to
    be tragically wanting. If, on the other hand, SEALs are already trained
    also intellectually and mentally, and that brilliant decision of theirs
    was the result, then I’m afraid that that confirms my diagnosis—their
    intelligence quotient leaves much to be desired.However, you’ve shed new light: the SEALs hold master degrees, and from a prestigious institution—the University of Donkeyville.

    • Ted Heistman | Jan 28, 2014 at 1:35 pm |

      I really doubt you would say that to a Veteran’s face, let along anyone currently serving in the armed forces. Ignorance combined with arrogance, that’s you in a nutshell.

      • Guido Mina di Sospiro | Jan 28, 2014 at 1:41 pm |

        The facts in the mission speak for themselves. Of course it is your privilege to choose to defend
        the indefensible and the unpardonable: a remarkably stupid decision
        resulting in catastrophic consequences — 19 US soldiers killed — that could have been avoided
        altogether with a modicum of reasoning.

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 28, 2014 at 1:39 pm |

      There are significant boundaries between cerebral oxygen regulatory mechanisms and the effects of regulation in other areas of physiology. Perhaps you would care to opine on these if you wish to further this comparison to intellect in order to elucidate your expertise on these matters. Otherwise the comparison is becoming less nuanced and indeed ironic.

  13. Calypso_1 | Jan 28, 2014 at 1:42 pm |

    Covert goatherding…groundbreaking. I shall take this to my superiors.

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 28, 2014 at 2:36 pm |

      I am informed that due to the significant ‘goat gap’ all funding is currently being directed towards combat goat operations.

  14. Omar Vargas | Jan 29, 2014 at 8:10 am |

    This is hilarious! You should submit it to duffelblog.com

  15. kowalityjesus | Apr 15, 2014 at 2:46 am |

    This reminds me of Hitler’s advice to Chamberlain, “Shoot Gandhi!”

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