Lone Survivor and Insufferable Anti-American Self-Righteousness

As the war in Afghanistan winds down, and as the American public is increasingly “war weary” (a phrase I find fascinating since at any given time only 0.6 percent of Americans are in uniform, and the vast majority of Americans have endured not one single second of sacrifice for the war effort since 9/11), anti-military and anti-American sentiment may be rediscovering its Vietnam-era voice. The vehicle for the latest two minutes’ hate is a bit curious, however. Lone Survivor tells the story of a SEAL mission gone wrong and the resulting firefight where a small band of SEALs displayed remarkable courage under fire. But they showed more than courage. An act of humanity sealed their fate — the decision to free Afghan civilians that stumbled into their path. With their own lives on the line, they obeyed American rules of engagement, obeyed the laws of war, and conducted themselves with honor (with one SEAL posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor).

So how do some in the left-wing press write about this movie? Here’s L.A. Weekly:

These four men were heroes. But these heroes were also men. As the film portrays them, their attitudes to the incredibly complex War on Terror, fought hillside by bloody hillside in the Afghan frontier with both U.S. and Taliban forces contributing to an unconscionably high civilian body count, were simple: Brown people bad, American people good.

Really? You say that after the film shows how Americans actually gave their lives rather than kill an innocent “brown” person? Make no mistake, this is an accusation of the most vile racism, and it slanders these SEALs. Indeed, it slanders more than the SEALs involved in that firefight. Friends of mine died in Iraq — including, and this will be a news flash to L.A. Weekly (which apparently views our forces as all-white), “brown” friends — because of their concern for and respect for the lives of local citizens. We erred on the side of saving local lives, to the point where people very dear to me paid the ultimate price.

And of course here’s Salon.com:

American soldiers, it appears, can be shot three times, five times, a dozen times without dying. No, that’s not true – eventually they do die, we all know it’s coming. And every time that happens, it’s an operatic, slo-mo Christlike agony, with sweat and bone and blood and bits of flying gristle, Chevrolet-commercial flashbacks to some comely wife waiting somewhere and closeups of Sears photo studio snapshots of the moppets whose dad is coming home in a body bag. Is it dramatically effective? Yeah, absolutely. But it also conveys the unmistakable impression that American suffering and death is qualitatively different and more profound than the death of some dudes from an Afghan village about whom we know nothing. With those guys, there is no possibility of grieving wives or children, or a complex back-story with many motivating factors. They just keep coming like ants for the Coca-Cola ham at the Fourth of July picnic, and keep getting squashed just as easily.

This statement is simply disgusting. I wonder if the writer would say it to the face of the “comely” widows or the grieving “moppets?” I will tell you this: The suffering and death of honorable men is qualitatively different from the suffering and death of men who murder, rape, and terrorize as a matter of course and as a matter of jihadist religious principle — especially when the honorable men die in an effort to protect others from terror. There is no moral equivalence in this fight, and there is no moral equivalence in their deaths.

Disappointingly (because it can do better), here is The Atlantic:

Consider how Berg introduces our tragic heroes. His opening testimonial is followed by a low-key scene in which an outfit of SEALs laze around their makeshift living quarters, firing off fond emails to loved ones and fretting over forthcoming social engagements. They play games and sing songs and like American beer. They are, in other words, ordinary guys, totally down-to-earth despite being the best at what they do.

Now, compare this exaggeratedly casual introduction with the way the film brings in its Taliban villains. Their unruly gang storms into a quiet village while firing off machine guns and, while screaming unintelligibly, drags a man into the streets and lops his head off with a machete. (Sinister-sounding music accompanies, just in case the sentiment wasn’t clear.) This is cartoon villainy—the realm of the black hat and the twirling moustache. Such gestures serve a straightforward dramatic purpose: They align the audience with the heroes while encouraging them to dislike the bad guys, so that when the battle finally ignites, the viewer’s sympathies have already been sorted out.

Let’s talk reality: When the film shows jihadists storming into a village and lopping off a man’s head, it understates their atrocities. I don’t know what has to be done to penetrate the thick skulls of the willfully ignorant, but the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies are evil to a degree Americans (obviously) have trouble comprehending. I’ve relayed this litany before, but it bears repeating. Here’s a (partial) list of al-Qaeda actions in my unit’s area of operations between 2007-2008:

Decapitating women and children, recording the murders up-close, and shrieking Allah Akhbar as they sawed off each innocent head; shooting an infant in the face with an AK-47 as a warning against collaboration with Americans; raping women to “dishonor” them, then strapping bombs on their bodies as the only way they could redeem themselves; and putting bombs in unwitting children’s backpacks then remotely detonating them at family events. Let’s also not forget the years-long suicide-bombing campaigns where civilians weren’t collateral damage; they were the target.

Oh, and if the “viewer’s sympathies” weren’t already sorted out before they saw this movie (Taliban or SEALs? Is that really a difficult choice?), then the viewer had lost their moral compass.

Expect to see more of this nonsense in the coming months and years. Many on the left have worked long and hard to discredit our military efforts since 9/11, and even one movie-length dose of truth and perspective is apparently too much for some to tolerate. To them, there’s only one acceptable way to portray American soldiers — as PTSD-addled victims of America’s imperial hubris. Any other story is merely a “jingoistic” and “pornographic” example of ”war propaganda.”

Though there are no perfect men, there is good and evil, and the SEALs were (and are) doing great good against unspeakable evil.

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  • Nick

    The LA weekly observation is an accurate one. It’s not commenting on the individual SEAL’s on racism, it’s talking about the fact that war can make men descend into an us against them argument that results in ugly dehumanization by both sides. Even the director of the film has said he wanted to show that tension. The SEAL’s were heroes, but they weren’t infallible. And to say they were fallible does not make you anti-American, anti-war, or anything else.

    As for the other two, yes they are not the best worded statements, but they are carrying on a conversation about move-making and the subtle way in which we are trained to perceive death. It is a legitimate (and Christ-like) claim to say that we should spend more time trying to understand what made the Taliban become Taliban, much like we are told why SEALs are SEALs. Asking these questions does not make you hate America, it makes you a human being willing to go deeper than simply seeing the world as Red, White, and Blue.

    All three of these commentaries are more about the way the film is made and less about the men the film focuses on.

  • http://www.rozyhomemaker.blogspot.com/ Rozy

    It must be painful to know the truth about the wars and hear and read the propaganda at home. Thank you for your service. Thank you for continuing to tell the truth. We live in the time foretold by Isaiah when evil is called good and good is called evil. Thank you for raising a voice of witness for truth.

  • Sagrav

    Have you contacted the writer or either the Salon or the Atlantic article? It would actually be interesting to read the dialogue between such different viewpoints.

    You’re a professional column writer yourself, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t be willing to have some kind of back-and-forth with you. It would also bring both sides some readers.

    • Jeremy Forbing

      I suspect Mr. French has no interest in dialogue, as he displays no interest in recognizing viewpoints other than his own as being anything but morally reprehensible.

  • Surprise123

    Mr. French, thank you for your military service.

    And, dare I say this: I care more about my friends and family than I do about strangers, no matter what their nationality, and I care more about my fellow citizens, Americans, than I do about the citizens of other nations. There, I said it.

    A major Hollywood film promoting positive views of American manhood, men who are willing to risk death to maintain their sense of decency, their sense of honor? Bravo, I say! According to the L.A. Weekly, the film showed American soldiers dying in operatic, slo-mo Christlike agony, with sweat and bone and blood and bits of flying gristle – as if that’s a bad thing. What, would the L.A. Weekly wrtier have felt better if the deaths of Taliban fighters also were portrayed in a slo-mo Christlike agony?
    We’ve had plenty of negative films about the American military and secret services (Dr. Strangeglove, Mash, Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket), and even more or less neutral ones, showing both Americans abroad and their enemies as having complex motivations and characters (Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, the Hurt :Locker, etc.), and there is definitely a place for those types of films, so why can’t we ALSO have American films celebrating American honor and sacrifice? Do we have to depend upon poor Stephen Spielberg alone to honor the sacrifices of our brave men and women who sacrificed so much for their country?
    Bleeding heart liberal in a very blue state.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Okay, I watched and loved Argo but I am honestly blanking on complex bad-guy characters in that film—can you help me out?

      • Surprise123

        Yeah, you’re right. I wasn’t being as conscientious as I might have been. There WAS a bad guy, kind of…the Iranian military officer who questioned the Iranian maid at the Canadian embassy…but his character was not complex.

  • Scott Paeth

    Actually, the Bush administration did a fine job discrediting our military efforts since 9/11 with little help from the Left, and Obama hasn’t really shined considerably more brightly in that respect. If the right wants to find someone to blame for any tarnishing of those efforts, it can start by looking in the mirror.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Mr. French, thank you for this article and for your service. While I have some practical questions about the placement and use of our troops in all cases, the idiocy on display in these articles is frightening. When I was a little girl, I took great satisfaction in stomping spiders and other bugs until they were officially dead, while intoning “Die bug die!” with each stomp. Such men as you and these SEALS are fighting against deserve no better fate.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    Multiculturalism to the Left means accepting all cultures but the one in which they were born, which is necessarily bad and must be Changed. The Left accepts all these other cultures because they see them as weak and inferior as themselves, and they oppose Western culture because they perceive it is as strong and successful.

    True tolerance is being broadminded enough to accept other cultures while simultaneously embracing your own, such as this fine example:

    “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” ~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

    • Surprise123

      True tolerance is being open to learning about other cultures, recognizing that cultures are the result of human beings interacting within certain environments over time, and then realizing that you, as a human being, have your own set of values that resonate with some cultures and not with others. I’m a liberal who has interacted with a lot of other cultures, learning their histories, learning their languages, but that does not mean that all of those cultures are equal in my eyes: nor should they be.
      For instance, those cultures that do not permit the exploration of other cultures, at least over time, or at least among mature members of their society ARE BAD. Cult cultures are often bad. The culture of North Korea is bad.

  • Scott Paeth

    Thinking a bit more about this, it occurs to me that the point the writers French is criticizing are making has more to do with the narrative framing of “Americans good–non-Americans bad” than anything else. And of course it’s possible to portray a war, even in an American film, in which our opponents are not pictured as immoral monsters. The Japanese were extraordinary brutal in World War II, but that didn’t stop Clint Eastwood from making “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

    • B.J.D

      Try fighting the Taliban for a few years and then come back and tell me they arent immoral monsters.

      • Scott Paeth

        I’m fairly certain that many of the people we’ve fought see us as immoral monsters. And again, the Japanese often behaved monstrously in WWII (so did we, for that matter). But an honest movie would humanize both the antagonists and the protagonists.

        • B.J.D

          No offence but you sound like a virgin lecturing a seasoned prostitute on sex. LikeI said, spend a few year fighting them and seeing what they are capable of up close and tell me they arent monsters. Until then, your opinion can be disregarded with all the other know nothing know it alls.

          • Scott Paeth

            Well, if you want to characterize yourself in that way, that’s your choice. And if you can only think of your enemies as monsters, then I’m very sad for you. I’m not in the slightest degree convinced that killing someone puts you in a better position to know their inherent character than others. Here’s a thought — What would it be like dealing with them if you WEREN’T trying to kill them?

          • B.J.D

            You only know what you have read and even then its self selected sources. I know from first hand experience, from seeing them face to face and seeing the aftermath of some of their more heinous but certainly not uncommon tactics.

            You want to sit up there on your ivory tower and tell me that I don’t know what I am talking about? Thats the definition of hubris. Have fun with that, I’m sure it will serve you well in life.

            Here’s a thought — What would it be like dealing with them if you WEREN’T trying to kill them?

            It would be pretty much the same as the non-aligned Afghan and Pakistani civilians who deal with them, subjugation and death if you fight back.

          • Scott Paeth

            Please, complete stranger, tell me more about what I do and do not know and from what sources. By all means, continue to believe in your own moral flawlessness and the moral bankruptcy of anyone you are against. That always works out splendidly.

          • B.J.D

            I’m not commenting on your “moral bankruptcy” just your complete and total ignorance of the world outside your books and journals.

          • Scott Paeth

            I was referring to your dehumanization of the Taliban, who are, after all, human. But again tell me more about ignorance as you comment on what I know, given that you know exactly zero about me.

          • B.J.D

            Its not too difficult to dehumanize something that doesn’t act human. But please, do tell us in great detail what you experiences in dealing with armed Islamic groups like the Taliban have been? This should be interesting.

          • Scott Paeth

            Oh, I fully confess that I have never tried to kill somebody. But I don’t think the ad hominim game is at all useful in this regard. But I’ve been in war zones. And I’ve spoken to people who have fought on both sides. And, amazingly, I have found them to be human, with human needs, wants, and desires, on both sides. And yet, put a gun in their hands and say “there is your enemy” and you can get even very gentle people to become monstrous. Even Americans.

  • joseph

    As I, and many of my Marine Veteran brothers have believe, “we protect those who stand behind us. we fight with those who stand beside us. we kill those who stand in front of us.”

    It’s easy for each of you dear readers to see where you stand. if you live here, we fight for you, whether you want to admit it or not. If you are one of our allies, then we fight together. if you are neither of these, then by default, you must be the enemy. it’s a very simple approach to what most consider a complex set of situations.

    General Mattis, USMC (Ret.), said, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

    His point is this: We don’t strike first (we are, after all, a Department of Defense). But, on occasion, preliminary operations like the one depicted in “Lone Survivor” (a forward observation post identifying and confirming a high value target) LOOK LIKE a first strike, when they are, in fact, a defensive operation. This terrorist had blood on his hands, Afghan and American, LONG BEFORE this Seal Team mobilized.

    This movie isn’t about a team moving in for a kill. This movie is about a team moving in as a defensive action, to stop an active threat from continuing on a path of death and destruction. The fact that they let civilians live isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. The exception is when the occasional servicemember freaks out and screws up. By and large, the military is staffed by patriots, not psychopaths.

    This movie is a tale of one team, and one survivor. It isn’t a treatise on all military ethos or philosophy, and while it might have a polarizing effect due to Hollywood theatrics, the fact remains that each experience is unique, each situation is different, and sometimes rules of engagement are all that matter.

    There are heroes on both sides of any conflict. Let the Afghans tell their stories. We’ll tell ours.

    Semper Fi.


  • barrycooper

    You miss the blatant racism of the Left, which views all “brown” people as morally equal. You know, racism of the “they all look the same” variety, except that they claim to be on “their” side. In this movie, was it not obvious that not all Afghans liked the Taliban? If anyone recalls the initial history of the war, we took over the country with very few troops. We used Special Operations folks to provide organization, logistical support, and air power, and the Afghans THEMSELVES did most of the rest. Most of them HATED the Taliban.

    Within this movie, you have Afghan Good Guys, and Afghan Bad Guys. They were quite clearly marked, and one could only miss this with determined stupidity, and, as I said, blatant and ugly racism.

    It was the same in Vietnam. We fought WITH the “yellow man” too. We fought and died next to them, supporting them, helping them fend off sociopathic murderers and sadists.

    But the Left rejects human decency in principle. This point is subtle and hard to understand for psychologically normal people, particularly since they use the RHETORIC of decency. All the critics of this movie implied they cared about human suffering, that it bothered them, that they wanted “good” to prevail, and simply rejected American tactics. This is nothing remotely close to the actual situation. The actual situation is that they no longer believe there is a difference between good and evil, and that power is the sole good, and that the point of speaking at all is to support members of their tribe who seek power. If supporting war gets votes for Democrats, they argue for it. If opposing war gets votes for Democrats they oppose it. Conformity is their only true value.

    I deal with this issue within the context of the Vietnam War at length here: http://www.goodnessmovement.com/Page19.html

    Just click on the Fabian Window to reach the treatise/essay/piece.

  • Yonah

    The art of searching for and finding cartoon statements from those on one’s polar opposite side to be used as kindling to keep an equally extremist voice afire is very old hat. We all know very fine people who are/were soldiers. The main Question: is the morality of how the U.S. leadership constructs and implements war policy. Blackwater and drones? Really?