Most of the events in Lone Survivor take place in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. Here, Marcus Luttrell is involved in one of the worst disasters in the history of the Navy SEALs: the failed Operation Redwing, during which Luttrell and his three fellow SEALs are attacked by over a hundred Taliban soldiers. (It’s worth noting, however, that Marcus later claimed there were far fewer Taliban soldiers than he’d suggested in his memoir, and some intelligence reports suggest there were as few as a dozen. Even more oddly, Marcus gets the name of the operation slightly wrong—it was actually called “Operation Red Wings.”)
For Luttrell, Afghanistan is the jumping-off point for a discussion of America’s enemies more broadly. He sees Afghanistan as a hostile place, full of people who despise America and reject basic moral values, such as mercy and compassion. Luttrell also associates these qualities with the people of other Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, where he also serves. In short, Luttrell often seems to suggest that America’s enemies are all the same, united in a common set of corrupt values.
Throughout Lone Survivor, Luttrell paints America’s enemies during the War on Terror with an outrageously broad brush. At various points, he claims that the “bad guys” in the Middle East are working together. These “bad guys” include al Qaeda, the non-state terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden; the Taliban, the terrorist organization originally led by Mullah Mohammad Omar; and the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. Luttrell suggests that all three entities cooperated at various times to plot the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This suggestion have been disputed in recent years—in particular, the idea that the secular government of Saddam Hussein was cooperating with al Qaeda, a religious extremist, non-state organization. Luttrell also suggests that the terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Middle Eastern countries subscribe to the same set of un-American values. He claims that America’s enemies are united in their belief in an unjust, immoral interpretation of the religion of Islam. He further contrasts extremist Islamic values with the Christian values he was taught as a child, emphasizing the importance of love and mercy. As evidence of the evil of America’s enemies, Luttrell brings up the cowardice of Iraqi suicide bombers and the murderousness of Taliban soldiers. He makes little to no effort to distinguish between these different groups’ religions or political motivations—they hate America, and that’s all Luttrell needs to know about them.
In short, Luttrell’s thoughts on America’s enemies reek of bigotry and Islamophobia. Throughout Lone Survivor, he suggests that Muslims are all alike, and that they’ve attacked America because their misbegotten religious ideology puts them in conflict with American values—or, as was often said during the War on Terror, “They hate us for our freedoms.” In making this argument, Marcus arguably misses a key point of the War on Terror—many of the Muslims who attacked Americans in the Middle East weren’t as motivated by ideology as they were responding to America’s aggressive, militaristic foreign policy.
But at other points in the book, Luttrell shows signs of a grudging respect for certain people in Afghanistan. During the aftermath of Operation Redwing, Luttrell is severely wounded. The only reason he survives is because of the generosity of a village of Pashtuns—an ethnic group that lives primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sarawa, a Pashtun doctor, and Mohammad Gulab, a Pashtun police officer, risk their lives to protect Luttrell from the Taliban, and Luttrell is undeniably grateful to them. However, when explaining why Sarawa and Gulab help him, Luttrell argues that they do so because of the Pashtun custom of lokhar. According to lokhar, Pashtuns must risk their lives to defend people in need. Lokhar is a counterpart to the Pashtuns’ strong emphasis on violence and honor—values which, Luttrell claims, make them natural Taliban recruits. Even when he’s praising the Pashtuns for saving his life, then, Luttrell stresses that the Pashtuns are acting because of an obscure tradition, rather than because of basic human decency, or because of universal moral values. Furthermore, he emphasizes that this tradition is symptomatic, paradoxically, of the Pashtuns’ hostility, viciousness, and primitivism. (In a bitter irony, one could just as easily say the same of Marcus: he’s been raised in an aggressive, militaristic culture that prepares him for service in the brutal, violent American military.)
In all, Luttrell depicts the people of Afghanistan and the Middle East only through very broad stereotypes, suggesting that all the people of these parts of the world are violent, untrustworthy, and immoral. And even when Luttrell is forced to admit that some Afghans aren’t so bad—they’ve saved his life, after all—he depicts them as strange and fundamentally different from the good, honest, Christian Americans he knows and loves.
Bigotry and America’s Enemies ThemeTracker
Bigotry and America’s Enemies Quotes in Lone Survivor
In Baghdad we were up against an enemy we often could not see and were obliged to get out there and find. And when we found him, we scarcely knew who he was—al Qaeda or Taliban, Shiite or Sunni, Iraqi or foreign, a freedom fighter for Saddam or an insurgent fighting for some kind of a different god from our own, a god who somehow sanctioned murder of innocent civilians, a god who’d effectively booted the Ten Commandments over the touchline and out of play.
They are a proud people who adhere to Islam and live by a strict code of honor and culture, observing rules and laws known as Pashunwalai, which has kept them straight for two thousand years. They are also the quintessential supporters of the Taliban. Their warriors form the backbone of the Taliban forces, and their families grant those forces shelter in high mountain villages, protecting them and providing refuge in places that would appear almost inaccessible to the Western eye.
I had in my rucksack a DVD player and a DVD of my favorite movie, The Count of Monte Cristo, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas père. It's always an inspiration to me, always raises my spirits to watch one brave, innocent man's lonely fight against overpowering forces of evil in an unforgiving world.
I remember the pure indignation we all felt. Someone had just attacked the United States of America, the beloved country we were sworn to defend. We watched the television with mounting fury, the fury of young, inexperienced, but supremely fit and highly trained combat troops who could not wait to get at the enemy. We wished we could get at Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda mob in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, or wherever the hell these lunatics lived.
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.
This was definitely a mistake. That helo crew was supposed to have taken the rope away with them. God knows what they thought we were going to do with it, and I was just glad Mikey found it. If he hadn’t and we'd left it lying on the ground, it might easily have been found by a wandering tribesman or farmer, especially if they had heard the helicopter come in. That rope might have rung our death knell, signifying, as it surely must, that the American eagle had landed.
We tried to take the fight to them, concentrating on their strongest positions, pushing them to reinforce their line of battle. No three guys ever fought with higher courage than my buddies up there in those mountains. And damn near surrounded as we were, we still believed we would ultimately defeat our enemy.
To an American, especially one in such terrible shape as I was, the concept of helping out a wounded, possibly dying man is pretty routine. You do what you can. For these guys, the concept carried many onerous responsibilities. Lokhay means not only providing care and shelter, it means an unbreakable commitment to defend that wounded man to the death. And not just the death of the principal tribesman or family who made the original commitment for the giving of a pot. It means the whole damned village.
Often, deep within the communities, there are old family ties and young men who sympathize with the warlike mentality of the Taliban and al Qaeda chiefs. Kids barely out of grade school—joke, they don't have grade schools up here—are drawn toward the romantic cutthroats who have declared they'll fight the American army until there is no one left.
This armed gang of tribesmen, 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.
Gulab walked down the hill to me and tried to explain Sharmak had handed him a note that said, Either you hand over the American—or every member of your family will be killed.
It was a grim smile, I admit, but these guys had chased me, tortured me, pursued me, tried to kill me about four hundred times, blown me up, nearly kidnapped me, threatened to execute me. And now my guys were sticking it right to 'em. Beautiful. I saw a report confirming thirty-two Taliban and al Qaeda died out there that night. Not enough.