At its core, Lone Survivor is a book about a very particular type of masculine culture: the machismo of the U.S. military. American soldiers are recruited and trained for their bravery and toughness, and Navy SEALs are said to be the toughest, most highly trained American soldiers of all. By writing about his time in the SEALs, Marcus Luttrell paints a picture of U.S. military machismo, offering a strong set of ideas about what it means to be a “real man.”
Over the course of the book, Luttrell emphasizes three aspects of SEAL machismo: cooperation, stoicism, and pride. Navy SEALs are taught to work together at all costs, and their military training encourages them to think of a “real man” as one who can protect his friends and remain loyal to them at all costs. SEALs are taught to “leave no man behind,” and this philosophy becomes very important to Luttrell when he’s involved in Operation Redwing. Luttrell fights not only to save his own life, but to protect his fellow SEALs from harm. Furthermore, he’s genuinely upset when the military can’t recover his fallen friends’ bodies, because he feels as if he’s failed personally by leaving them behind. Luttrell’s behavior, and the SEAL code in general, suggest an interesting variation on traditional Western ideas about manhood: while many versions of machismo stress rugged individualism and the ability to “make it on your own,” the SEALs’ code suggests that it’s primarily about taking care of other people.
Another important aspect of the SEAL code of machismo is stoicism—in other words, the ability to control and conceal one’s emotions. Displaying emotion is often considered a sign of weakness, and, by the same logic, being able to control one’s emotions at all times is seen as a form of strength. This becomes especially clear when Luttrell is describing his rigorous SEAL training: the manliest, most admirable recruits are the ones who can crack jokes and make light of their situation, rather than revealing their fear. However, the rules of SEAL machismo suggest that it is acceptable to display strong emotions under serious circumstances. For example, after Luttrell comes to accept the deaths of his three fellow SEALs, he sheds tears. In this case, Luttrell has “earned” the right to display his emotions, since he’s dealing with one of the greatest tragedies a man can face: the deaths of his friends.
The third and most ambiguous aspect of machismo that Luttrell discusses is pride. Navy SEALs are, by almost any measure, extremely impressive people. They’ve passed a series of incredibly rigorous tests of their strength, endurance, and willpower, and they risk their lives to protect their country. As a result, they’re justifiably proud of their accomplishments. However, the SEALs’ pride takes many different forms. Luttrell insists that SEALs are humble and quiet about their accomplishments—echoing the second aspect of machismo, they refrain from showing their pride. On the other hand, Luttrell admits that SEALs sometimes brag about their accomplishments and act superior to others, especially other branches of the military. A good example of how SEALs balance pride and humility: describing his achievements in training, Luttrell writes, “SEALs don’t look for personal credit, and thus I cannot say who the class voted their Honor Man.” Luttrell and the other SEALs are clearly and justifiably proud of themselves, and find ways to express their pride, even if they sometimes do it in a roundabout way.
In some ways, Marcus Luttrell suggests (or his readers can infer) that the War on Terror itself was an extension of SEAL machismo culture. Instead of pursuing diplomacy or economic means of persuasion, the United States under President George W. Bush adopted an aggressive, militaristic foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Expertly trained American soldiers invaded the two countries, cooperating closely with one another and suppressing their natural feelings of sympathy for civilians. And while the Bush administration presented these invasions as humble, dutiful operations, meant simply to protect American lives, they were widely seen as arrogant, swaggering confirmations of American strength self-righteousness. Luttrell celebrates the macho aspects of the War on Terror, but the last ten years in the Middle East arguably tell a different story: the machismo of the Navy SEALs provoked as much terrorism as it defeated.
Machismo and the Navy SEALs ThemeTracker
Machismo and the Navy SEALs Quotes in Lone Survivor
Now, everyone in the area knew that Billy trained kids for the special forces. And when he had a group of us running down the street, cars driving by would blow their horns and cheer us on. He always ignored that, and he showed us no mercy.
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.
"Marcus, the body can take damn near anything. It's the mind that needs training. The question that guy was being asked involved mental strength. Can you handle such injustice? Can you cope with that kind of unfairness, that much of a setback? And still come back with your jaw set, still determined, swearing to God you will never quit? That's what we're looking for."
We loved him, all of us, because we all sensed he truly wanted the best for us. There was not a shred of malice in the guy. Neither was there a shred of weakness.
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.
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.
I think at this point I may have been suffering from hallucinations, that very odd sensation when you cannot really tell reality from a dream. Like most SEALs, I’d experienced it before, at the back end of Hell Week.
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.