Sunday, May 13, 2012

Knights in Shining Armor? Two books by Navy SEALs

I was saddened and sickened to find out today that Chris Kyle the author of American Sniper was murdered. My most heartfelt prayers are with his wife and children.

This is the first review in a series I will be doing of war documentary novels. For the second review go here.

Since the Navy SEALs sent Osama bin Laden to meet Allah, interest in this elite group of soldiers skyrocketed. Not a few editors eyes went “ka-ching” and found some SEALs who were willing to tell their stories via ghost writers.

I am enthusiastic reader of war stories. Not because I glorify war but it is one venue in which man can rise to his greatest heights in endurance, self-sacrifice, and bravery. It’s when people realize it’s not just about me but also my suffering fellow humans; that my liberty and rights as a human are not to be taken for granted. This applies not only to soldiers but everyone afflicted by the ravages of war.

Consequently, I eagerly bought two books and read them in a couple of bites. What I learned from them about war, Navy SEALs and the countries where they fought was both fascinating and disturbing.

Amercian Snyper is about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (a home boy-from Texas). Kyle has the distinction of the most recorded sniper kills in U.S. Military History. In his book he takes us on a brief tour through his Texas upbringing, how he joined the Navy and eventually became a Navy SEAL. He then embarks on where he was when the trade center was attacked and his subsequent career in Iraq.

What I liked: anybody’s life is interesting, Kyle’s is no exception. I’m glad he included a little about his growing up in Texas and personal parts about his wife. For all his brashness and bravura his love and dedication to his wife and family comes shining clearly through. They went through some hard weather together but they stuck it out and stayed married. Something many people would not have done in the same circumstances.

The training of a Navy SEAL is exciting to read about. That there are men capable of putting themselves through such extreme duress is amazing. I guess that’s why they can go out and accomplish what they do. His travels to Iraq and the various battles he was involved in are forceful.

Some interesting information he shared: most of the Iraqi soldiers they encountered were obviously drugged up on heavy dope or barbiturates. Apparently in order to “jihad” they had to dull their senses to be able to go through with it. The Iraqi’s insurgents were also cowardly, often hiding behind women or children to avoid getting killed.

Another interesting fact: Kyle observed that it was ridiculous to try to let the Iraqis take over before they even knew they wanted to be a united country. He states that most Iraqis identified themselves with certain tribes, not a whole country. Until they could see themselves as a unified nation they weren’t equipped to govern themselves.

He also states that our military presence had a tremendous impact on influencing the average Iraqi. Before the war they saw the insurgents as all powerful terrorists. After our military came and showed its teeth to the insurgents the Iraqis no longer viewed them as an insurmountable presence and became motivated to fight for themselves.

What I didn’t like: for one, the filthy language. If this book were a movie it would be rated “R”. I found the coarse vulgarity so intrusive, it was a chore filtering it out to get at the substance of his story. Also, Mr. Kyle has a pretty big ego and all the maturity of a six year old if his stories about bar brawls and subsequent arrests are to be believed. Not only him, but apparently all the Navy SEALs enjoy brawling and hazing each other. Maybe it’s true but it’s not very inspiring and I think some facts could have been left out.

One last thing: I know it’s necessary to kill those who want to destroy and oppress others but I don’t think it’s necessary to enjoy it. Kyle describes his kills as though he were picking off deer from a blind in the woods. Because of these last two attributes, instead of leaving the book enthused and regarding Kyle as a hero I found myself thinking, “this knight's armor is a little tarnished.”

I am a SEALTeam Six Warrior are the memoirs of Howard E. Wasdin. Not only was Wasdin a Navy SEAL but he was a member of the elite of the elite: Team Six. This means that in addition to going through the “hell week” training all Navy SEALs go through, they endure even harsher training besides.

Wasdin was a Navy SEAL in the mid-nineties and aside from the training to become a SEAL Team Six Warrior, he describes his experiences in Somalia as they attempted to oust the Warlord Aidad.

Of the two books, this is the better written story. At least the young reader’s version is. Although, again, I’m surprised at the language-especially since this particular book is suppossed to be written with a younger audience in mind. Even my seventeen year old son was laughing at the term the SEALs called the bad guys. (His exact words were; “‘Booger eaters’? That’s something a six year old calls people!”)

As for the story, the step by step account of setting up on the roof tops, engagements, intense battle and rescue scenes (he was a part of the Black Hawk rescue attempt that the movie Black Hawk Down was about), it was as exciting and riveting as any action adventure movie you’d ever hope to see. More so, because you know it’s real. I could hardly turn the pages fast enough.

Wasdin exposes the blatant bias of our media who talk of our soldiers gunning down “innocent civilians.” He includes a photo of women walking down the street pretending to hold babies when, in fact, they are transporting explosives. He describes one scene where a line of women are walking down the street with their robes spread out. Then they suddenly stop and bring their robes down to reveal men with AK 47s hiding behind them. What is our military to do? Of course they had to shoot all of them or be shot themselves. Aiding and abetting terrorists is not innocent, even if you are a woman. Again it shows the cowardliness of a society that holds woman and children so little in value that they have no conscience about using them as expendable pawns.

Wasdin's heroic colors truly shone out one night.

He and his team were stationed on a roof top hiding. About the same time every evening, something that smelled like dead, rotting flesh would waft up to them. Wasdin looked down to the porch of the house they were on and saw a young boy, his feet ripped off from a mine he walked over at school. Aidad would plant these horrible things in the school yards of opposing tribes to prevent the young boys from fighting against him.

Against orders Wasding grabbed a medic, went into the house, cuffed the entire family and treated the boy. They did this each night until the boy’s wounds were on their way to recovery. The last night the father held out tea for them, at last convinced they weren’t going to hurt them.

Both of these books show how misinformed America is about what our soldiers and countrymen are risking their lives for and also, how insulated we are over here. 


  1. I read Wasdin's book ( but haven't read American Sniper which is certainly on my plate.

    I also find those stories very interesting. I'm constantly surprised at the "revelation" that Iraq is divided by tribes, we knew that since WWI.

  2. Zohar: I will definitely read your review of Wasdin's book. You'll probably read a book that I'm finishing up and will review in a week or so. It was written by an Army Captain about his work in Iraq. He worked directly with the Iraqi people and liasoned between them and the Army. Unlike many, he worked to understand their culture, tribal identity and how they operated according to their cultural norms. I'm enjoying it more than these two books, although it's probably not as fast paced, it's very interesting.

  3. Well, if I get through American Sniper, I'll compare notes. You were right about the movie. Within the first 5 opening words, was the f-word; and even Taya used that language, too (in the movie).

    It was the movie that made me look at soldiers differently. Most of them, especially Seals, are a special kind of people. Chris only saw his work as a protector of other soldiers who went in the weed out the enemy, including the enemy of the old Iraqi government that oppressed and murdered its own people. Chris saw his work as a way to help usher in a better government in Iraq. We can argue all day and night if that was right or America's business, but all Chris knew is that he had a specific job to do, and he wasn't there to decide politics.

    Part of why I liked Taya's story is because she reminds me of my understanding of the Iraq War - that we spent 14 months at the U.N. trying to convince them to use their own resolution against Saddam, but no matter what, the U.N. was not going to follow through. I just liked how she recalled those important points that a lot of people don't't care about.

    Well, thanks for sharing that. I thought I had not heard of the second book. I know my husband also read a book called Seal Team Six, and I see it is by the same authors, so I wonder if it just has a different title. ???

    1. Ruth: I believe that we are supposed to help others in other countries. We as Americans don't live in a vacuum. We almost lost WWII because of that isolationist attitude. I think that the best we can do is keep citizens safe, keep our country safe, but I think it is ultimately the missionaries that are going to change the hearts of the people in these countries.

    2. One more thing: I Am a Seal Team Six Warrior is the young adult version of the one your husband read. It leaves out some of the more worldly stuff that the man got involved in and the language,while not sterling, isn't as bad.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.