Literature / Lone Survivor
The Real Life
story of Marcus Luttrel, and the disaster known as Operation Red Wings. A film adaptation
was released on December 27, 2013, starring Mark Wahlberg
Not to be confused with the 2012 video game
This work contains examples of:
- Author Filibuster: Several places in the book, Luttrel pauses the action to talk about how little he likes the news media, or how awesome Texas is. But the one topic he keeps coming back to is the Rules Of Engagement that all military personnel must follow—and in Luttrel's opinion, how much these rules (or more specifically, the absurdly-restrictive ones used in Afghanistan and Iraq that were based entirely on PR with the realities and complexities of warfare being little more than an afterthought) hinder the military from doing its job right.
- Badass: It's the Navy SEALs. Nuff said.
- Badass Beard: Luttrel notes that Special Forces operators are allowed, even expected, to grow beards—supposedly to better blend in with the locals.
- Bedouin Rescue Service: Pashtun, in this case.
- Being Good Sucks: Luttrel directly attributes the everything-went-to-hell events of the novel to the team's decision to let some Taliban-friendly civilian goatherders live.
- Blatant Lies: That's right, the seven-foot tall, mortally wounded Texan with the satanic-looking tattoo who fell into your village directly after that horrific gunfight, wearing a uniform with a Liefeldian number of pockets, carrying a Mk12 sniper rifle and enough computer technology to launch the space shuttle is from...wait for it...Doctors Without Borders. It's implied that the villagers knew Luttrel was full of shit but let it slide since they'd already decided to save him anyway.
- Blue and Orange Morality: Luttrel has no idea why the villagers are so hell-bent on defending him against the Taliban, and simply comes to accept that their motivations as different from his own, without really understanding. His explanations in the text about Pashtun honor codes (especially Lokshay) are actually post-facto intelligence from cultural experts.
- Combat Pragmatist: Well, this is Real Life.
- Come with Me If You Want to Live: The friendly Pashtun villager offers to save the injured and understandably suspicious Luttrel.
- Despite the Plan: What seemed like a well-devised and -researched operation quickly collapses on itself as more and more unfortunate, unpredictable factors get thrown into the mix.
- Developing Doomed Characters: The story starts off with introducing the audience to four Navy SEALs, their lives, backgrounds, and the close friendship they share. Keep in mind that the book is called Lone Survivor.
- Dwindling Party: The SEALs are killed one by one.
- Edible Theme Naming: Checkpoints and codewords during the operation were named after alcoholic beverages.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: Zigzagged, but ultimately played straight. Luttrel's account of the indignities of BUDS just makes it that much cooler in the end.
- Everything Is Big in Texas: Has Luttrel mentioned he's from Texas today? Because he's from Texas.
- Friendly Sniper: Well, they are friendly to each other, anyway.
- From Bad to Worse
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Luttrel has one. Justified since he's just seen his three teammates and close friends die in a hail of gunfire, he's been shot, battered, and blown up, and now he's stuffed in a hole while his enemies scour the countryside for him and he's slowly dying of thirst. Since the ordeal he's suffered from PTSD and insomnia.
- Heroic Sacrifice: LT Michael Murphy, seeing his team is pinned down and outnumbered, decides to call for an air evacuation. All he has is a cell phone, and the only way he'll get good reception is if he marches into the open, where every Taliban gunner can see him. He gets mortally wounded, but he completes the call. For this, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
- Honor Before Reason: It's kind of the Pashtun Hat. See The Other Wiki entry on Pashtunwali.
- How We Got Here: So nice, they did it twice. The prologue is about Marcus Luttrel visiting the other widows of SEAL Team 10. Chapter 1 skips back to SEAL Team 10's arrival in Afghanistan, with a flashback to their prior deployment to Iraq. Then Luttrel skips back to his childhood in Texas, his enlistment in the Navy, and his training to become a SEAL.
- I Gave My Word: Closely related to Sacred Hospitality. Once the village offered Luttrel asylum, they were honor-bound to defend him to the last man. As Luttrel points out, the members of the Taliban that sought to kill him were likely Pashtun themselves, possibly originally from that very village, and relatives of his protectors.
- The man who first declared that Marcus was under Lokshay, Mohammad Gulab, technically didn't have the authority to do so on behalf of the whole village. However, it still wouldn't look good if the village elders chose not to honor his pledge once Lokshay had been invoked. They debated the matter for several days before deciding to back Gulab's promise.
- Marcus Luttrel later helped Mohammad Gulab emigrate to the United States. They are now next-door neighbors in Texas.
- Implacable Man: The Taliban forces are this to Luttrel's team. It quickly becomes clear that direct victory is impossible and escape is the only option.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Four men held off AN ARMY... for a while.
- Inter Service Rivalry: When the US personnel who arrive to extract Luttrel from the village turn out to be Army Rangers, Luttrel jokingly complains needing to be rescued by Rangers is something he'll never live down.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: Lt. Murphy, after sparing the shepherds, quickly chooses to cancel the mission on account of this unexpected factor, but by then it was already too late.
- The four frogmen also spend a great deal of effort and pain fleeing from the overwhelming Taliban forces.
- The Taliban forces, realizing they are outnumbered by the Pashtun villagers, leave and do not return to fight.
- Made of Iron: As a rule, the Navy SEALS are required to be this. Special mention goes to Axelson, who continues to gun down insurgents even after being shot in the head.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Marcus Luttrel notes the many times that he dropped his rifle while falling down the mountain, yet it always landed right next to him. It's not explicitly miraculous, but he attributes these unlikely events to God's divine intervention all the same.
- Mighty Whitey: Averted. The rural and supposedly unsophisticated village is already supplied with a full-fledged doctor and plenty capable of defending itself. Luttrel's considerable martial and medical skills are entirely redundant.
- More Dakka: The Taliban bring it, in the form of long lost Kalashnikovs and cold-war era artillery.
- Never Found the Body: Lampshaded: you should never believe a SEAL is dead until you've seen the corpse. So the Navy insists that Luttrel is just MIA—in spite of the news reporting him dead—and is ultimately proven right when they contact Luttrel five days later.
- Ninja: If the SEALs aren't, nobody is.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: But conversely, sometimes a good deed is also rewarded.
- Not So Different: Despite the rampant Values Dissonance, Luttrel is impressed by the villagers' honor, courage, and commitment. That's a pretty big deal.
- No Woman's Land: The only women who appear in the story are Luttrel's mother and the widows of SEAL Team 10. If he ever saw a Pashtun woman, he doesn't mention it.
- Pet the Dog: Subverted, when the "dog" isn't interested. The SEALs try to offer an Afghan boy an MRE, but the boy just glares at them and ignores the offering.
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: The US news media jumps the gun and declares that all the SEALs in Operation Red Wing had died. Representatives from the SEALs, and Marcus's twin brother, reassure Mama Luttrel that Marcus is just Missing In Action, not confirmed dead.
- Sacred Hospitality: Most cultures of the Middle East take hospitality very seriously, but the Pashtun take it Up to Eleven with Lokshay.
- Sadistic Choice: Three Pashtun goatherds (one of them just a boy) stumble upon the SEAL team, and the SEALs take them captive. The SEALs then have two options: they can let the goatherds go, in which case they'll almost certainly alert the Taliban and jeopardize the entire mission. Or they can kill the goatherds and complete the mission, in which case the killing will almost certainly be discovered, and even if they themselves aren't convicted of any crime, the entire Navy SEALs will be painted as war criminals by the media.
- Sole Survivor: As expected. Luttrell is the only survivor of his SEAL team.
- Training from Hell: INDOC (the SEAL qualification training) is no walk in the park. BUD/S (the actual SEAL training) is even worse. And the absolute worst is Hell Week, in which the trainees carry out grueling exercises while cold, wet, sandy—and get about three or four hours to sleep the entire week.
- Twin Telepathy: Marcus Luttrel and his twin brother Morgan insist they have a connection to each other. When word reaches Texas about how badly Operation Red Wing went, Morgan is certain that Marcus us hurt but still alive, in spite of the news reporting his death.
- Ungrateful Bastard: The Taliban ally the SEALs chose to spare.
- War Is Glorious and War Is Hell: Luttrel strongly believes in his work as a Navy SEAL and enjoyed it. But he's also upfront about some of the horrors of the battlefield. He argues that sometimes the military needs to do awful things to prevent worse atrocities, and that anybody who can't stomach that fact has no business giving orders.
- Worst Aid: The SEALs have no choice but to resort to very crude methods of sealing and treating their gruesome wounds.
- You Can Barely Stand: All four men end up riddled with bullets, but keep fighting to the last.