Friday, February 15, 2013

US SEALS: Like "Ninjas with Lions"

The March 2013 issue of Esquire Magazine.

I've found more evidence of something I've said here before: the best journalism right now is going on at magazines. This month's Esquire provides a terrific exemplar.

"The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden," by Phil Bronstein (of whom more later) is, at its best, a sort of stream-of-consciousness interview with the still-unidentified Navy SEAL of the title. Bronstein tries to make the article "about" something else (of which more later) but the words of this young man are so incredible, the article needs no artificial "pegs" to hang it on. 

I picked it up because I had read that in it, one of the SEALs on the raid critiques the movie Zero Dark Thirty, and I wanted to hear what he had to say. It is in there: but there is so much more. 

I don't want to give away the best lines, or explain the "ninjas with lions" remark, so I'll just recommend you read it. The warrior's language is colorful and it will offend some, but I know from my own work that this is exactly how men talk who have these jobs. They are profane and vulgar and their dark humor is very, very funny. It is part of how they cope. They are not fearless. They fear. And like all really driven people they focus their fear and use it as strength. 

The tools and the training they are given for their missions are the absolute best and I found that part of the article gratifying. In addition to all the really cool equipment, these guys are all trained to speak the languages of the Middle East. Did you know that? They use these languages to protect each other and to protect the innocent. What wonderful concepts.

No photographs in "The Shooter" for reasons that will be obvious when you read it.

The equipment they use? Like science fiction. From the stealth choppers that flew them in to Abbottabad (that didn't get "painted"); to the weird, four-scope, $65k, night vision goggles each of them wore (that enabled them to see, while UBL was still flailing around in the darkness); to SOCOM handguns and assault rifles and explosive charges; it is easy to see how people in the Third World who come across them might mistake them for aliens. Excellent.

The Navy SEAL is identified only as The Shooter, and it occured to me later how similar this word is to The Shootist--John Wayne's last and, some think, his best film. In the film Wayne plays an aging gunslinger--somewhat analagous to a Special Ops guy on his way out--a knight of the West, who spent his life working from this credo:

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I expect the same from them." 
You might not like the idea of the hired gun. Who does? But they have existed throughout history. When somebody is determined to "lay a hand" on you and maybe blow you up, based on your religion or your place of national origin, it is nice to have one around. We, like the peasants of a beleaguered Mexican village, have to call on the Magnificent Seven. Without them we'd all be dead. Or I'd be wearing a burqa. Without meaning to, this article frames that up. You want to jump through the magazine and shake these SEALs' hands. And then invite them over to dinner (urging them to clean up the language a bit, for Mom).

Briefly about the article's author, Phil Bronstein, and his wobbly premise. You may have heard of Bronstein: he's the former editor of the San Francisco Examiner, who has a well-earned reputation for wildness. He's also the guy who was, briefly, married to Sharon Stone. OK. Whatever. But, though his interview with this amazing guy is terrific, he tries to wrap it in, what is to me, a faulty premise. He wastes a lot of copy blabbing about America "screwing" these SEALS when they leave the service. It is more evidence that people like Bronstein have made a religion of their dreams for a nanny state.  

These guys are tough and smart and I doubt that any one of them needs a nanny. If they play by the rules, they accrue benefits many of us would be happy to have. They have lived on the edge by their own choice and have done so for a worthy ideal: theirs is a life truly well-lived. I feel certain The Shooter will find himself a terrific "job" when he leaves the cocoon of the Navy. If Bronstein believes the premise he promotes, he needs to give us more evidence. And that's a whole 'nother article.

No--we can never, ever, thank these warriors enough for what they have done for us. What they continue to do. Throughout history that has been true. It will always be true. Thanking them is meager indeed: but it is all we can do.

Meanwhile--read this piece. You will fall in love with The Shooter. And have pity on Phil Bronstein. All the excitement in his life has been observing, from the sidelines, others in action (and maybe doing battle from time to time with his movie star ex-wife). Bronstein never wore the uniform of his county. For that, he is poor indeed.

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