Ed Darack has decided to take his distaste for others public. He has attacked Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson, and Gary Williams, along with their books, the SOF community, and anyone that dares provide a different narrative of Operation Red Wings than his. The animosity towards SEALs and SOF (Special Operations Forces) was something I had asked Ed Darack about last year. His now public attack has boiled over into a spectator sport by well-read sites, including Foreign Policy.
Not quite a year ago, Ed Darack's publicist arranged for us to do a review of his book Victory Point and asked if we would like an interview with him. She billed him as an expert on combat in Afghanistan, which was the first feather rubbed wrong with me. He is a journalist, which meant I was skeptical that he'd get the story right. It always amazes me that journalists can get so close to their subject and yet get the story so wrong. And since Veteran-Journalists are not immune, Troops generally have a distrust of even their brothers who've turned to the dark side.
Many journalists are aware of and find ways around such skepticism, as demonstrated in McChrystal's piece in the Rolling Stone. His ways and means did what Michael Yon's veteran status could not, get close enough to inner circle frankness that he could quote them into their demise. Me? I'm blunt up front, in an NCO style that runs off many potential leads and a few PAO's, but I'm not going to deceive those that may or may not get their name plastered on the site. But I digress...
"When we buy into our own BS, we've lost."
He'd say it whenever someone got too uppity about how much better they were than others in the fight. He'd say it when someone thought they were too good for another rehearsal, when they were too good to pay attention to the plan. He'd say it when they believed the hype about how great we were. We were good, but only because we planned and rehearsed what we would do.
The Marines are good. They are some of the best Warriors on the planet. I envy the Corps their camaraderie, their focus on tradition and history, and their uniforms. They've got the best PR engine in the military. And the SEALs PR team runs a close second.
But also let me point out that I am not a Marine, Special Forces or a SEAL, though I've worked around all of them. Each has a speciality, strengths, and weaknesses, which make them good at their mission, but not necessarily the best choice for other operations. Haircuts and "uniforms" alone create a certain animosity between conventional and unconventional commanders. All of them are populated with type A personalities and an air of arrogance, earned, through tough training and accomplished missions.
But Darack bought the hype without verification. Marines expressed frustrations about how a battle had gone down. Marines are honorable, but those frustrations are normal, particularly in joint ops, particularly when those joint ops involve a HQ far removed and overly secretive, particularly when that far HQ makes decisions that effect one's own AO. Those Marines were no doubt frustrated with the decisions, and still are, genuinely. Those closest to me occasionally hear similar complaints about HQs far removed from places I was or unfortunately, too close to where I slept.
Every true Warrior wants to be as far from HQ's as possible, with as much leeway to do things their way as they can achieve. Most Warriors have complaints, valid complaints, that HQ is too restrictive of how they operate. But some of those complaints are based on information the lower unit does not have or does not understand, or simply doesn't accept as valid. Sometimes, HQ's even has a valid reason for their insanities.
OPSEC is not just a word in the SEALs. It's a lifestyle. Special Operations professionals take it to the Nth degree. They don't just keep their planning secret from civilians, but from conventional units, and even secret from other teams in the same unit. "Need to know" applies to everything, and is not defined by those that think they have it. You won't even find out where the compound is, unless you have a good excuse for needing to deliver the pizza and the delivery guy is not likely to know what the compound is. And the location is not even classified as "For Official Use Only." They're just not into giving out information, of any type, no matter how mundane.
The "Secret Squirrel" applies more to Special Operations units than to the units they label it with. But they have a reason not to tell others about their plans. They know people like to share their "secrets," particularly conventional troops like to tell each other about their inside knowledge of the elite troops. The problem is they may share their secret at Burger King or in the mess hall, or on Facebook. I know of one commander who created a false identity on Facebook, just to find out what his conventional troops were saying. It took months for those troops to figure out who was telling the commander on them.
Conversely, there are myths about SEALs, Special Forces, Force Recon, and every other elite unit out there. Often the units and their members revel in the myth, but rarely dispel it, in part for good reasons. One is they don't want to reveal the true limitations and another is it is good for the enemy to fear things more sci-fi than factual.
The interview with Darack did not go so well. First was the fact that I couldn't do it personally. MsMarti did the interview, because Darack wanted to do it on the phone and conditions did not allow me to do a phone interview. I don't like talking on the phone anyway. I provided a list of questions raised in my mind as I read the book.
He vehemently denied any bias. In those denials, I read a confrontational, pompous tone. He didn't like that I questioned his bias or even that I noted it. By the end of his written response, he couldn't identify the difference between a question recognizing his work in telling the Marine story, and his belief that the question was about Lone Survivor which doesn't cover the Marines. I decided to run the review without noting the bias, but simply pointing out that the author had in fact done a very good job of chronicling Marine History. I decided not to run the interview, or a story based on it. I would let the sleeping dog lie. That's where it would have stayed, were it not for his attack on Luttrell.
I decided his positive work on telling the Marine Corps story was important enough, that so long as readers knew that was his focus, I didn't need to highlight that he had virtually no non-Marine sources, or that I like other reviewers noted his anti-SOF (Special Operations Forces) bias. He claimed no one else had noted it, except me, that it was simply my imagination.
He stated my questions were "mischaracterizations" of his book. His responses to criticism fell back on stock journalist excuses: "I was trying to tell it like it is." "I had no expectations." "I am not an analyst." Yet, every story told analyzes the information and frames the story in the expectations of the author, even this one, and even my questions of him.
So, I was astounded, but not surprised, to learn yesterday from Blackfive that Darack had taken it to a new level in a Marine Corps Gazette article. Darack specifically says:
"Analysis of 2 videos made by Shah, as well as other intelligence, indicated 8 to 10 total" insurgents. Marine Corps Gazette, Darack, p.67, Jan 2011
Enemy video and un-sourced "intelligence" is cited as proof that Luttrell is lying, along with Robinson, CJTF-76, and everyone else. I don't care if there were only one Talib in that video, it does not mean there weren't 500 more outside the camera view. There was ONE man that survived that battle, Marcus Luttrell. His survival rested on many things, including his SEAL training and Pashtunwali. I can say with certainty that Ed Darack was not there that day, and as per Darack's own words, neither were the Marines he interviewed. No doubt they wanted to be, as every Warrior has the urge to get in the fight when a fellow Warrior is facing insurmountable odds.
In his conclusion, Darack writes of those that give weight to Luttrell's account over his:
"But if public affairs officials, authors, reporters, and editors, either through gross incompetence or by intentionally chipping the story into a custom-honed narrative - regardless of how noble they believe their motives may be - allow these lessons to be be drowned in a morass of misinformation, then they are lessons to be learned again and again." Marine Corps Gazette, page 67, January 2011
This lesson applies equally to Darack, on his high horse, still upset that Luttrell didn't grant him an interview, still upset that his own antagonistic style did not endear him to Navy Special Operations or the Combined Joint Task Force, that he tears down the book and movie Lone Survivor, by the only witness to the events on that ridge, as fiction.
He points out that another author, Gary Williams, in telling the story of Medal of Honor recipient, Michael Murphy, misidentifies a unit in Seal of Honor. Oddly, the most negative review about Seal of Honor is almost a word for word quotation of the Darack article. The reviewer, "Afghan Mentor" has two reviews, the other of which is high praise for Darack's book, in which he notes the very same negatives about SOF that I asked Darack about.
".. was a NavSOF group consisting of an assortment of U.S. Navy Seals deployed to Afghanistan at that time." Darack, MCG, Jan 2011
"This unit ended up being an assortment of Navy SEALs in country at the time" Afghan Mentor, Amazon Review of Seal of Honor, May 2010
"There is no such unit in the whole of the Marine Corps as "Company C, 1st Battalion (Airborne)" Darack, MCG, Jan 2011
"There is no such unit in the Marine Corps as "Company C, 1st Battalion (Airborne)" Afghan Mentor, Amazon Review of Seal of Honor, May 2010
I have not heard any other person describe a SEAL team, even one thrown together at the last minute, as "an assortment of SEALs." Authors can attempt to write in a non-normal manner to mask their identity and their style can be influenced as they read other writers, but there is no doubt that the criticisms of Afghan Mentor and Darack reflect a relationship of some type.
I haven't read William's book, but I did a quick look at his background. It's his 2nd book and his military experience is limited to the Veteran status of his father. It is a serious error that he got the unit designation wrong, but that error does not discredit the work of Michael Murphy. As per Darrack's own words, the Marines requested 160th SOAR, not "just low level illumination."
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment are the best rotary aviators in the military, probably the world, and they are a Special Operations asset. They are heavily tasked and heavily requested, but even Special Operations Forces can't always get them. The aviators of 101st Air Assault, 1st Cavalry, and 82nd Airborne are also great pilots, as are Marine Aviators. It should not have been a surprise to the Marines of 2/3 that 160th was not available for conventional Marines, but perhaps it would be a surprise that SOF was willing to find a way to support the mission.
Darack complains that Robinson doesn't credit the Marines in a book about Luttrell's personal view of the battlefield, but he only cites "Lone Survivor" or Robinson in the errors he alleges or cites.
Darack claims the "Navy approved" the book as factual, as if it were the Navy's professional choice of story lines. Rather, any person working in classified information is required to submit that work for review for inadvertent release of classified information. The Navy didn't approve the storyline. They approved that it didn't contain damaging classified information. If Luttrell had written a fictional book, the Navy would still have reviewed it for classified disclosures, and had approved it if it contained nothing but imagination without those disclosures.
The Marines in the Korengal did great things and Darack did a great job of telling their story. From the Marine perspective, it would have been much better to use Marine assets, and trust only those they trained with to accomplish their mission.
Special Operations has the same philosophy. It is much better to a SOF operator to use SOF air assets (160th SOAR) than rely on conventional forces. It is much better to a Special Forces (Army 18Z) Team Sergeant to rely on a team from the same company than the same battalion than the same group than a SeAL team, than God Forbid, a conventional unit.
I cannot definitively say why Darack has taken to so aggressively attack anyone not him or the Marines that weighs in on the story, but it is unbecoming to him as an author and to the Marine Corps he loves, that he attacks decorated heroes of the Navy SeALs, living and deceased, along with the authors who've written their story. Darack wrote a fantastic history of the Marines in the Korengal Valley. It may hurt his feelings that the SOF community did not trust him to tell their part, but if Darack would stick to the part of the story he knows and has researched, as Luttrell through Robinson, stuck to the part he knew, the books would compliment each other (as On Call in Hell, Shadow of the Sword, and New Dawn do), even if a phrase here or there could be proven as poorly researched.
I don't know if the animosity from Darack comes from professional envy of other books being more recognized, of hurt feelings that he didn't get the interviews he wanted, or of only knowing one side of the story, but he does very well in telling the part he knows and does a disservice to that in attacking others that had a different part of the story. His book is worthy of a movie and his willingness to tear down SOF in the process will likely endear him to Hollywood. But that is not a positive nor necessary part of the story.
(Lone Survivor is currently listed as #581 in books by Amazon. It has topped the NYTimes bestseller list. Seal of Honor is listed as #25088. Victory Point is listed at #167937)
Marcus Luttrell has gone through more pain than one man should. He has done more than most men can. After surviving the battle, he remains haunted by the memories. And though comforted by his Golden Retriever, miscreants killed her. In his struggles to understand how he survived and his teammates did not, his stories may be remembered different over time, but they do not differ any more than memories falter with the retelling. Both Jack Jacobs, COL(ret) , MoH, and Dave Grossman, LTC(ret) , PhD, recognize the validity of memories changing whether through individual perceptions as Jacobs notes or as the picture sharpens as Grossman notes.
Uncle Jimbo did an interview with Luttrell regarding the award of the Medal of Honor for Michael Monsoor. It demonstrates the way that a true hero views the recognition of someone else. Mr. Darack, you can learn something from Luttrell's humility. Though I have met Luttrell, we are not friends. Though I respect him, I don't put him on a pedestal. Though I know he can defend himself, I too will stand in his defense, from the objective sidelines, having watched this story unfold from the day the team was attacked and seeing the enemy video on the day it was put on the web.
Yes, the enemy captured a classified hard drive, but it was not for lack of attempt to destroy the hard drive, as the team destroyed the laptop it was in. Mr. Darack's purposeful omission of that destruction is condemned in his own conclusions in Marine Corps Gazette.
If you want the Marine side of the story, read Victory Point, but read it with the knowledge that the author has a bone to pick with Luttrell, the SEALS, the SOF community, and the Navy.
As a sidenote, a legitimate inaccuracy was found in Lone Survivor, by Jonn at This Ain't Hell. The fact that Billy Elvin Shelton was not the Special Forces soldier he claimed to be, does not in any way change the decorated war hero Marcus Luttrell became. Shelton is responsible for his own lies. Luttrell stands on his own merits, even if he and his entire town were fooled by Shelton for decades.