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A Good Question Based on a Good Book

Posted 04-23-2009 at 03:41 PM by Casino
Here is a question to stir some thoughts and question who we are as a society, and even your own moral base. To some this question may seem a very simple decision, but to others it may challange their thoughts and world perspective, which is what I hope to do.

With that said, please do not ruin this blog because you may think that this decision is easy while someone else may not. We are all different, and this is meant to stimulate your own conscience, NOT OTHERS.

On to the beef. I finished a book recently titled "Lone Survivor", by Marcus Luttrell (Non-Fiction = True). A very touching book, I must say myself.

The book takes place in 2005 and tells a harrowing tale of how a US Navy SEAL Team was hunted down in the mountains of Afghanistan by no less than an army of Taliban fighters, and it is told by the only survivor of the encounter.

For those not familiar with the Armed Forces, the Navy SEALS (Sea, Air, Land; the three elements that they operate in) are the most elite Special Forces units in the United States military, and arguably the best in the entire world. Marcus Luttrell starts the book off by explaining this, and takes the reader through all of his intense training in the US and later Iraq, all leading up to his missions in Afghanistan.

The real heart of this book takes place right before the squad of four SEALs was discovered up in the mountains. While observing an Afghani village for suspected terrorists from an overlooking ridge, three Afghani goatherds accidentally stumble upon the SEALs’ hiding position on the ridge. If released, the SEALs took the chance that the goatherds would go back to the village and warn any Taliban militants of the SEALs’ presence in the mountains above. All the SEALs knew that the chance of that happening was high as they were in “hostile” territory. They took a vote on whether to release the three Afghani men or to kill them on the mountain side. The final deciding vote was left to Marcus, and he chose to let them live.

Only a day later, over 200 Taliban militants came searching the mountain for the four SEALs looking for blood. They found it. After a firefight that lasted for over eight hours, three of the SEALs lay dead, along with over eighty of the terrorist militia. The last SEAL narrowly escaped death by crawling into a crevice on the face of the mountain. Wounded, he managed to crawl his way back towards their original drop-off point, only to be found by more Afghani mountain men. These men, though, through a tribal tradition known as lokhay warkawal, took Marcus in and tended to his wounds. They protected and hid him from the Taliban until a military search and rescue party eventually found him.

This is an awsome book, and I highly recommend it. It shows the awsome power of our elite forces, but also the universal language of humanity and selflessness.

The moral dilemma that the SEALs faced is a timeless question. Would you have let the three goatherds go, knowing full well that it could easily mean the death of you and your team, the people you care most about? Not only that, but civilian lives lay on the line as well. Thoughts?
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  1. Old
    blacksheep_p's Avatar
    i ran into some of those same kinds of questions, while on my tour in iraq. do i return fire at the ten year old shooting at me with an ak-47? do i go out into fire to get the wounded iraqi that just slowed our convoy down so that it could be hit with IED's? everyday people face similar decisions. even some that seem less dire but still all the more important. i hate this guy at work, do i screw him over so that i can get the raise? do i check my significant other's phone because i have a little distrust in me? much like the example you gave above, you have profound impacts on all the people that you encounter. and as such your decisions are important to them as well. my father told me once that you do something good or right not because you want reward or acknowledgement, but because you know it is the right thing to do. you posed a very good question. would i have let them go? i don't really think there is a right answer to that. i think i might have though. out of that sense that i don't want to cause people harm just for the sake of myself. it is a really good way to measure the mettle of another by seeing the kinds of things that they have done in other meaningful moments. sorry got a little philosophical... took a few too many ethics classes!
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 02:08 AM by blacksheep_p blacksheep_p is offline
  2. Old
    Blade's Avatar
    Hard cold truth? I would have either kill them all or tried to send them in a very different direction. The latter would have been time consuming which could have been impossible to do. I know it is much easier to say than actually do but lets just analyze for a minute.

    If you let them go, there is a high chance they will talk (were they boys or girls? ) if they do talk, they will most likely say a team of bad guy is trying to find who ever is hiding in your village, which pretty much mean you kinda support the guy. Then, they will obviously send people at the bad guys, and battle will follow, which will most likely kill people on both side. Now we don't care too much about the villagers but what about the seals? what about their wives, their kids, their families? As much as it sucks, when you decide to stay in the war zone, you must accept the risks coming with it. Yes, the goaters were at the wrong place and the wrong time, **** happens. But the end results stay the same, SEALS died and left families behind. To me, it is a simple choice: If I have no choice but to kill either my wife/kid or the neighbor, who do you think I will shoot (and YES, I do love my wife, before you think I would even think about shooting her )

    War is ugly and nasty. Being a soldier can be ugly and nasty but this is a reality. If you have a gun, you must be ready to use and kill. If you don't you will end up killed. If you go in an hostile territory, this is your life against the rest of the world. I don't know, I could be so wrong but it is like 9/11. People were saying human rights were not being respected. Heck, if a Canadian terrorist would come in the US and blow up a building, I would expect and demand that all Canadians be on a watch list. If the US would get under attack, I would expect the aggressor to come in my house and do what they want or worse. Screw the human rights or Geneva convention. War is war and there is nothing fair about it.

    So being said, sorry for the goaters but analytically speaking, they should have been shot. The seals did not shoot them, they ended up dead. I know "Saving Private Ryan" is just a movie but I am sure it happened in real life; when you decide to "save" someone (think about Caparso or even the prisoner in the bunkers), it will bite you in the *** later.
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 07:39 AM by Blade Blade is offline
    Updated 04-24-2009 at 07:42 AM by Blade
  3. Old
    mr_kong's Avatar
    The media had a big part in their decision as well, which is a very important detail when dealing with non-combatants (i.e. the goat-herders at the time)

    If you can, take a look back at that section of the book where they were debating whether to kill them or not.

    Knowing that media would hound you and your unit, would that change your decision?

    Me, no... I ****ing hate the drive-by media. I would not let the goat herders go if it meant risking the mission and the lives of my team mates.
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 09:38 AM by mr_kong mr_kong is offline
  4. Old
    Texx's Avatar
    There are reports of these type things happening in most conflicts. When you think about it, this thing is bound to come up fairly often in Unconventional Warfare operations in the third world.
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 12:26 PM by Texx Texx is offline
  5. Old
    blacksheep_p's Avatar
    aahhh "screw the geneva convention" i am not too comfortable with that statement. part of the tenants of guerilla warfare is the de-legitimize the larger power. lets take a look at the previous war in Afghanistan with the soviets... on paper the soviets should have crushed the muhjahadeen within a year or so, but the war drug on. when they started to lose momentum, the soviets got desperate and started doing the types of things that we are talking about now. that drew the eyes of the rest of the world and condemned them to "p.r. purgatory". this drew the united states into the conflict with the idea of destabilizing the soviet union. we started funding the war, the soviets lost and left. there are tons of examples of this same thing in recent history. the vietnam war, the us lost legitimacy when reports of humans rights violations started seeping out, the vietnamese capitalized on the us faltering in its strategy to save face, hippies helped stop a war with public opinion. as a former soldier with combat experience, the smart ones learn very quick that though something can be good in the immediate future (i.e. killing goat herders to protect your mission), it may not be good for the overall effort. would they have killed the SEAL's given the chance, sure, but the moment that you stoop to their level you become no better than them. and once you lose the moral high ground, you have lost the war, no matter how well you have done with boots on the ground. that's when creative solutions come into play. maybe they should have held and hid them and just let them go after the mission? circumstances may have been different, but killing civilians is never a good idea whether morals or tactics are your reasons.
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 01:00 PM by blacksheep_p blacksheep_p is offline
  6. Old
    mr_kong's Avatar
    Blacksheep_p you have great information, but it's quite hard to read through... If you could, please capitalize and space out sections. It helps a lot.

    Anyway, the problem with holding and hiding them is they are goat herders. They have a herd and usually have a set path traveled. Now if they were detained, and they didn't reach a "checkpoint" at a certain time, someone would think there is something amiss. That would then result in sending more out... These mountain people do rely partly on their livestock.

    Logical, no?
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 01:48 PM by mr_kong mr_kong is offline
  7. Old
    Blade's Avatar
    But you are now mixing psychological warfare with warfare. If countries want to look good, they just have to avoid the war plain and simple. We lost wars because we went in for the wrong reasons. Why doesn't take XYZ numbers of casualty to finally realize we should not be fighting? The day you lose one man, it doesn't matter if it is one or thousand anymore, you still lost a man that can never be replaced. Iran sent thousands of children on the front line against Iraq saying to would go to heaven, no one really did anything against it because they all believed it was true. 9/11: We lost 3000 citizens? time to go to war. We lost 3000 soldiers? hmm, maybe we should not be there afterall.
    It is all about how you perceive things. It is a matter of words and charisma.

    But again blacksheep, I did not say they should have killed for morale or tactics, I said they should have killed for their own survival. They did not and they are now 6ft under with all the consequences. Who knows if the "terrorists" wouldn't been stopped by the team and avoiding another XYZ number of road bomb deaths. Yes, we can say we will never know but technically speaking, they took the wrong decision.

    p.s. Now if there more details in the book than what we can read here, I apologize .

    p.s.2. Kong, it is logical, the only thing though is shooting/tying the goaters would have give several hours to the SEAL team to either move out (they were compromised) or carry out their mission as far as they could.
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 01:59 PM by Blade Blade is offline
  8. Old
    blacksheep_p's Avatar
    Thanks for the polite tip Mr. Kong, it is rare for someone on a forum to correct someone in a nice way. So thank you.

    As per my previous post, I am just saying to look at the big picture. Warfare as numbers is the most simplistic thing you could possibly do, and that is not giving either side the thought that they deserve.

    Real life example:
    2004. I was on a convoy in iraq. a 10 year old boy picked up a discarded AK-47 and started shooting at my squad and I after we had finished a prolonged firefight.

    Warfare as numbers perspective: kill the kid and that is one less terrorist = we are winning

    Simplistic short-term: kills the kid because he is jeopardizing the mission. Successful mission = we win.

    Big Picture: the real action taken. Not shoot the kid, subdue and restrain him. it was more dangerous but it had several good outcomes. Turned out the dad was one of the insurgents that shot at us, we had killed him within sight of his son. The son was obviously hurt, and in the heat of the moment wanted to kill us.
    The "goods" of this decision were:

    On the small scale the 10 year old and all of us are alive. We wouldn't have to live with the thought of killing a child.

    On the large scale, with one less human rights violation the war in Iraq holds its legitimacy with the American people, and at the time (2004) John Q Public was still pro Iraq War.

    I am not trying to be mean or trying to upset anyone. I am just trying to say, look at the big picture. Killing goat herders may have been the immediate good, but in the long run it would have been one more nail in the US war effort. Now these men are heros, even American martyrs if you will, for not only taking the high road, but taking the fight to the Taliban in true US Special forces style.

    I can only sympathize with the survivor, I too lost some friends in combat, but war as numbers is a philosophy that sells both the Taliban fighters and the SEAL's short. And forgoing human rights for the sake of victory makes even the heros into villains. Joseph Stalin was a great ally in World War II, but to win he killed almost 20 million of his own people. That number is much larger than the number of people Hitler had killed. ( )
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 02:48 PM by blacksheep_p blacksheep_p is offline
  9. Old
    mr_kong's Avatar
    God damn bureaucrats...
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 03:06 PM by mr_kong mr_kong is offline
  10. Old
    Blade's Avatar
    I understand and agree with a way. Now let me turn this situation all around. What if your whole squad would have died while trying to stop the kid?

    To me, it is not about winning, it is about survival.
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 03:08 PM by Blade Blade is offline
  11. Old
    Dougrich's Avatar
    Well, since they are Navy Seals and there mission usually remain secreat for sometime I'd have killed them, if I was in that situation.

    The media can suck a fat one when lives are in danger and so can politics. I'll chose life over even the remote possiblity of death.
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 04:24 PM by Dougrich Dougrich is offline
  12. Old
    blacksheep_p's Avatar
    Well what if my squad would have been killed? It is a fair question, but is a "what if" question. Much like the example above, what if they had killed them? since decisions cannot be undone, you just have to do what you felt was right at the time. Hindsight is always 20/20, and really giving an answer to a question that already has one is sort of moot.

    But if my guys would have been torn up would i have done the same thing? Yes. I wouldn't change a thing. When you do things without morals you become the animals that you fear... No one ever said that doing the right thing would be easy. That is why people do the wrong things more often, they ARE easy.

    It was a fair question to ask, and now I have one for you. You are looking at a man. You have him tied and bound in the dirt. You aren't in immediate danger, and you aren't reacting to aggression. You are less than 3 feet from him and you have the barrel of your M4 or M9 leveled at his head execution style. you are looking him in the eyes, can you pull the trigger? Here is a simple exercise to you see if you can do it, do find a dog, any dog will do, and put a gun to its head and kill it. If you can't do that, then you can't kill a man. Killing someone is a very horrible thing, and not something that you can just posture about and easily say you can do. It's been almost five years for myself, and I still have problems with the stuff I have had to do, and that wasn't nearly as personal as the situation that those men were in. My advice is not to make things so overly simple, because things never are...
    Posted 04-24-2009 at 10:55 PM by blacksheep_p blacksheep_p is offline
    Updated 04-25-2009 at 02:47 AM by blacksheep_p (grammar...)
  13. Old
    DemonicUnicorn2's Avatar
    Blade, I take issue with something you said because you came from a one sided perspective.
    Now we don't care too much about the villagers but what about the seals? what about their wives, their kids, their families?
    My question to you is this, why should we not care, as humans, about the families left behind of the ~80 men from the village? Because they're our nations 'enemy'? They're on their own soil being observed by unwanted eyes, is it not logical for them to want to blind those eyes?

    I'm not trying to say that this is an unjust war, I'm just saying that things are 2 sided in life. When you feel threatened you either flee or fight. When it is your homeland and outsiders are the perceived threat fleeing only shows weakness.

    So lets take a theoretical situation from the perspective of the goaters. Tell the villagers and be praised, or not tell the villagers and risk the entire village being searched and friends and family being taken away or killed. Basically do you take the fight to them or let them bring it to you?

    This is a crappy situation on both sides, my honest thoughts are that they should have left the villagers be and called of the mission. Radioed in for E-vac and scouted the town at another time.
    Posted 04-25-2009 at 01:39 AM by DemonicUnicorn2 DemonicUnicorn2 is offline
  14. Old
    blacksheep_p's Avatar
    Demonicunicorn, I whole heartily agree with you on that sentiment. I guess it is something that you just have to be in those same types of situations to see.

    We as a nation are foreign aggressors on their soil, obstructing their way of life, and altering their political landscape. I both understand and feel for them and their cause both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine if our nation were in their position would we not do the same? And their lives and families are on the same level of importance as every other human being on this planet, they are no worse because they are currently our "enemy". But imagine if you died in battle and you lived in a place like that, where utilities are a luxury, what is life insurance, who will feed the family? They died fighting for what they thought was right, and their families got nothing for their sacrifice...

    I say this stuff and I am a vet! But I guess I just respect them for their tenacity and they strength of their beliefs.
    Posted 04-25-2009 at 02:40 AM by blacksheep_p blacksheep_p is offline
  15. Old
    Blade's Avatar
    Demonic, don't get me wrong with my comments. I did not and will not debate on whether we should be there or not, that is a complete different thing. I start from the point that soldiers (and it doesn't have to be US soldiers and could apply to any countries really) have a job to do and must take actions to get it done.You can reverse the whole story all around (afghans troops invading US for example) and I would have the same mentality but for the afghans instead.

    To be able to analyze the discussion at hand, you must forget countries of origin, religion, politics and just go as a pure logical sense. US soldiers deserve to die as much as the enemy and the enemy deserve to live as much as the US soldier. You know what I mean? That is why I would expect the same thing to happen to me if they were coming here. No one is "better" than anyone else in a war.
    Posted 04-25-2009 at 09:23 PM by Blade Blade is offline
  16. Old
    Posted 04-28-2009 at 05:18 PM by Sundown Sundown is offline
  17. Old
    Wraith's Avatar
    A true dilema, on one hand, you aren't at war with the goat herder and being human I can see where there would be any question as to what to do, but being in a situation where it is kill or be killed, there really isn't too many options. I'd drop them in a heartbeat. I would hope that I would feel remorse about it when I had the luxury of safety to reflect on it, but in that situation you can't think about those things. That's why they train so rigorously is so their tasks are second nature that comes without thinking. Once you take the time to think about the situation, your chances of loss increase.
    Posted 06-21-2009 at 10:58 PM by Wraith Wraith is offline

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