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Former Navy Seal Speaks to Econ Club

December 9, 2009

On Monday, Marcus Luttrell, a former US Navy Seal and author of the book The Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing & Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10, spoke to an estimated 700 people at a luncheon hosted by the Economics Club of Grand Rapids.  

Luttrell, who served in Afghanistan & Iraq, spent the first 20 minutes talking about growing up in a military family and how he wanted to be a Navy Seal ever since he was a teenager. The former soldier also said that his father used “to beat me even if I didn’t do anything.”

This comment summed up a great deal of Luttrell’s attitude and reflected a hyper-masculinity that anti-violence advocate Jackson Katz addresses in his documentary Tough Guise and what former Army Ranger Stan Goff address in his book Sex & War. Luttrell kept emphasizing the toughness that was needed to be a Navy Seal and that it was his training that kept him alive in Afghanistan.

There is no doubt after listening to the speaker that one would have a certain level of respect for what Luttrell endured. He was shot numerous times, had broken bones, a broken back and a disfigured face after being caught in an ambush by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. However, once you got past the super-patriotism of his comments there was a different message that came through.

Luttrell talked often about his role of being undercover in the mountains of Afghanistan, where he would collect intelligence on the enemy and then “kill people if given the green light.” He told the audience that he would often tell people before being deployed “after 9/11 that when I was in Afghanistan I was gonna get another one for you.” Every time he spoke of killing Afghanis he would use the word dispatch, as in “I threw a grenade and dispatched some more of them.”

Luttrell said that after he escaped the ambush there were some Afghan civilians who found him and took him to their village. A few days later while recovering the Taliban showed up. Luttrell said, “You can always identify a Taliban because their beard is well kept, they have nice teeth, spoke good English and were educated at places like Yale.” This is certainly not the picture you get from reading Ahmed Rashid’s book Taliban, or the investigative journalism of Anand Gopal.

Luttrell then said he was eventually rescued by US Army Rangers and spent months in the hospital having reconstructive surgery. He did some time in Iraq after he recovered by eventually received an honorable discharge.

At the end of his talk David VanAndel, current President of the Econ Club, said, “thank you for being in Afghanistan on our behalf.” With that Luttrell received a standing ovation.

As I walked through the crowd I noticed CEOs, university presidents, leaders in the Chamber of Commerce, lawyers, and other representatives of the City’s economic elite. Since there was no Q&A I could only wonder what those in attendance really thought about the speaker or why the Econ Club would have Marcus Luttrell address an economic minded crowd.

I had hoped there would be a link between President Obama’s recent decision to escalate the US occupation in Afghanistan and the speaker, but that never came to pass. However, based on the standing ovations Luttrell received it might be an indication of what the City’s economic elite think about the US occupation of Afghanistan, now in its ninth year.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    December 9, 2009 5:51 pm

    This is such an interesting analysis of this event. The issue of hyper-masculinity is also addressed in a different way by Darius Rejali, an international expert on torture. He is currently speaking to the problem of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan who react with extreme violence in war/occupation settings, without consequence in most cases, and then come back to their homes and bring that into their civilian lives.

    And getting accolades and standing ovations for that attitude is not exactly going to help.

    Luttrell wrote a book called “Lone Survivor” about his Navy Seal experience. The book opens with this: “It was payback time for the World Trade Center. We were coming after the guys who did it. If not the actual guys, then their blood brothers, the lunatics who wanted us dead and might try it again.”

    This “pre-emptive strike” mentality (“MIGHT try it again”), multiplied throughout the military and the administration, seems to be at the heart of our attacks on Iraq and our terrible occupation of Afghanistan.

    There is also a chilling moment in Luttrell’s book where he and some other soldiers run down “three Afghan scarecrows.” After a lengthy struggle with what he calls his “Christian soul,” Luttrell decides to let them go because it would “be wrong to execute these unarmed men in cold blood.” A page later, he comments about his decision, “I’d turned into a f*cking liberal, a half-assed, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain, and the judgment of a jackrabbit.” Again, the pre-emptive mentality shows here.

    It is interesting to speculate who, exactly, in the Economic Club thought that he was an appropriate speaker for that group. Was it your impression that Van Andel had anything to do with the choice? Or wasn’t that apparent in the introduction?

  2. December 9, 2009 6:02 pm

    Kate, thanks for your comments and the additional info on Luttrell. Based on his comments, it didn’t appear that Van Andel personally had much to do with the choice of Luttrell as a speaker. There is a program committee listed on the Econ Club website, but the most recent is for 2007-2008, so hard to tell who had a say in the speaker coming to Grand Rapids.

  3. karen permalink
    December 10, 2009 6:08 pm

    Thank you for the good information on Luttrell; the audience response is truly frightening. Thanks to Kate as well for knowing so much!

  4. Charles Sprinkles permalink
    April 20, 2012 2:42 pm

    Why is when a SEAL needs to be rescued they send in the RANGERS?

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