There’s nothing like sex and violence if you want the hit the top of the best seller charts, so it’s no surprise that the violent No Easy Day rocketed to number 1 on Amazon, thrusting aside the sex and bondage extravaganza 50 Shades of Grey. Since I’m smack in the middle of writing an action packed sci-fi war epic, with a Special Forces hero, I had to have the book as soon as it came out. It didn’t disappoint. I cranked through it in about a day and half.
Overall, the book reads at a rip-roaring clip. I’ve chewed through a bunch of military fiction in recent years, including a number of books about the SEALs, like Warrior Soul, by Chuck Pfarrer, an author who ironically tried to chronicle the raid in 2011 but got most of the facts dead wrong. No Easy Day, which takes its name from the old SEAL adage, “the only easy day was yesterday,” has a lot of advantages over many of the books about SEALs who served after the Vietnam War. Since Vietnam was an all out war, the stories from that era, like Men In Green Faces, offer constant action. Books from peacetime offer a lot of training but not much combat, since the missions in peacetime are few and far between, or limited by ridiculous engagement rules. No Easy Day, was written by a modern SEAL, during a time of constant war. It’s hard to imagine sometimes, but Americans have been fighting wars on multiple fronts for more than a decade now. The author, Mark Owen, aka Matt Bissonnette, was deployed constantly to Iraq and Afghanistan for the entire decade, with as many as 14 deployments, with only a few weeks off in between.
With the constant deployments, we get a series of non-stop action pieces about the wars. These men learned from real combat. They learned through constant training and fighting and killing. Let’s be clear, this book is no The Things They Carried. It’s not filled with deep musing on the nature of combat and the human experience. The first time Bissonnette kills someone he says he was surprised that he didn’t feel much of anything. Someone was trying to kill him, but he killed the guy instead. Nuff said. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. The Things They Carried is a classic. This book was written by a different kind of man, an adrenaline junkie, a hunter, someone who can endure punishment and stress that would break most of us fast. SEALs are the ultimate war-fighters. Nobody gets to be a SEAL because they didn’t want to be. The training is designed to weed out anyone who isn’t absolutely and totally committed and it does so fast and hard. The members of DEVGRU, more commonly know as Seal Team Six, are even more rarefied. They’re the SEAL all-stars. Like the book says, “it was no longer good enough for me to be a SEAL. Just passing was failing. Second place was the first loser.” These aren’t men who don’t want to fight. They want to fight all the time. “The dirty secret of it all is that everyone, including me, loved it.”
This isn’t the first book I’ve read on DEVGRU, but it’s probably the best. I never really bought all of the self-aggrandizing bullshit that Richard Marcinko was selling. His stuff reads like a bad action flick and it’s probably as accurate as Schwarzenegger’s 80’s blood fest, Commando. You just get the feeling those books are all bluster and legend making. The modern SEAL is more humble, a workman, a master of his trade.
Despite the Pentagon’s claims that parts of the book are inaccurate or filled with classified information, I just don’t buy it. Having read it, the Pentagon’s bs doesn’t pass the sniff test. From the beginning the book is notable for what it leaves out. The book even starts with a forward that says, “If you are looking for secrets, you won’t find them here.” It’s obvious that there’s nothing in here that is sensitive, other than in the warped minds of people whose job it is to be paranoid. Other books about Delta Force and SEALs go into a lot more details on training and tactics. Frankly, everyone in Washington who knew anything about this leaked more secrets then the pages of No Easy Day. This book is notable for being circumspect. None of the other SEALs in his unit are described physically or with any characteristics you could identify, like a drawl or a lisp or a scar. The most detailed character development is a guy who plays pranks. And from the beginning when the SEALs are choppering in on “Blackhawks” the author does not mention one word about it being a special stealth Blackhawk, despite everyone in the world knowing it, since we all saw the tale on the news and the President had to ask for it back from Pakistan in a famously humbling incident after the raid. None of that bothers me. I’m more interested in the mentality of a SEALs and the emotion of going in that night on a crazy raid. On that front, the book really delivers.
Obama doesn’t get much credit for the raid from his detractors. Even the book said that they don’t have much love for the man. But it was a gutsy call to send guys into an ally country, without telling them. The CIA wanted to simply, “push the easy button” and just bomb the place, as the CIA analyst known only as “Jen” says in the book. That doesn’t surprise me. Frankly, as the book notes, we don’t have a hell of a lot of success with raids like this historically. We’ve fucked them up, more than we’ve been successful at them. There were countless ways this could have gone wrong with a lot of blow back for everyone in the world. I suspect the only reason we pulled this off was because of the constant combat experience of the guys who went on the raid. Constant war irons out all the mistakes that just can’t be captured in training. These guys train all the time, but nothing can substitute for getting shot at and going into a building not knowing if you are going to come out.
The book needed to be written. We all wanted the story, even if a lot of the juicy secrets about specialized weapons and tech and tactics are left out. That’s not the important part anyway. In 30 years, when all of the tech is considered hopelessly out of date, we will get those details. This is a book about our time, our lives. We’ve all lived with constant wars since 9/11. We’ve all wanted to see Bin Laden dead. I suspect that the politicians are actually pretty happy about the book at the upper levels. It will serve as a PR letter for Obama’s campaign. My friend Peter will probably even say it’s a conspiracy to get the man re-elected. I don’t care about any shit like that. It’s all part of the story. And it’s a great story. It’s not just the SEALs’ story. It’s all of our stories for the past ten years. It’s a piece of the reality we’ve lived with ever since those bastards flew themselves into the towers in my city. I still remember running outside on 36th street and seeing the second tower fall in a TV store with 100 other New Yorkers crammed in. I still remember my lungs burning for weeks as the fucking white smoke poured from the towers, spraying asbestos and God knows what else into the sky for months. I’m glad the motherfucker is dead. I don’t care if he fought back or if he was on his knees begging for his life. And I know I’m not alone in wishing that I were there to pull the fucking trigger. No Easy Day is the closest most of us will ever get. It’s good enough.