Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Voting in Combat

A new book tells the story of the mission and decimation of a SEAL team in Afghanistan in 2005. It is written by the sole survivor and even though that genre of books are often cut by the same cookie-cutter, this one details a very interesting and controversial core dilemma.

The SEAL team is staking out an Afghan village when they are discovered by a couple of young goat hearders. The dilemma now is if they should kill them or let them go. The commanding SEAL officer then puts the dilemma up for a vote, reminding his people of the ramifications of media warfare where what happens in Afghanistan, certainly doesn't stay in Afghanistan (General Krulac's notion of the Three Block Warfare).

"Then, Luttrell said, Murphy then warned his men that if they killed the goatherds, they would have to report the deaths, and the Taliban would publicize them, as well.

?[T]he U.S. liberal media will attack us without mercy,? Luttrell quotes Murphy as saying. ?We will almost certainly be charged with murder.?

And then, according to the book, Lt. Murphy turned to Luttrell, the petty officer second class. ?Marcus, I?ll go with you,? Murphy said. ?Call it.?"

This decision, of course, has been received with great controversy: A commanding officer that gives up his command for vote. But the book's author didn't see it as relinquishing the command:

"By putting the issue to a vote, Murphy was not abdicating his command responsibility, Luttrell said. ?Not at all. He had total control. He was in total command out there the whole time. He was a consummate professional.?"

I think this story shows a very underdeveloped face of modern, western warfare. Democracy, for which we fight, is seen as anathema to the logics of warfare. In armies such as the American with a tradition for hierarchy and a strong line of command, this will create controversies. In smaller armies such as the Danish, there might be a tradition for a more flat line of command. But still, it is controversial, letting the soldiers vote on a moral issue with operational implications. If it wasn't so tragically real for those three SEALs that were killed by the Talibans alerted by the young goathearders who were set free, this would be the stuff of movies. And by all accounts it is a sad celebration of democracy and humanism in times of war.

Surviving SEAL tells story of deadly mission - Army Times



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