Sunday, 17 February 2013
Book Review: Damn Few – Making The Modern Seal Warrior, by Rorke Denver
Ever since three US Navy SEALs lying on the fantail of USS Bainbridge downed three pirates holding a hostage inside a cabin in the MV Maersk Alabama, SEALs have become a household name in the world of counter-terrorism. The assault on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad only cemented that reputation. In case you’ve wondered what it takes to be a US Navy SEAL and what goes into a making of a SEAL warrior, then Rorke Denver’s book Damn Few is for you. True, there have been a number of books on SEALs before, some of them written by former SEALs. Some months ago, I had reviewed former navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette’s book “No Easy Day” which detailed the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad by SEAL Team Six, of which Bissonnette was a part. No Easy Day expends a lot of energy discussing Navy SEAL tactics and the workings of the mind of a SEAL. Similarly “Seal Target Geronimo”, Chuck Pfarrer’s narrative about the bin Laden raid, though burdened with a number of made-up add-ons, describes SEAL training in good detail. However, Denver’s Damn Few is almost entirely about the making of a SEAL and cuts to the chase right from first page. Also, Denver has been involved in training SEALs and one hears from the horse’s mouth how some men make the cut and some don’t. There are a few snippets of action from Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are just that – snippets – more to illustrate how SEAL training helped them than anything else.
Damn Few is not an impersonal description of SEAL selection process and the training imparted to SEALs. Rather, it is Denver’s very personal story of how a sports crazy boy, not particularly good with Math, brought up by a strong-willed, single mother, motivated by Winston Churchill's writings, ended up as a SEAL. In addition to SEAL training, there are touching tales of Denver growing up with his younger brother, with whom he is very close, bits of family history and how Denver met his wife Tracy.
Like his predecessor Bissonnette, Denver steers clears of politics. This is a soldier’s narrative and it’s written in black and white. They are good guys and there are bad guys and no prizes for guessing who the good guys are. If you are looking for a discussion on American politics or on the decision to invade Iraq or Afghanistan, you will be disappointed. Denver is a soldier who obviously believes in obeying orders – his not to question why.
Denver’s narrative, assisted no doubt by co-author Ellis Henican, a columnist at Newsday, reads very well. The language is simple with an occasional flourish. However, what makes Damn Few stand out from other books about SEALs is that Denver not only trained to be a SEAL, but has been involved in training others and devising training plans. In fact, Denver’s involvement in SEAL training is so total that he allows his readers to be privy to crucial questions such as whether quality will be compromised if the number of SEALs is drastically increased.
In all, Damn Few is an excellent book for any SEAL fan.