Navy SEAL warrior offers philosophy in new book

Reuters News
Posted: May 25, 2011 5:19 PM
Navy SEAL warrior offers philosophy in new book

By Wendell Marsh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden also left the American public captivated by the unknown men who did the deed and the elite fighting force to which they belong.

With the participants in the raid shielded from the media and unable to tell their own stories, one possible beneficiary is a book about the SEALs that hit the market just ahead of the May 1 action in Pakistan.

Debuting in April, Eric Greitens' "The Heart and the Fist" tells the story of a Rhodes Scholar with a PhD in politics turned Navy SEAL.

It had been doing well, but sales doubled and tripled after the May 1 raid, according to its publisher. That increase was enough to take it from not even registering on the New York Times bestseller list, to being in the top 10 last week.

While Greitens knows many of the sales come from the jump in public curiosity after the raid, he says readers are also responding to the deeper message of a book that insists compassion and courage are two sides of the same coin.

"It's a story about service on the front lines," Greitens told Reuters in a telephone interview while crisscrossing the country in support of his non-profit work with disabled veterans, and publicizing his book.

"The big idea of the book is that everyone has a frontline in their life, whether that frontline is a Navy SEAL going through training or serving in a combat deployment, or doing humanitarian work overseas."

Public service -- which for Greitens certainly includes military service -- is central to his idea of what it means to live a flourishing life.

In that sense, Greitens, 37, has written a work outlining a modern philosophy through his story of an impressive and accomplished life that was influenced in turn by others who lived their lives well.

He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the history of humanitarianism, worked with Mother Teresa's nuns, and earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star as a Navy SEAL in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the book.

His philosophy, the belief that what is needed most in modern life is a commitment to continued excellence in every domain, draws on Greek philosophers and other writers.

Greitens' development as a SEAL also reflected this mindset, and emphasized, like the Greeks, that excellence and virtue are not givens but are developed through action.

"One of the things that was impressive to me about the SEAL training was that it was training not just in physical and tactical skills," Greitens said.

"But it was also training in the kind of mental and moral excellence you need to be a warrior. There were these ideas around how you develop a full and complete life."

His work includes examples of both kinds of training. Even as a champion boxer and a marathon runner, he said that what took him to his physical limit was something called log training.

A team of about seven men have to complete tasks with a log that weighs a few hundred pounds and leaves them with constantly searing muscles.

"You're body gets pushed past any normal limit of your strength," Greitens said. For those who are successful, "they recognize that their physical strength has run out and they are pushed past the envelope of their talent to the core of their character."

"It's not physical training," he concluded. "Its actually spiritual training by physical means."

American society as a whole would do well to recommit itself to those ideas of moral, intellectual, and physical excellence, creating citizens and warriors who live those values on the front lines of both war and peace, Greitens said.

But what might be most important for the country to do, according to Greitens, is to diminish the gap between citizen and warrior.

On the one hand, "we have to have people who are thoughtful in the United States military," Greitens said. At the same time, "you just have to have those people who have served."

"They also have to play roles in our intellectual life, engaging in those questions and adding to those questions about what it means to be an American and what it means for us all to live well."

People have always approached Greitens about becoming a SEAL. Now, more young people than ever are asking his advice.

"The SEAL teams are not the right choice for everyone," he said. But "I do tell everybody that there is a way for everyone to be of service."

(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Greg McCune)