As former Navy SEAL Mark Owen states in his author’s note, "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden" is not the place to go if your only reason for reading is to get SEAL secrets.
But that should in no way be a deterrent from reading "No Easy Day."
Though sometimes bogged down in acronyms, Owen’s account of the planning that went into the mission, and others in his years and many deployments with the Navy, are an interesting peek into the life of a SEAL.
All throughout, Owen — writing under a pseudonym — successfully stresses the brotherhood and team mentality that exists in a unique way among SEALs. Everything is "WE are this," "WE did this."
He also does a good job humanizing the men. They are husbands and fathers and sons and brothers. But when it comes to their job, everything else is second priority. Though they choose this lifestyle for themselves, their sacrifice is inspiring.
The book is an excellent companion to Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie "Zero Dark Thirty." If you’re going to experience both, I recommend seeing the movie first and then reading the book.
"Zero Dark Thirty" provides all the back story of the CIA tracking down Osama bin Laden while making the SEALs, with the exception of the raid, look almost schlubby. (Movie sidebar: I love him, but I could not take Chris Pratt, from "Parks and Recreation," seriously. Really poor casting. Who would ever let Andy Dwyer be a Navy SEAL? It’s preposterous.)
On the flip side, "No Easy Day" is all SEALs and hardly mentions the CIA. Experiencing both gives you the full picture of all that went on to track down and kill bin Laden.
I’m still not 100 percent sure where I stand on the controversy surrounding the book. Owen certainly held to his word and did not reveal anything that seemed top-secret. The raid itself seemed to be identically depicted in "Zero Dark Thirty," and last year’s "Act of Valor" gave away far more insight into SEAL tactics.
Owen states his purpose for writing the book was a desire to set the record straight on that very high-profile assignment. The inaccurate information out there was too much for him, and he just had to have his say. I can empathize with that but, at the end of the day, he broke the SEALs’ cardinal rule of secrecy.
Despite a lot of public recognition lately, the SEALs are famously in the shadows. So I also can understand the diatribes of men who have essentially been reminding Owen that the first (and second) rule of SEALs Club is you do not talk about SEALs Club.
In an article I read about the controversy surrounding the book, a former Navy SEAL made a comment that I think sums up the feelings of disgust targeted at Owen: "Mark, the men who stood next to you should have been everything you needed. Now we weep from your betrayal and we pray for your soul."
Though a little dramatic, it sort of makes me less empathetic to Team Owen-Isn’t-Even-Your-Real-Name and sways me toward Team SEAL.
Owen is plain about his struggle to view the mission as just another mission, and the publication of "No Easy Day" is proof that he ultimately lost that battle with himself. Perhaps his opponents feel he got his comeuppance when his true identity was exposed surrounding the release of the book.
Though I enjoyed "No Easy Day," and would recommend it, the fact that it offered no real surprises sort of magnifies Owen’s betrayal of the brotherhood. If he was going to break the code, it seems to me that it should have been worth it. Go big or go home. His tale was unnecessary when someone else could have told it, as "Zero Dark Thirty" did, and his reputation with the SEALs could have been preserved.
From a public perception, I don’t really think he did anything wrong. The SEALs are interesting, and people want to know more about them. But, ultimately, a regard for their personal safety, and the opportunities their secrecy afford them, make me willing to accept not knowing much.
The temptation to attach himself to such a historic event must have been too strong for Owen to overcome. But I can respect the code of honor that sets a SEAL apart, and it does seem a little sad that he wasn’t able to uphold it.