No Easy Day, which is a Navy SEAL's autobiography that includes the most detailed account of Operation Neptune Spear, the operation that resulted in the killing of the most notorious terrorist of recent times. This controversial book has been widely covered in the mainstream press and I'm sure it didn't escape your radar. The purpose of this mini-review is to share a few pointers about its value in the understanding of modern conflict and -let's not forget this is a gaming blog- its worthiness for our hobby.
Let me put two things clear right from the start. First, I have an enormous admiration for all the servicemen that put their lives on the line of fire in this crazy world of seemingly eternal conflict. All of them, the ones who write and the ones who remain silent and anonymous. Second, I do not posses neither the intellectual tools nor the insider knowledge to pass a judgement of what are the boundaries of non-disclosure oaths, what are the moral reaches of camaraderie bonds and what is really classified information. I will purportedly separate this mini-review from judgement calls you will find in the mass media: Mr. Bissonette could be a misunderstood hero or a traitor, the book could be a moderate security breach or just a "setting the record straight" account (as actually the author calls his book). After one or two massive WikiLeaks scandals, who honestly can cry wolf anymore?
No Easy Day is an easy read. It has no literary flair, and is sometimes even tacky. The back and forth action between Mr. Bissonette's infancy, his training as a SEAL, his many missions and the main event (the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan) is too frequent and a bit tiring. But to the author's credit, he doesn't even try to engage the reader with powerful prose but rather with the simplicity of a cut-throat to-the-point approach. No Easy Day will rarely waste your time with anything not related to being a SEAL, their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and off course the operation to capture/kill bin Laden.
The account of the operation to capture/kill bin Laden is where the value of the book lies. This account includes every move of the special forces teams. A series of very well done computer generated renderings accompany the text and makes it very easy to mentally visualize the path of the teams that stormed the compound. The mission itself is very well narrated, sort of an after action report on steroids. The risks taken by the SEAL team were many, their valor and commitment extraordinary. But if one takes a close look at the tactics, techniques and procedures mentioned in the book as used in the mission ... Well, I don't mean to sound pretentious -these operators are extraordinary fighters- but here it goes nonetheless: the operation itself was pretty much standard stuff. Infiltration, isolation of the objective, breach into the objective, close assault ... In the book, I found a couple of other missions dealing with smaller fish more scary and heart pounding. Again, the high profile of the operation to capture/kill bin Laden saves the No Easy Day from being just another SEAL book.
There is off course a lot to be read between the lines for the war nerds among us: the value of planning, the importance of rehearsals, the pivotal role of contingency plans and improvisation plus a warrior mindset that respects the enemy's capabilities. In addition, I don't want to leave you with the impression that the book is completely worthless. There are many things I was wowed with, like a complete write up of the checklist the author goes through before every mission. That was detailed down to as which pocket a particular piece of equipment goes.
The mainstream press has chosen to make a big deal of the two or three passages where President Obama, Vice President Biden, the politicians inside the Beltway and the US military top brass are criticized. In my opinion that type of press coverage is blown out of proportion. If you want to read something about the politics involved in the operation, you can get it from this other book.
No Easy Day barely escapes the leagues of other mass market special forces publications and offers a few items out of the extraordinary besides the high profile of the subject and the many controversies it had spun. These few extraordinary items and the unique/detailed coverage of Operation Neptune Spear make it worth a place in my library, though.