Before the book The Killing School even begins, Brandon Webb shoos away the critics and dismisses even the possible reproach from his peers for writing a book. Specials Forces, after all, are supposed to be “quiet professionals,” so how is it that from Richard Marcinko (founder and first commanding officer of SEAL Team 6) to Chris Kyle (American Sniper) to Webb so many retired SEALS have written books?
In Webb’s case, of course, his book was first submitted to and “partially redacted” by the Department of Defense. But still, is it right that he is even speaking out at all? Our Special Forces live by a patriotic code of country before self; personal glory is not supposed to be sought.
Begin reading Webb’s introduction and you’ll find a profound answer why Webb and other SEAL’s write books.
Webb and his coauthor (John David Mann) begin with something so personal, so painful and so necessary that you won’t be able to stop reading. The Killing School begins with death. Not death in the abstract. Not someone’s particular death. But death as a job, as a duty in service of country—a service to you and me and all the fellow citizens we love or loathe.
Webb writes: “For me, the face of death is as familiar as the barista at my local coffee shop.” And in context it doesn’t feel like boasting. Snipers, after all, don’t drop bombs or even pound out bursts from .50-caliber machine guns at enemy positions. They hunt, stalk, maybe watch and pattern, and finally kill their adversaries with precise mathematical precision. In the process the might get to personally know an enemy combatant they are hunting.
Webb has a deep background in this topic. As a SEAL sniper, Webb was tasked with helping to revamp the U.S. Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) Scout/Sniper School. It was his job to incorporate the latest advances in technology and ballistics software to create an entirely new course that, to this day, continues to develop the skills of SEAL snipers.
Which is why he begins with death, with the thing that makes what SEALs do so intriguing, frightening and important. They are often called “the tip of the spear.” A SEAL team is the razor-sharp end that is stealthily stuck into the enemy’s heart. They aren’t on overwhelming or blunt force. They are the knife’s edge that’s so sharp you don’t notice the wound, only the blood afterward.
In the beginning and end it is death that SEALs wield and death that they live with. SEALs kill, but they also die in action all to often. (Click here to see their faces and to read the stories of our fallen heroes.) And the community of SEALs is so small they all have personally lost brothers in combat.
This is why you’ll find it is important that retired military professionals write or otherwise speak out. As a free society how can we know them, how can we really support them, if we don’t know what they do? More than that, in a free society, how can we know them well enough, know what they do deeply enough, to know when not to use them if we don’t have such honest accounts of what they are doing for us?
As you turn the pages you’ll find that Webb talks about the training, but he also humanizes the details by telling real-life exploits of the world’s top snipers, including Jason Delgado, who led a Marine platoon in the Battle of Husaybah and made some of the most haunting shots in the Iraq War; Nicholas Irving, the U.S. Army Ranger credited with 33 kills in a single three-month tour in Afghanistan; and Rob Furlong, who during Operation Anaconda delivered the then-longest kill shot in history.
As you read all the real-life accounts in this book you’ll find they feel so honest and read so well it is hard to put the book down. During Webb’s sniper school tenure, the course graduated some of the deadliest and most skilled snipers of this generation, including Adam Brown (Fearless) and Chris Kyle (American Sniper).
The many people who follow this genre of Special Forces books will find much to like in The Killing School. Even those who are very uncomfortable with what we ask SEALs, Green Berets and others to do, will get a real perspective from this book.
Near the end Webb says that “not everyone can do it” when he is talking about killing human beings. Just before this he relates an anecdote from SEAL sniper school where training becomes so real a SEAL might actually confuse what is simulated with what is real. They do this because some, he tells us, simply can’t take a life, not coldly in the crosshairs anyway. These people need to be weeded out, as not taking a life clinically with a sniper rifle might soon mean that the enemy combatant spared might kill U.S. soldiers or, later, even civilians.
That’s life lived at the tip of the spear. We have to understand this so we can morally and ethically know if we should set them loose on an enemy seeking to destroy us. The Killing School is a bright window into the shadowy world of our elite snipers.
“The Killing School” by Brandon Webb goes on sale today.
Featured image courtesy of Brandon Webb