Book Review: The Heart and the Fist

This book is by Eric Greitens and is sub-titled: The Education of a Humanitarian; The Making of a Navy SEAL. I loved the book!

Mr. Greitens attended Duke on an academic scholarship and while there had the opportunity to travel overseas on humanitarian/cultural work, first in China, then in Albania, and finally in Bolivia. He does an excellent job of making the reader feel the plight and difficulties of those dispossessed by war and/or poverty. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching part of the book is the time that he spent in Bolivia where he works with kids who have been living off the streets. In Albania, the kids had families and a family structure; there was reason for hope. In Bolivia, for the most part they did not have families and were addicted to sniffing glue with its attendant long term brain damage and addiction. He says some very complementary things about the couple (who I believe were Christians) working with street kids in Bolivia.
Over time, Mr. Greitens comes to the conclusion that sometimes the powerful must come to the aid of the powerless, and if necessary, use force to do so, or as he puts it: “My travels took me from Cambodia to Chiapas to Albania…I continued to believe that aid alone was not enough. I had become an advocate for using power , where necessary, to protect the weak, to end ethnic cleansing, to end genocide.”

He gets a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford for two years where he does more traveling (Africa for one), and eventually is offered an academic position at Oxford AND a financial position which will set him up for life. What does he do? Decides to become a Navy SEAL!

He does an excellent job describing the path to becoming a SEAL (barely 10% of his class survive) and it makes for excellent reading. He eventually is deployed to Afghanistan, the Philippines, Kenya, and is almost killed when a chlorine-filled truck bomb is rammed into the barracks in which they are staying in Fallujah.

By the end of the book he is off of active duty and has started an organization called “The Mission Continues” which helps wounded/disabled veterans continue to serve their country/fellow humans in any of a number of practical ways.

Mr. Greitens notes the excellent job that Christian missionaries/aid workers are doing in places like Bolivia and Africa, although he himself is not a Christian.

How does one balance love of other humans, indeed the neediest of the needy, with protecting them from the very things that have caused them to be needy (oppression, war, poverty, etc.)? Mr. Greitens gives an excellently nuanced treatment in his book balancing humanitarianism with active protection of those who are powerless to protect themselves.

“The world needs many more humanitarians than it needs warriors, but there can be none of the former without the latter.” Eric Geitens
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