Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Heart and the Fist

The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL
© 2011 Eric Greitens
320 pages

Heart and the Fist is a fascinating and inspirational account of an idealistic young student dedicating to serving humanity across the globe.  His activism began in his teen years, where he developed an approach  to aid work which involved strengthening people's ability to help themselves. As a university student, Eric visited China, Rwanda, Chile, and other locations around the globe before deciding that sometimes the helpless need more than a hand offering assistance: they need a fist offering protection. Thus he joins the Navy SEALs,  one of the world's most elite combat units, and serves in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas where the US army maintains an active presence.

The book's subtitle does it justice, for it can be divided between the growth of Eric as a young man with a passion for service, and his training as a SEAL. His accounts of his entrance into the Navy and of the months of training that followed are more thorough than any other soldiers' memoir's I've ever read. What he endures is remarkable,  I think while studying at Oxford -- Mr. Greitens is a Rhodes scholar as well as a Navy SEAL, doncha know -- he must have read from the Stoics,  for Greitens is almost a model for the 'Stoic warrior'. He teaches himself mental discipline, utter focus, to concentrate only on that which is in his power to control. This sees him through the worst the Navy can throw at him, including 'Hell Week'.  After he graduates as a SEAL, the book loses focus a bit -- following him to four different areas of the world united by nothing but the fact that the US military is active there. Greitens is chosen for several of these assignments based on his past experience as a humanitarian and his effective leadership as an officer.

I truly enjoyed reading Greiten's account, of seeing his approach to helping people and handling difficult situations. What will make the book stand for me is the character of Greitens himself:  he's an ideal soldier, one who cares most about people and who is so self-disciplined that Navy regulations seem moot.  Even after  his term of service is up, Greitens goes to work setting up a foundation to help injured military personnel continue to give back to their communities, allowing them to continue to be of service -- which is their desire.

The book recommends itself in many ways, and I think parents who want to help their adolescent kids find their way through life might find this book a helpful gift.

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