It takes a lot for me to want to publicize something done by an alumnus of Duke University (one of my school’s biggest rivals), but the story of Eric Greitens is too amazing to let pass. In particular, the story told in his book, The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).
Greitens was a scholarship student at Duke University, graduating in 1996. If that were not enough, he was selected to be a Rhodes Scholar, studying at Oxford University. If that were not enough, he earned his PhD from Oxford in 2000. If that were not enough, he became a Navy SEAL in 2002. He was deployed four times around the world (Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Iraq), and earned a number of military awards including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. (There is much more to his biography than this – read the book!)
This unique set of experiences gives Greitens a unique perspective in that he looks at both humanitarian and military service as service on the frontlines in trying to make the world a better place. In fact, compassion and courage, he argues, are two sides of the same coin. It is a (potential?) common ground between the Peace Corps and the Marine Corps. To make a difference, he recognizes, you need to be good and strong. You need both the heart and the fist.
But Greitens is no Pollyanna. Given the reality of the world today, the use of the sword is necessary. But the sword is also imperfect. To protect the innocent, he says, you must be willing to fight. But when you pick up the sword, innocents will suffer. So the hard decisions about it are best made by good people.
When his military service concluded, Greitens founded The Mission Continues, which “challenges veterans to serve and lead in communities across America.” He also tries to translate his experience into the everyday lives of all Americans. We all have our own frontlines on which we can serve for the good of humanity.
For these efforts, Greitens was named one of the 2013 TIME 100 – Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The Mission Continues was also featured in a Time magazine cover story on service by military veterans.
With the killing of Osama bin Laden, and more recently the story of Somali pirates who hijacked the Maersk Alabama (“Captain Phillips”), there has been a huge amount of attention directed to Navy SEALS. It almost seems as though there are more books about the SEALS than there are SEALS. But this book is different. It’s as different as Eric Greitens is different and I recommend it to bleeding heart liberals and stony heart libertarians and everyone in between.