In new book, a look at the state of Navy SEALs
To hear David Philipps say it, he didn’t want to write a book about Eddie Gallagher. He had, after all, spent over a year covering up the former Navy SEAL, from the initial war crimes charges against him, to the media frenzy surrounding his court martial trial and, finally, his acquittal and pardon of the then President Donald Trump. .
In fact, Philipps just wanted to resume his job as a military reporter for the New York Times. But in the end, he says there was almost no way he couldn’t write “Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs”.
“It was so weird and it eventually became a story that was bigger than (Gallagher) or the victim or whoever,” Philipps said from his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “It was a story about our nation. A story where I decided I had no choice but to write it.
In fact, “Alpha” – published this week by Crown Publishing Group – not only covers all aspects of Gallagher’s trial, but provides the reader with a succinct but comprehensive overview of Gallagher’s life and the culture of the marine, air and crew. land (SEALs).
“I think people will assume it’s a military or war book, but it’s really more of a black one,” says Philipps. “There’s a murder in it, like in a classic film noir, but it turns out that the murder isn’t the real mystery. The real mystery, the real crime, is trying to find out about this murder and maybe even solve it, and then realize all the dark twists and turns and corruption that is built into the system. who would monitor these things.
Even those who are not immediately familiar with the Edward “Eddie” Gallagher trial will find “Alpha” to be a great read from a seasoned journalist who has covered the entire saga. To sum up, in 2017, then-special operations chief Gallagher led his Alpha SEAL platoon in Mosul, Iraq, hoping to drive IS fighters out of the city. On the surface, the mission was successful, but later several of Gallagher’s men accused the decorated leader of war crimes, including stabbing a young prisoner while he was already in custody. He also reportedly fired fatal shots at unarmed civilians.
In 2019, Gallagher, who was still on active duty, faced a court martial on 10 counts, including one premeditated murder. After a high-profile trial and botched pursuit, where a witness allegedly perjured himself on the stand and claimed to have killed the prisoner himself, Gallagher was acquitted of all but one of the charges (posing for a photo with the fighter’s corpse of the Islamic State). Trump, who has expressed support for Gallagher throughout the trial, subsequently granted him clemency.
“What’s interesting about the acquittal and Eddie getting off on almost every charge is that all of a sudden there were a number of silent professionals – men. who would never speak to anyone and certainly not to the New York Times. – who now felt compelled to do so, ”recalls Philipps, who also had access to tens of thousands of emails and texts from the SEALs involved in the Gallagher incident.
Still, readers will be disappointed if they choose “Alpha” thinking that it will simply read like a searing review from Gallagher. Rather, it portrays a very tragic, almost Shakespearean story of a man who revered the SEALs, worked his way through the ranks and, some say, suffered a tragic downfall. And while Gallagher or his family were not involved in writing the book outside of their initial pre-trial talks with Philipps, the author says the story is much bigger than a man.
“I realized that was a different story. What makes this interesting is not that this is a thriller about Eddie Gallagher. It’s a culture thriller, ”says Philipps. “How did the SEAL culture change to make a guy like this want to do it and then make it so hard to try and bring him to justice for it?”
Philipps certainly has a lot of experience with military culture. He grew up in Colorado Springs, a small town, although Philipps describes it as “similar to San Diego in that it is teeming with military or retired military personnel.” Given his proximity to Fort Carson, Philipps says his formative years were spent in the shadow of the military, which came in handy when he eventually became a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette around same time the war in Iraq started.
“What has been helpful to me is, of course, I started telling my fair share of stories about the military, as it is the biggest employer in the community, but what m t was helpful was that I knew the army from the point of view they were normal people with houses and families. I knew them as my neighbors.
This perspective came in handy when he began writing a series of articles for The Gazette on how the military treated soldiers who actually fought or those who returned from combat. His focus, he says, has always been on “Joe in uniform” rather than “stories about strategy and who wins.” He ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize for these stories and was offered a job with the New York Times around the same time.
Philipps’ critical eye and attention to staff are evident in “Alpha”, where no one is blamed and no organization is spared. Even before Philipps was sent to cover the Gallagher trial at Naval Base San Diego, he says he began to speculate that Gallagher may have “blown off” after several combat deployments. Philipps had seen firsthand and reported soldiers returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so he knew the signs.
“I thought maybe that was the case and that it would also be an interesting story, even more interesting actually, because then the whole system is at fault, not just Eddie Gallagher,” says Philipps. . “But when I spoke to his family, that’s where I started my reporting, his wife (Andrea Gallagher) said no, that’s not the story. Whether Eddie doesn’t have PTSD or TBI (head injury), the story is that his guys are lying. I was stunned by it. Is it possible? Maybe, but it sounds so weird.
Philipps is also very critical of the way the media covered the trial and how it directly influenced Trump to intervene. Prior to the Gallagher trial, Philipps said there had always been a “widely recognized truce” that although the president was the commander-in-chief, they would not fit into day-to-day operations. Philipps says Trump’s outspoken support for Gallagher and the eventual intervention “frightened senior military officials,” and says that probably wouldn’t have happened if media like Fox News had covered the story more objectively.
“I thought it was really important to show in the book how the rules have changed,” says Philipps. “I think the military leaders looked at what Eddie Gallagher’s family was doing and thought it was crazy – going on Fox News all the time and saying things that actually had no basis. But in a way, it was genius.
As brilliant as he may have been, Philipps argues that Gallagher’s acquittal, media coverage and Trump’s intervention could have caused lasting, if not permanent, damage to the organization.
“I think there were a lot of people in the SEALs who watched this very closely, and they have strong opinions that are all over the place,” Phillips said. “And to see that example, to see Gallagher acquitted and praised by some in conservative circles, it can send a powerful message. It can encourage people who can justify certain actions on the battlefield. So I think this has a real and practical effect on SEALs.
And while “Alpha” was selected for a limited series by Working Title Production and Will Staples (“Without remorse,” The Right Stuff “), and Gallagher recently released his own book in June (” The Man in the Arena ” ), Philipps says another enduring tragedy in the entire saga is how the public now perceives SEALs.
“Not that long ago, if you asked someone what they thought of SEALs, I think unequivocally they would have thought it was a very positive organization,” says Philipps. “Real professionals. And now I think it’s a lot less clear. I think Eddie Gallagher is now one of the few SEALs people can name, and while they have strong opinions anyway, both are pretty problematic for the organization.
“Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs” by David Philipps (Couronne, 2021; 480 pages)
Warwick’s and the Coronado Library present David Philipps
When: 4 p.m. Thursday August 26
Or: Virtual event via Warwick’s
Tickets: Free but registration required
In line: warwicks.com
Combs is a freelance writer.