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‘Live to Tell’ review: Stories from Special Operations forces

Sunday's episode of "Live to Tell" will focus

Sunday's episode of "Live to Tell" will focus on Navy SEAL Marc A. Lee, who was killed in Iraq in 2006. Credit: History Channel / Prashant Gupta

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on History



WHAT IT’S ABOUT Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marc A. Lee was killed in action in Ramadi on Aug. 2, 2006, becoming the first SEAL fatality in the Iraq War. Sunday’s opener to this eight-part docuseries from veteran producer (and actor) Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) will look at his story. Future editions will look at other Special Operations Forces that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the Army Rangers and Green Berets. Each includes first-person accounts, archival footage and recreations.

MY SAY Marc Lee wrote a famous letter shortly before his death at the age of 28. There’s a brief mention of this at the close of “Live To Tell’s” opener, but you really should read it in its entirety before watching Sunday. (Easy to find: Posted at This beautiful apologia explores his ambivalence about some elements of the U.S. role in Iraq, and his own country’s moral failings. It also contributed to his posthumous image as a reluctant or at least an introspective and questioning SEAL, consecrated in “American Sniper” by Luke Grimes. Incensed by the movie portrayal, Lee’s widow, Maya Elbaum, wrote an editorial for Fox News describing her husband as a “fierce warrior” who “believed in the war with his whole heart and had a strong sense that his service had a higher purpose . . .” Meanwhile, Lee's mother, Debbie, wrote a column for the Washington Post this past week. You should read that too.  

I begin my brief review with all this because you won’t get it on Sunday — and you need to. After all, this fine, generous tribute — and it is a fine, generous tribute — has zero interest in fancy words like “introspection” (or “apologia"). It’s told almost entirely from the perspective of other members of SEAL Team 3 — tough guys, like Jocko Willink, the task unit bruiser commander — who describe their roles and mindset with unflinching clarity: “You have to have the will to kill because you cannot win without killing. . . .”

Lee occasionally emerges out of the dust and chaos (the dramatic re-creations are adequate, and for the most part unnecessary). But those glimpses are unambiguous — of the ferocious machine-gunner who laid down protective fire for Charlie Company, while getting the job done, and saving SEAL lives, time and again.

Meanwhile, the most compelling question of all is left ignored: Could Lee have been both a fierce warrior and “reluctant” one at the same time?

BOTTOM LINE Another in a long line of good TV docuseries on the “special ops.” This one’s good too, but (at least Sunday night), you may be left wanting more.

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