Selfish or selfless: Breaking the code of silence

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Robert O'Neill, a retired Navy SEAL who says he shot Osama bin Laden in the head, publicly identified himself Nov. 6 amid debate about whether special operators should recount their secret missions. AP Photo/The Montana Standard, Walter Hinick

Robert O’Neill, a retired Navy SEAL who says he shot Osama bin Laden in the head, publicly identified himself Nov. 6 amid debate about whether special operators should recount their secret missions. AP Photo/The Montana Standard, Walter Hinick

Robert O’Neill, a former member of SEAL Team Six, recently revealed that he was the shooter and killer of Osama bin Laden in the raid that took place on May 2, 2011. O’Neill detailed the operation and his role in killing bin Laden in an article published by the Washington Post.  

His decision to go public has been marred by controversy. He broke an unspoken rule of the military, to not seek attention for one’s own service. However, should a war veteran who honorably served the United States for more than 10 years be subjected to harsh criticism that may tarnish his reputation, not to mention his military record? Though O’Neill’s motives may be questionable, the news media and the general public should tread lightly when questioning the actions of a man who was willing to die for his country.

O’Neill is not the only former Navy SEAL to break the code of silence. Two years ago, Matt Bissonnette released a book, “No Easy Day,” detailing the raid that killed the illusive al Qaeda leader. Time magazine writer Mark Thompson reported both O’Neill and Bissonnette violated the SEALS tenants and “irritated many in the military.”

To many, these men are now heroes, when in fact Thompson argued that, the success of killing bin Laden was built upon the shoulders of countless individuals, on “the backs, boots and blood of thousands of anonymous troops (not to mention pentagon        civilians).”

While it is true that the mission to kill bin Laden was not undertaken solely by these two men, and is without a doubt unacceptable to take credit for a successful mission that came about after years of undercover surveillance and planning by a multitude of individuals, their significant contributions are indisputable.

Perhaps O’Neill spoke out because he was attracted to the fame that would come with the revelation that he fired the shot that killed Bin Laden. Perhaps he was acting out of a selfish need for public recognition and accolades. According to the Washington Post, O’Neill dismissed any talk of heroism, describing his actions as “muscle memory.” Regardless, human actions, reactions and decisions are rarely explained so simply.

The question still remains, however. Why did O’Neill choose to make a public announcement if not for the fame? And if that was his reason, is fame-seeking so shameful that it negates all the good work someone has done over the years?

The Washington Post reported that O’Neill “received 24 honors and commendations, many of them earned for multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  While the motivation behind O’Neill’s decision to speak out about his role in the killing of bin Laden is perhaps questionable, we should take a moment to consider the whole man, a man who repeatedly sacrificed himself. Placing him in harm’s way without hesitation. Yet, still is not the honor in the military to be selfless, rather than selfish?