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Book Review: Shoot to Kill – From 2 Para to the SAS by Michael Asher

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Michael Asher's Shoot to Kill is a good read for readers who enjoy military and/or political action books. It’s about “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, primarily, with some periodic side adventures in other parts of the world, and the endless training which every nation’s military undergoes in preparation for that which everybody seems to despise these days, but on which the world needs to rely.

The book is a biographical adventure of one man, through his training cycles in the British Paras, or paratroopers, and the Special Air Service, the SAS. “Who Dares, Wins” is their motto, and they, as do all military services, live up to that motto. It takes daring to venture out from behind shelter when the bullets are coming at you at the rate of 500 rounds per minute, nearly 10 rounds for each second you’re exposed, and any one of which can turn you into a quivering mound of strawberry jelly.

The training is not particularly exciting or riveting to read about, which belies its actual experience. It’s also the underlying premise of battle: The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat. Trite, overly simplistic, but true in the deadliest sense. You practice your mission, killing, until it comes automatically, because having to think about it usually means injury or death.

Northern Ireland is/was a sore point for people all over the United States and Europe, and particularly for the people who live there and in the Republic of Ireland. The U.S., because of the many Americans of Irish origin; Europe, for much the same reason, but also because for them it’s closer to home. It’s a war about religion, plain and simple: Catholics versus Protestants. It’s also a war of territory, but its origins always come back to religion. For the people of the Republic, it’s also a war for land that was taken. For those in Northern Ireland, it's a war for the Queen and for England, too. Asher manages to give readers a good description of both sides of this contentious coin.

Asher’s story takes us from a 17-year old raw recruit to a hardened combat veteran in less than 300 pages, and covering several years of his life. He goes from a middle class upbringing to the strictly enforced military caste system, and his emotions take him from avid novice to rebelling teenager, on through his run of emotions to mature adult. He does a great job of explaining both the pluses and negatives of his experiences, and his coming to terms with them.

One ironic, amusing point is hammered home in the SAS’s two-thousand-year old response to a recruit’s whining. A Spartan mother’s advice to her son who complained that his sword was too short is: “Take a step forward!” In plain words, complaining is pointless. There’s a job to be done; do it. Similarly, in showing how pure will can overcome physical limitations, such as on the Long Drag, which is a 50 kilometer march done in 20 hours. A walk in the park of 50 kilometers in 20 hours would be an achievement. A 50 kilometer Long Drag, over marsh and mountains, through ice and snow, swamp and desert, wearing a hundred-pound pack is a whole ‘nother matter. It’s closer to torture. A torture that the recruit’s mind must master over his torn, broken, exhausted body.

If you’re looking for an epic story of how one man can overcome grueling, sometimes humiliating, extremely dangerous odds, you’ve found it. Shoot to Kill is an inspiring, sometimes sad, sometimes baffling story, but one that you’ll feel self-satisfaction after completing.

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