Jack Murphy: Journalism, Fiction, and Bringing the Realities of Special Operations to the International Public

04/13/2017 12:30 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2017

Special Operations Forces (SOF) have been in the news a great deal since 9/11, when the United States entered wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These teams, and the individuals within them, have subsequently fired up the imaginations of the American public, in addition to bringing attention to other international SOF teams, who before now, were mainly only known by those working with them in the field. These are international operators whose stories most often will never be known, except for the few who have come to American public attention in high-profile incidents such as in Somalia, Benghazi or the death of Osama bin Laden. But regardless of whether their work is known or unknown by the public, their existence has proved essential when it comes to any operation or mission in which the stakes are inordinately high.

Jack Murphy is an SOF veteran from both Iraq and Afghanistan whose work continues to address the realities faced by these special operators, both during their service and often afterward, when utilizing their experience and capacities in the private sector. Whether elucidating some of the issues faced by SOF, their histories in various conflicts, or offering an analysis regarding their use in continued operations internationally, his is a respected voice in the discourse, one which he continues to offer as Editor-in-Chief of SOFREP.com, both on the site and in books such as Benghazi: The Definitive Report (William Morrow, 2014, written with Brandon Webb), among others dealing with military-specific subject matter.

But in addition, Murphy also has taken his experience and his writing abilities to fiction, making some of the issues and experiences of current and former SOF part of the plots of his novels.

In both cases, fiction and non-fiction, Murphy’s capacity to analyze and make a concerted point about certain realities often proves to be a wholly visceral and thought-provoking experience, often challenging the reader to not accept popular media notions of conflict and intelligence. Instead, readers are taken into a world much more complex, filled with personalities, grudges, unexpected nuances, and internal politics that many will never experience for themselves, and therefore perhaps without his perspective, might not adequately appreciate.

Interview:

1. You have had active military service as a U.S. Army Ranger. Could you give a brief background of your service and your military occupational specialty (M.O.S.)?
I started off in the Army in 2002 as an 11B (Infantryman) in 3rd Ranger Battalion and finished in 2010 as a 18B (Special Forces Weapons Sergeant). While in Ranger battalion I served as a anti-tank gunner, sniper, and weapons squad gun team leader and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. In Special Forces as was the senior weapons sergeant on a military free fall team and also deployed to Iraq where I was the senior advisor to a 100-man Iraqi SWAT Team.
2. What first inspired you to write the character of Deckard? What kinds of fiction influences did you have, or favorite authors who might have inspired you to write this kind of fiction?
I have to say that I am one of those people who started writing because I thought I could do the military fiction genre better than most of the stuff I was reading. Military fiction was a popular genre back in the 60's, 70's, and 80's and a lot of Vietnam veterans came home and took up the pen, but since that time I felt like the genre has stagnated and been over-saturated with authors who really didn't understand combat because they had never seen it. When I got out of the Army in 2010, I saw the Amazon Kindle taking off and decided that this was the time to take a stab at writing my own military fiction as perhaps the first of my generation of post-9/11 Special Operations veterans to do so.
Growing up I read a ton of military fiction, such as the Mack Bolan series including the originals written by Don Pendleton, one of the all time greats right next to Robert E. Howard. I also grew up reading Punisher comic books, HP Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein, as well as watching science fiction like Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and Aeon Flux, all of which had some influence on me.
3. While you were serving, I'm sure you ran into military contractors, many of whom were former SOF service members...what influenced you most when it came to writing the character--your own service, your experience with some of these guys, or both?
Both. I think my own personal experiences in Army Special Operations and as a journalist covering conflicts on the ground in Syria and Iraq have had the biggest influence on my work but the characters I write are composites, a combination of the experience and personalities of so many people I have crossed paths with in my travels from CIA Ground Branch contractors, to Delta operators, to Green Berets, Rangers, and even the odd ball mercenary.
4. More generally, what most inspires your Deckard novels, both past and present? Is it more about current events, or have you found questions among SOF and/or International security contingents about current or impending threats?
In the beginning I feel like I was trying to tell the audience something about combat, and about modern warfare, in the 21st Century with my novels but as I continued to write the Deckard series and worked on non-fiction pieces as a journalist I found myself gravitating to specific topics. For instance, my novel Direct Action is about SEAL Team Six operators who have gone off the reservation and are committing war crimes. This book was a message directly to the choir about how we need internal reforms. This novel came out several years before the actual story broke in the press.
5. Gray Matter Splatter, for instance, is about Arctic warfare, gaming, as well as strategic threats from some of the most significant U.S. opponents in the international sphere with whom there has been some real antipathy. How did some of these nuances coalesce when you were planning/writing?
It is funny you mention that because my interest in Arctic security actually began with a conversation that you and I had over a beer in Manhattan several years ago. I wrote a fairly long article based on interviews with experts who could speak to how arctic security dynamics are changing. Gray Matter Splatter combined the arctic as an area of operations, which our military is already in, with the realities of how a number of adversarial nations are working together on intelligence projects to thwart the United States. The dynamics described are real and ongoing. Many of the conversations, situations, and specific actions described in my books are things that have actually happened even if the plot itself is a fictional work that I engineered.
6. You also are involved with SOF news and international security reporting via SOFREP.com. What kinds of concerns are you finding among current and former SOF these days, and how have some of these concerns appeared in the Deckard novels?
I think there are a number of concerns ranging from the standard “bitches, gripes, and complaints” that all soldiers have had since time immemorial, but I also encounter issues like poor retention of experienced personnel, low morale as SOF units feel that they are not allowed to win, and more recently disgust from Special Forces soldiers who are ordered to train jihadists by the CIA in training camps in Jordan and Turkey. Some of these concerns and quandaries are reflected in my novels, and I am always happy to hear that the boys in the units I previously served in are enjoying the books on their down time. For me, that is the ultimate endorsement.
7. In being at the forefront of both SOF and international security history, news, and reporting, what do you think is the most important international security threat facing the United States at this moment in time?
China. China is a threat that few people want to talk about and many of those who should know better wish it would just go away due to our economic relationships with this country. China represents a slowly constricting snake choking America off of its oxygen supply as it steals our technology, engages in incremental territory expansion, and slowly overtakes our economy. Americans respond strongly to in their face type threats like 9/11 but we react poorly to slowly escalating threats that are not readily visible. The Chinese know this and have tailored their strategy to circumvent America's national style and manner of thinking. Their communist government will never democratize and unlike terrorism, China is an existential threat to America.
8. What do you think right now is the most important human security threat internationally?
In a broad strategic sense? The collapse of the Westphalian system, Bretton-Woods, and the post-World War 2 global order that led to an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. As nations and institutions fail, people are losing their faith in the very idea of the state. Because of this individuals, populations, states, and regional groupings of states have to find new ways to relate to one another. Thus far, these types of solutions have not yet presented themselves.
9. What is your current Deckard novel about (as much as you're wiling to say), and what was its inspiration?
The next Deckard novel will be titled Persona Non Grata and is about Deckard conducting vigilante strikes against human traffickers within the United States. On one of his targets he crosses paths with an older guy who was casing the same trafficker. It turns out that he is a retired Green Beret who has been taking down human traffickers for decades. In many ways, the novel is about the older generation of Special Forces that specialized in unconventional warfare and my generation which specialized in direct action and the conflict between the two. It is also partly based on my friendship with Jim West, a retired 7th Special Forces Group Warrant Officer who is a martial arts expert and no stranger to maiming people in dark alleys. He is about as close to the real life Batman or Frank Castle that I've ever met.
10. What do you hope people most get from your fiction, and then also from your non-fiction writing and reporting? Is there an overarching theme you're finding yourself drawn to personally in writing both fiction and non-fiction when it comes to international security issues?
I hope they get the facts and in a larger sense, I hope that they get the truth. There are good journalists and bad journalists, but most of them have no military experience and really have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to defense matters. For that reason they end up relying on controlled leaks from the CIA and the Pentagon for information, or worse yet, they use so-called “activists” on the ground in Syria as sources who are really just Al Qaeda propaganda agents. I hope that I am able to bring a finely honed BS detector to my work as a journalist.
I hope that my fiction writing provides the ideal action-adventure novel for the reader, one that is authentic, dark, and catches the audience like a shotgun blast to the face. Most authors in this genre are just too tame, too domesticated for me. What they write doesn't even remotely resemble what combat is actually like. Within those exciting fictional stories, I hope the narrative also carries an embedded message about what it means to be a soldier and the complexities of the threats that we are currently facing around the world as well as at home.

Jack Murphy’s article about Arctic security appeared via both SOFREP.com and in MIPJ 2014: Climate Change, Resource Conflict, the Environment and Human Security. He is also working on a Special Forces history book that will rewrite much of what the public knows about Special Operations.

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