Michael's Dispatches

Letter to Commander of Lithuanian Special Forces


I sent this letter directly to the Commander of Lithuanian Special Forces


To: Aitvaras Commander
From: Michael Yon


The words I wrote about Lithuanian Special Forces were meant as the highest praise.  Yet I understand that those words have been widely misinterpreted in Lithuania.  One Lithuanian journalist contacted me saying that normally a gigantic story in Lithuania spawns around a 100 comments on their website, but that this one about my commentary on Lithuanian Special Forces has gotten well over 400 comments.  

A number of U.S. military personal have reached out to me privately in defense of Lithuanian soldiers.  My long time readers realize that my reference to LithSOF being a "weaponized version of Borat" was tongue-in-cheek.  I did not realize that there are so many Lithuanian readers of my work, or how some might take offense to those four words, when the rest of the story was clearly very complimentary of LithSOF.  And so I am writing this apology to Lithuanian readers and to you not to take pressure off of me from you; but to take pressure off of me from American soldiers who greatly respect the Lithuanian Special Forces.  Our soldiers admire the courage and competency of Lithuanian soldiers, and their willingness to kill terrorists.  And so our soldiers don't want four words from a writer to damage their relationship with your Special Forces.  One key American officer contacted me this morning saying of you: "a leader and warrior any American would be proud to serve alongside under any circumstances."

A Lithuanian journalist contacted me and I was very clear that my words were meant as highest compliments (if tongue in cheek), but apparently that interview did not percolate as widely in Lithuania, if it was printed at all.

Sir, I think the real Borat here is me.  It takes special "skill" to insult an entire country with only four words.  I should have realized that certain types of journalists might take those comments and run with the opportunity to spin, yet I simply had no idea that apparently huge amounts of Lithuanians are reading my work.

And to those people, I say now, America respects Lithuania.  American soldiers have only one complaint about Lithuanian soldiers: There are not enough of them!

Sir, please consider me -- an embarrassed American writer -- to be a friend of Lithuania who will be more precise with his words in the future.  If I am not careful, I'll have to deal with American soldiers who energetically come to your defense.

Very Respectfully,

Michael Yon

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joyce Miller · 12 years ago
    "weaponized version of Borat" is the reason that I didn't read that column. It was used as a teaser on shortcuts to the post.

    Spouse of SFC USArmy Ret.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    A Random American · 12 years ago
    Unfortunately I can understand their confusion. I saw the Instapundit link to your article mentioning them as a "weaponized version of Borat" and assumed it was yet another article about how one of our so called allies was less than competent. I didn't bother to read it, trusting your judgement on the subject....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    tim maguire · 12 years ago
    As an American, I had no problem recogizing that you were using Borat as a compliment. But now that I read this, it is easy to understand how others may not.

    In fact, it's hard to put into words what I implicitly understood--the Borat character had an unpretentious enthusiasm for life, as do the Lithuanian warriors. But, again, in retrospect, it is easy to understand how others may focus on the fact that "Borat" the movie was very insulting to the former Soviet Republic that he came from and other Eastern European nations might be sensitive to this in a way an American reader might not.

    Hopefully they accept your apology.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Helen · 12 years ago
    Michael: I read your article and wanted to meet these wonderful Lithuanian soldiers. They sounded like the warriors of yore, of the Bertrans de Beorn variety, who relished the fight and threw themselves wholeheartedly into it. What I got from your article is how awfully lucky we are to have Lithuania as an ally providing us with such stout-hearted warriors. I don't know how tall the Lithuanians on the battlefield are, but your words made them loom very large.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JerryT · 12 years ago
    I read your article as only a compliment to one of our finest allies. I hope your recent letter to their commander clears up any misunderstanding. Keep up the great work and keep those fine articles coming.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    seen the elephant · 12 years ago
    I have read Micheal for several years, and understood that he meant the comment as a compliment, but then I understood the context and understood the who the writer was. Michael would either praise highly, or tell it like it is, if they were less then they should have been. After reading the article, I would have like to meet them and wish they were covering me in a combat situation. I missed my chance to meet and work with Lithuanian soldiers when I was in Kosovo, but did meet and work with some very fine and proffesional Polish soldiers, who were in the same contingent. Here's hoping the Lithuanian SOF command accepts your apology, understanding no harm meant. I agree, they sound awesome.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Crafty Hunter · 12 years ago
    I understood the context also, but remember being a bit uneasy about it at the time it first appeared. I've had twenty years of experience in on-line text environments, and have always found cultural humor to be risky and prone to sometimes extreme misinterpretation. "Borat" in particular is too closely linked to mockery. You got bitten by the risks of freewheeling American-style humor, Mr. Yon, sadly.

    Your culture-neutral apology is handsome and should very well clear up the air, though.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean ODonnell · 12 years ago
    My grandparents were born in Lithuania. My grandmother was the meanest/toughest person I ever met. She had walked across Northern Europe by herself when she was 16 to escape the Russians who killed most of her family. The Lithuanian people fought the Communist until the mid 1950ƒ??s when the CIA cut off funding and really never stopped. I was raised to love freedom and HATE Communist. If the LithSOF are anything like my uncles, you couldnƒ??t be next to better people but they just donƒ??t have a sense of humour.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    motionview · 12 years ago
    Thanks for the correction Michael, you really don't want to piss off the Lugans.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Allan Blackwell · 12 years ago
    It has made some of us more aware than we might, of the outstanding contribution of those
    Lithuanian troops, and of the Lithuanian people, at least for those of us who missed the column
    in the first place. Good for you, Michael!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kaj from Denmark · 12 years ago
    Now this is just a guess on my part - but with the close cooperation between Danish and Lithuania military, I would say that it's a safe bet that the Lithuanian SpecOps has been influenced by the Danish SpecOps.

    You have already described some of the Danish soldiers in previous posts - so it all makes sense ;-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Assistant Village Id · 12 years ago
    I was one who read the original and thought Yon was being insulting. I am glad he cleared this up.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Simonas · 12 years ago
    Don't worry, we forgive you. Lithuania is proud to have such tough and crazy soldiers. As I understand, it's special forces "Aitvaras" (eng. kite).
    Please post some lithuanian soldiers photos (with shaded faces of course). We want to know more about our boys
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bear · 12 years ago
    Lithuanian soldiers "weaponized version of Borat".

    From Russia with Love!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Toren · 12 years ago
    I came away from the article with nothing but good feelings about the Lithuanian soldiers. Their combat capability and likable nature earned nothing but praise, and like it or not their unusual cultural habits are amusing. "A weaponized version of Borat" was hilarious, considering how often US forces are called "cowboys" and such.
    It's a shame Lithuanians ignored the praise and fixated on a light-hearted comment. I suspect the soldiers themselves found it hilarious.
    My apologies, but I would have expected the Lithuanians to have more of a sense of humor than that.
    Yon's apology was graceful, however.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kestas · 12 years ago
    I can bet that not a single member of Lithuanian Special Forces took offence. All this is just a little misunderstanding which is a result of some lithuanian journalists who failed in portraying the story correctly.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    tomasb · 12 years ago
    I don't think any Lithuanian who've read original article were really insulted -- Lithuanians do have a sense of humor after all. Maybe there were some (mis)interpretations in local media, but I think your graceful apology will leave no space for them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kestas · 12 years ago
    Michael, I guess here is an article with quotes from an interview with you - which you have mentioned here. An article itself is very positive :-)

    If you would like, you could use translate.google.com to get an impression of this article:
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Freedom Now · 12 years ago
    Well... having a sense of humor can get you in trouble.

    Thank you for being man enough to apologize to anyone that was offended by your comment.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Liudvikas · 12 years ago
    Gee. The apology wasn't necessary at all. I am a Lithuanian,and I read the article on Lietuvos Rytas (major daily), and I did not find it offensive at all- quite to the contrary- I googled your name, found the original post, and sent it to my Belgian colleagues, who readily agreed that the post is very accurate in its depiction of a Lithuanian in action :-) Soon after, I've received several copies of the post myself, from my Lithuanian friends; none of them seemed to be offended, everyone seemed to have a great laugh.

    It was and is a great post. I felt proud of our bearded guys down there, of the fact that our guys are different, and in a good way. There's a whole lot of cultural truth in your story- in business too we Lithuanians tend to be rough, direct, always politically incorrect, but usually greatly efficient and productive. Thats what I hear about me from my western colleagues, and I take it as a compliment. I enjoy the thought that while the French are busy choosing what to wear under the flack jacket, we Lithuanians are already killing our fourth terrorist of the day- in our underwear.

    To the defense of the journalist. There was no negative spin in the article. The journalist just chose to use the Borat quip for the headline, the rest was a clean translation of your post followed by a short information about Aitvaras. The article did not imply offense in any way.

    And finally- Lietuvos Rytas (our major daily) published huge article on Lithuanian special forces in Afganistan yesterday (Saturday, highest readership), obviously exploiting the surge of public interest your post brought. The article included your post, as well as a lot of interviews with American and Lithuanian military personnel. So thanks to you, our guys in Afganistan got their 15 minutes of fame, which does not happen to often.

    Pity Aitvaras is soooo ultra secret- the article disappointed in its lack of juicy details we all love. All the people in the know refused to speak, or resorted to canned PR phrases. Head of Lithuanian diplomatic mission in Afganistan had the nerve to say that he saw and heard things about Aitvaras enough to make a Hollywood movie or two, but he wont tell a thing.

    So now we, suddenly interested Lithuanians, have to rely on you, Michael, to get some real, interesting, juicy details of the Adventures of Lithuanians in Never Never Land :-)

    Thanks again for a great post which shone light on our heroes- and our small country needs heroes very much, most of them were killed by Russians 50 years ago.

    Merry Christmas

    Liudvikas Andriulis
  • This commment is unpublished.
    emilija · 12 years ago
    Hi, I have read the story in the Lithuanian newspaper, and was not offended. I would disagree with the LT reporter who said that big stories over 100 comments. I do not think it is accurate. I think 100 comments is average, and stories that people read a lot or care the most about, they normally generate 00-500 comments.
    But I do commend you on your story and on your apology. Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lithuanian · 12 years ago
    "Lithuanian Special Operations Forcesƒ?? (LITHSOF) roots date back to 1944 when Lithuania started armed resistance against the Soviet regime. The tactics used by resistance fighters were the same ones used by SOF todayƒ??i.e. raids, unconventional warfare, clandestine ops, etc."

    Lithuanian Resistance Fighters:
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kazahstan · 12 years ago
    Lithuanians have sense of humour no doubt. But your comparison sounds dumb. It's not a kindergarten.
    I guess you are a thinking person and next time you will consider better before you add an article.
    Some of us take it as a offence of your silly comparison.
    Think your doing well with out boys.
    Good luck
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Futchie · 12 years ago
    The message was clear to me: Lithuanian commando's are real warriors, always eager to engage the terrorists. I think the confusion comes in depending whether you see "Borat" as a hyper-enthusiastic fun-figure or you took offensive to this fictional person.
    It never hurts to apology, but I think it wasn't necessary.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steamboat Jack · 12 years ago
    It is regrettable that your highly complimentary post was taken wrongly.

    I took your meaning to be that the Lithuanians were great warriors with a sense of humor and no use for "political correctness".

    The objections to the post seem to come from people outside the troops involved. What has the attitude of the soldiers referenced been? Did they find it objectionable also?

    Survivors of the former Soviet Union have a first hand understanding of the difference between freedom and slavery. I welcome their support and I am thankful for it.

    Merry Christmas and May God Bless Us Every One. Especially all of our brothers and sisters that stand by their guns in foreign lands to keep us safe.


    Steamboat Jack

    For those with a literary inclination, here is a poem by Rudyard Kipling that catches the pathos of troops stationed in a foreign land. In this case India, but not so far from Iraq and Afghanistan. http://classiclit.about.com/od/christmaspoempoetry/a/christmas_india.htm
  • This commment is unpublished.
    some Lithuanian · 12 years ago
    I'm very sorry that few our journalists have bad translation skills. and more sorry that a lot of common Lithuanians don't have any English skills at all.
    If phrase isn't understandable, the whole text clears it out that it was a very positive opinion. for which i thank the author.

    don't mind, and continua the good work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pa State Cop · 12 years ago
    The Pa National Guard is the Partner Group in the US with Lithuanian Armed Forces. The Guys I have met have been good guys all. When you see them in the chow hall the only difference between them and our guys is the flag on their sleeve. Missed you in Mosul, 1st MP's out of Campbell. Rotation after yours, Started with Alaska, Finished with /2 Strykers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Im just sayin · 12 years ago
    Maybe that is why they were so offended...I'm just sayin'.

    (Tongue in cheek)

    Veddy niiiice! I liiiike! Hiiigh fiiiiive!

    Keep up the good work Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Capt in ANG · 12 years ago
    Nice apology. I think Americans see the fun in the comment, but some of a foreign persuasion might not like Borat or any comparison. You see political over-correctness, unfortunately, all too often now. Taco Bell's Chihuahua actually had someone of Mexican decent say, "hey!!! THat's me!! And I'm insulted!!", and I also heard people think Burger King is insulting rd world countries, or those in poverty, with their "Whopper Virgins" ads.

    This is the sick luxury we have after 5 decades of no foreign state threat on our domestic soil. Instead of talking about serious issues, we waste time on trivial crap.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian H · 12 years ago
    There is nothing which will deflect the drive of one determined to be offended; being a victim is such fun! And it gets extra points with the Right Crowd (whichever one you happen to favour).
  • This commment is unpublished.
    sean · 12 years ago
    proud be lithuanian
    kasp soldier
  • This commment is unpublished.
    sean from usa ,NJ · 12 years ago
    Happy Thanksgiving from Zabul Province, Afghanistan.

    The Taliban seem to be mostly afraid of American soldiers. They do attack U.S. and inflict damage, but all around I hear from Afghans and U.S. soldiers that the Taliban are mostly trying to avoid contact with U.S., while focusing attacks mostly on Afghans. Some people see the Taliban as courageous, but I am seeing more and more that they use cowardly tactics, often hiding behind women and children.

    I am tonight in Zabul Province and have been out with New York National Guard. Their morale is high and they think they are winning the fight, despite the long series of frustrations that come with the terrain of war. Especially in Afghanistan.

    Our cell phones are not working tonight; the Taliban forces cell phone operators to turn off the towers at night. The Taliban are afraid of being tracked, and are afraid the Americans will interrupt their sleep. The cell towers are cut off from 5: 0 PM to 7:00 AM. An American captain told me that one group of operators decided to turn off the system late one night, so the Taliban came, killed one man, and tortured two others.

    On an interesting side, Americans and Afghans are giving very high marks to the Lithuanian Special Forces who operate here. They are less impressed with Romanians; Afghans and Americans say the Romanians are afraid of the Taliban, but that the Lithuanians are having a field day chasing and killing Taliban.

    On the Iraq front, please read Down with Barriers, Up with Iraq.

    The Iraq war is over, but the Afghan playoffs will begin in 2009. This fight is just getting started. Please send lots of Marines, and lots of training teams for the Afghan Army and police.

    Your correspondent,
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lithuanian · 11 years ago
    Aaah, it's so nice to remember and read that article once in a while, it made me so proud :-) Needless to say I did not find it insulting in the least, though yes, i do understand why others might have, some people in Lithuanis have this inferiority complex, i don't know if it has to do with us being a small nation, or because of the fact that we were in Russia's hands for so long, but it's there and some are really sensitive to the remarks of people from other nations. To me the article seemed nothing but flatering and funny, and even if I believe this apology was not nessesary, it's better to be safe than sorry, right?

    Anyhow, on behalf of those that are not so touchy and DID understand what you meant, I thank you for the wonderful article about our boys ;-) Keep 'em comin', we'd love to know more :-)

    Best regards.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    andy · 10 years ago
    Jesus and Holly Joseph - they had fought against russian red scum until the very 56 of XX. century.... when all ours western "democratic countries" already betrayed them. by the time. And u think that they'e going mad about such article? It just so low....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    j.cooper · 10 years ago
    "Aitvaras" means "flying snake", not a "kite" a some asshole wrote .....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lithuanian · 10 years ago
    I didn't thought this could offend some one. But don't take to seriously to negative comments. Many Lithuanians just reacts negative almost to everything. Your letter was great, and cheered me as Lithuanian. Thanks mate.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lith · 7 years ago
    I think this story needs some context.

    Unfortunately, majority of the Lithuanian media is a bunch of low-brow sensationalist schmucks (not unlike most of big western media) and they knowingly "misunderstood" Yon's irony.

    They then used the "Borat" bit in headlines to hype up the story and to get reaction from some illiterate Lith "Tea Party" types.

    TL R No one actually got offended - it was a typical ploy of media jackalls. Cheers from Lithuania to Yon.

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