William McRaven: I had an opportunity at Naval Postgraduate School to do some thinking about special operations. And more importantly, I had an opportunity to travel to Europe and interview some of the great special operators of World War II and also kind of post-World War II. Most of them were still alive. They were in their 70s — early 70s to early 80s — and the folks I interviewed were still very sharp and remembered the missions they went on as though they were yesterday. So having an opportunity to sit down with these phenomenal officers and enlisted who had been part of some of the great operations in special operations history was just incredibly educational for me.
But I remember as I was interviewing Herr Witzig, who was a German officer, about the raid on Eben-Emael, which was a very famous German raid into Belgium that secured a very difficult fort with a small number of folks. But in the course of my questioning for him, he said, “Well, you are developing a theory here, yes?” And at the time I was actually just trying to cull out the principles of special operations, much like the broader principles of war. But when he touched on the idea that you were developing a theory, I thought, “I think he is on to something.”
So I went back and really spent about another six to eight months to figure out how do I take the principles and turn them into a real theory about why special operations succeed. Not just the principles, but why do they succeed, how can you — not analytically, but kind of intellectually — take a look at a special operation ahead of time and say, “Look, are we going to achieve this thing I call ‘relative superiority’ in a timely enough manner and long enough to be able to accomplish the mission?” So it was a wonderful, passionate effort on my part to just kind of find this out. And fortunately, the book got a lot of traction with some of the younger officers, and I’m pleased to see that it got such a wide read.