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Where Men Win Glory – the Odyssey of Pat Tillman

September 16, 2009

John Krakauer’s highly anticipated account of a tragic friendly fire incident in 2004 is now in bookstores. I am trying to squeeze in some time to go through this book, which promises to be very well researched and well-told.

Pat Tillman (left) in Afghanistan, 2004

Pat Tillman (left) in Afghanistan, 2004

http://www.amazon.com/Where-Men-Win-Glory-Odyssey/dp/0385522266/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253118369&sr=8-1

A prologue from the book:

Excerpt: ‘Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman’

by Jon Krakauer

Ever since Homo sapiens first coalesced into tribes, war has been part of the human condition. Inevitably, warring societies portray their campaigns as virtuous struggles, and present their fallen warriors as heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for a noble cause. But death by so-called friendly fire, which is an inescapable aspect of armed conflict in the modern era, doesn’t conform to this mythic narrative. It strips away war’s heroic veneer to reveal what lies beneath. It’s an unsettling reminder that barbarism, senseless violence, and random death are commonplace even in the most “just” and “honorable” of wars. Consequently, and unsurprisingly, when soldiers accidentally kill one of their own, there is tremendous reluctance to confront the truth within the ranks of the military. There is an overwhelming inclination to keep the unsavory particulars hidden from public view, to pretend the calamity never occurred. Thus it has always been, and probably always will be. As Aeschylus, the exalted Greek tragedian, noted in the fifth century b.c., “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

When Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, his Ranger regiment responded with a chorus of prevarication and disavowal. A cynical cover-up sanctioned at the highest levels of government, followed by a series of inept official investigations, cast a cloud of bewilderment and shame over the tragedy, compounding the heartbreak of Tillman’s death.

Among the several thousand pages of documents generated by military investigators, some baffling testimony emerged from the Ranger who is believed to have fired the bullets that ended Tillman’s life. In a sworn statement, this soldier explained that while shooting a ten-round burst from his machine gun at the hillside where Tillman and O’Neal were positioned, he “identified two sets of arms straight up” through the scope of his weapon. “I saw the arms waving,” he acknowledged, “but I didn’t think they were trying to signal a cease-fire.” So he pulled the trigger again and sprayed them with another ten-round burst. How was one supposed to make sense of this?

Or this: in July 2007, the Associated Press published an article reporting that the Navy pathologist who performed Tillman’s autopsy testified that the forensic evidence indicated Tillman had been shot three times in the head from a distance of thirty-five feet or less. The article prompted widespread speculation on the Internet and in the mainstream press that he had been deliberately murdered.

the author on patrol with Afghan government forces in Afghanistan, 2006

the author on patrol with Afghan government forces in Afghanistan, 2006

Many other details about the fatal firefight that found their way into the public domain were similarly perplexing. Perhaps the greatest mystery, however, surrounded not the circumstances of Tillman’s death but the essential facts of his life. Before he enlisted, Tillman was familiar to sports aficionados as an undersized, overachieving football player whose virtuosity in the defensive backfield was spellbinding. But during the four years he spent in the NFL, Tillman played for the Arizona Cardinals ā€” a mediocre small-market team that was seldom in the limelight ā€” so his name wasn’t widely recognized beyond the realm of hard-core football fans.

Although it wasn’t Tillman’s intention, when he left the Cardinals to join the Army he was transformed overnight into an icon of post-9/11 patriotism. Seizing the opportunity to capitalize on his celebrity, the Bush administration endeavored to use his name and image to promote what it had christened the Global War on Terror. Tillman abhorred this role. As soon as he decided to enlist, he stopped talking to the press altogether, although his silence did nothing to squelch America’s fascination with the football star who traded the bright lights and riches of the NFL for boot camp and a bad haircut. Following his death on the battlefield, the public’s interest in Tillman shot through the roof. The posthumous media frenzy shed little light on who he really was, however. The intricate mosaic of personal history that defined his existence was obscured by the blizzard of hype.

Unencumbered by biographical insight, people felt emboldened to invent all manner of personae for Tillman after his passing. Most of these renderings were based on little more than rumor and fantasy. The right-wing harridan Ann Coulter claimed him as an exemplar of Republican political values. The left-wing editorial cartoonist Ted Rall denigrated him in a four-panel comic strip as an “idiot” who joined the Army to “kill Arabs.”

Neither Coulter nor Rall had any idea what motivated Pat Tillman. Beyond his family and a small circle of close friends, few people did.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. ROBERT WALLACE permalink
    October 29, 2009 1:58 am

    I am just finishing reading WHERE MEN WIN GLORY. It is an awsome read full of what I hope are well sought out details. I think it is a shame that this man or any other soldier should die in this manner. I think the circumstances surounding Pat Tillman’s death were handled poorly by the military & especially by the Bush administration. His family should not been lied to so many times.

    Thank you

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