Posted by: istop4books | May 9, 2011

Where Men Win Glory, the Odyssey of Pat Tillman

I heard on one of the Sunday morning talk shows this week that. “a military officer will give up his life for his country, but never ask him to give up his career.” This was mentioned in light of the killing of Bin Ladin, but as I was reading Where Men Win Glory, that phrase kept going around in my head.

I thought I knew something of the Pat Tillman case, not that I’m a news junkie, but I thought I had a vague idea. I didn’t. I had no idea of exactly what had happened because that first impression stuck. The news that we all heard that he’d been killed in an ambush was what stuck in my mind. When I subsequently heard it had been friendly fire “probably” as the press release read, I digested the information, but had no real idea of the how, who, where or why. This book cleared that up for me.

My son entered the army and did his basic in the hell hole that is Fort Benning. And Fort Benning offers deluxe accommodations compared to where he got stuck afterwards. So I get it. I understand why Tillman enlisted – and I honestly think that not a single kid enlists thinking he’s the one who’s going to die. They are invincible, it’ll happen to someone else and they are the ones who are going to kick butt. I get it.

Krakauer gives us the details of Tillman’s life leading up to his enlistment, his high school career, friendships, family relationships and motivations. He goes into a fairly hefty amount of detail on his NFL career, most of which went over my head as I don’t know the difference between a running back and a quarter back. But what I did discern from this is that Tillman was essentially a good kid, type-A, thrill seeker, challenging himself both physically and mentally , an outside the box thinker. He went against his Mormon upbringing, against the national wave of belief in the war in Iraq, he threw himself off a cliff to cling to a pine tree for the thrill of it. He had moral values and questioned his motives. He didn’t move through life as in a daze, he gave it some thought and wrote those thoughts down in journals which are quoted here extensively. He was a likeable guy, honorable and kind; a good son, a caring husband, a loving brother.

But shit happens and apparently a lot more than civilians realize. I had no idea that 21% of casualties in WWII were attributable to friendly fire, 39% in Vietnam. Who knew? And as shocking and distressing as these numbers are, I can wrap my head around them and chuck them up to the ugly price of waging war. There’s chaos, confusion, smoke, fear, nerves and noise and nobody’s figured a way around that yet.

What is unconscionable, disgusting, unpardonable, despicable and unbelievably self-serving is what the US Army and the government of the country Tillman was serving, attempted to do to boost their policies of misinformation. And they came damn close to getting away with it. The book outlines the chain of command, the minute by minute orders which were issued, who challenged the orders, who didn’t, and the ensuing bait and switch that went on. To me, the final coup de grace was trying to dupe the American public by issuing a press statement on Memorial Day, so we’d be so distracted by our picnics that we wouldn’t notice the wool which had just been pulled over our collective eyes.

“A military officer will give up his life for his country but don’t ask him to give up his career.” Where was the honor, the truth, the flipping freedom that these officers were supposedly fighting for? Was it honorable to let Tillman’s brother, wife and mother think he’d been killed in battle in order to further the agenda of Bush’s administration? What part of fighting for the freedom that comes with giving American citizens the truth did those officers not understand? We as Americans don’t put up with getting misinformation, watered down information, or sanitized information. Would they have lost their careers had they stood for the truth? Had they said they would not fabricate a story to be used in the propaganda of a war created by the Bush-Chaney administration? Maybe. Would they have upheld the honor that they were supposedly fighting for? For sure.

In the end, Krakauer exposes information which appeared in a myriad of publications in a format which is highly readable and only somewhat biased by what I perceived to be anger at the magnitude of the coverup and the deception of the administration. It’s not only recommended, it’s a must read.


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