I sat down to watch The Tillman Story after Netflix gave it high marks as a recommendation. It was a blistering story about the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan.
“In war, truth is the first casualty.” – Aeschylus
I wanted to learn some more and remembered that Jon Krakauer had written Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. Tillman was the starting free safety for the Arizona Cardinals when he decided to enlist in the army. Although he didn’t want the attention, he was transformed into an icon of 9-11 patriotism. A legend, foregoing millions to serve his country. Neither the movie nor this book squarely address why Tillman decided to enlist. It seems clear that it was very personal decision, only truly know by Mr. Tillman and his wife.
What the movie failed to portray was Tillmana person. That was the focus of the book. What I didn’t realize was the intellectual prowess of Tillman. He is portrayed not as a meathead jock who wants to shoot things. He comes across as thoughtful and introspective.
Besides the portrayal of Tillman as a person, Krakauer spends large chunks of the book setting the background on other key players. There is great background on history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan going back to the Soviet invasion. Many of the weapons used against US soldiers likely came from U.S. funding of the Mujahideen during their battle against the Soviets. Then there is the rise of Osama bin Laden and his desire to draw the Unites States into Afghanistan. There were plenty of missed opportunities during the Clinton administration to counter the rise of bin Laden. Perhaps he was distracted by the Lewinsky scandal?
With the bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan, along came propaganda to support the war effort. The prelude to the Tillman incident was the Jessica Lynch incident. She was initially portrayed as a hero, firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition, fighting to death and taking multiple gunshot wounds and stab wounds. Later, a Special Operations force swept in and rescued her from torture and abuse by her captors.
Unfortunately, the truth is that she sustained her wounds when her Humvee crashed into another truck in her convoy. She never fired a single shot because her gun jammed. During her stay in Saddam Hussein General Hospital she was treated as any other patient. The doctors were the ones who told US forces that Lynch was in the hospital. When the huge Special Operations force arrived at the hospital, they met no significant resistance.
Tillman played a very minor role in the Lynch “rescue.” But the propaganda success of the Lynch incident played a big role in what happened after Tillman was killed by friendly fire thirteen months later.
Tillman’s enlistment generated good headlines for the war effort. The military leaders and the White House assumed that painting his death as the saga of a fallen hero would create a media frenzy. Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and promoted to corporal for his bravery in the combat that took his life.
A commanding officer assured Tillman’s brother that whoever was responsible would pay dearly. “This would turn out to be the first in a long string of broken promises and self-serving lies proffered to the Tillman family by commissioned officers of the U.S. Army.”
Having read Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, I expected some solid writing. Krakauer has proven he can craft a true story into a page-turner of a book, bringing depth to the participants and providing insights to their motivation. He delivers again.
Where Men Win Glory is worth your reading time.