Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman

I suspect that most Americans are still confused about Pat Tillman’s death because of how that tragic event was reported. Early reports stated that Tillman had been killed in an enemy ambush and that his heroic actions during the firefight earned him a posthumous Silver Star. A few weeks later, the truth about Pat Tillman’s death began to trickle out and the public learned that he had actually been killed by friendly fire. Conspiracy theories became common and now, more than five years later, some people still believe that Tillman was murdered by one of his fellow soldiers.

Those who still wonder how something like this could happen, how the truth about Tillman’s death could have been withheld from his family for five weeks, can finally find their answers by turning to the new Jon Krakauer book Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. What Krakauer describes in the book is as understandable as it is disheartening. Human nature being what it is, almost from the moment Tillman’s body was recovered, some on the ground seem to have been more concerned with covering up the poor tactical decisions that contributed to his death than they were about reporting the truth. Others, much higher up in the chain-of-command, saw an opportunity to use Pat Tillman’s image as a morale booster for the entire country and, for that to happen, his death had to be a heroic one. This perfect storm of a cover-up would ultimately mean that Tillman’s family would have to challenge both the Army and the U.S. government if they were ever to know how their son, brother and husband really died.

Pat Tillman, a California native, was a complicated young man whose ability to play football at the highest level provided him with a measure of fame and a comfortable life. Tillman had a passionate love for his family, especially for his mother and his wife, and he was as close to Kevin Tillman as any two brothers could possibly be. But Tillman always envisioned himself as a defender of those incapable of defending themselves and, in May 2002, he decided to walk away from his $3.6 million NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army. He believed it to be his duty to help defeat those responsible for the 9-11 murders. Kevin Tillman, who felt the same obligation, enlisted at Pat’s side and the two served together right up to the moment of Pat’s death.

The manner of Pat Tillman’s death does not make him less a hero than if he had died at the hand of the enemy. The way he died is, beyond a doubt, a tragedy but American soldiers know that fratricide, death at the hand of a brother-in-arms, is nothing new in the heat of battle. Krakauer, in fact, points out that “21 percent of the casualties (both wounded and killed) in World War II were attributable to friendly fire, 39 percent of the casualties in Viet Nam, and 52 percent of the casualties in the first Gulf War.” To date of the book’s publication, Iraq and Iran casualties from friendly fire are 41% and 13%, respectively.

Where Men Win Glory uses an excellent group of simple maps to illustrate exactly what Tillman’s unit was trying to accomplish on the day he was killed and exactly how things went so wrong. Pat Tillman’s story is legend – Jon Krakauer shows us just how extraordinary the real man was.

Rated at: 5.0

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