Friday, 24 April 2015


On the anniversary of his death, I received one notice reminding us that Pat Tillman died 'protecting us'.
Couched in the rhetoric of the new American fear, that statement seemed an insult to the reality of what Tillman stood for. Recalling his tragic death should have  reminded us Tillman didn't want to be used as a recruiting tool when he quit football to enlist in the army, and he certainly would not have wanted to be used to perpetuate the world-view he had come to realise was a sham.

Pat Tillman remains a shining example of individual courage failed by the authorities and the very ideals in which he believed. Tillman discovered quickly he wasn't 'protecting' America; he came to the unshakeable conclusion he was fighting in an illegal war.

When he died, he was killed by his comrades, in a firefight that featured no enemies. The military immediately created a story around his death that would let them continue to use Tillman for their own purposes. His superiors lied about what happened. They ordered his fellow soldiers to lie about what had happened. Their superiors, knowing it was a lie, lied about what had happened, and about the lies. They burned his flak jacket and his diary, evidence of who Tillman really was, and what had really happened to him. They lied to his family, which in many ways is more sickening than their lies to America.

When the lies were revealed, they accused Tillman and his family of atheism and other crimes. Like cowards they began a massive coverup.  An epidemic of memory loss --'a near-universal lack of recall' according to the House investigators--struck a huge number of high-ranking officers involved. Men with such shaky mental processes should not be in command of soldiers in the front-lines. They protected their jobs, their pensions, their advancement, and as has become endemic in the tales of the Bush invasions, let the grunts on the ground take the blame.

Still they couldn't stop the truth. Army surgeons testified the three shots that killed him were fired at close range, contradicting the official second version of his death. His mother believes he was murdered. Whatever the truth it is a story of deep incompetence and systemic malfeasance, the poisoned fruit of a very poisoned political tree. Pat Tillman was indeed a hero, a symbol of much of the best of the America we would like to be. But his is a story of deep shame and that is the truth of what America ought to be reminded of whenever they are asked to remember Pat Tillman and his death.

1 comment :

Kieran said...

Thanks for that, Mike. Good post. I've gobbled up everything I can about Tillman since I stumbled across Gary Smith's fantastic SI article a long time ago.