Monday, September 14, 2009

Pat Tillman and the Silence of Gettysburg

       In response to the silence of Gettysburg here, my friend and colleague Carl Pletsch sent me the following insightful note:

       Alan, I was thinking today . . . Pat Tillman was afraid he would be paraded by the administration - an intimation of his fate.  He didn't want to be used that way.  But they paraded him quite dishonestly when he was killed.  Now when a photograph of a soldier killed in action with the enemy is shown, they want to hide him.  I have not seen this juxtaposition in the media.  Have you?  Carl 

     The New York Times Sunday Book Review this past weekend reviewed Jon Kracauer’s book Where Men Win Glory: the Odyssey of Pat Tillman.  Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League.  But he and his brother are, unusually, men of conscience.  When September 11th happened, Tillman found playing football and being amply rewarded for it empty.  In a true act of democratic patriotism and decency he signed up, as did his brother, to fight in Afghanistan.  Pat Tillman never wanted to be celebrated for having done so, let alone to be used, as the Pentagon was anxious to do, as a poster-boy to cajole others to sign up. 

      According to the current story (the facts of Tillman’s death have not yet been released to the family), patrolling in Afghanistan, the group he was part of divided in two.  But his part decided to double back.  Thinking they were the enemy, the other part fired on them; a machine gunner shot Tillman twice in the head.  The Pentagon then depicted the story as an heroic death under enemy fire, organizing a celebration featuring John McCain and presenting Tillman with a medal.  His brother was near the battlefield but was never told a straight story.  Nor have his parents been to this day.  They all protest loudly, but the media, except in this and related book reviews, does not so much as acknowledge the horror.  McCain is a patriot and might have had a patriot’s concern for the tragedy of Tillman’s death and the atrocity of its use to boost “patriotism” by the Generals and  Donald Rumsfeld.  Lying about people (consider also Jessica Lynch) is propaganda. The cause of our invasion in Afghanistan had already slipped from official memory; lying to invade Iraq was now the purpose, and little metal flags on Bush’s or Cheney’s lapel were empty, the opposite of patriotism. 

       Pat Tillman worried to a friend that his death would be used by the Pentagon to justify hoodwinking others, compelled by economic circumstance, to join the military. 

          "I don't know how the conversation got brought up, but one night he said that he was afraid that if something happened to him, they would parade him through the streets," Spc. Jade Lane told Krakauer. "Those were his exact words: 'I don't want them to parade me through the streets.'"

      Tillmam had participated in the rescue of Jessica Lynch.  Of the propaganda surrounding it, he wrote in his diary:

           “This mission will be a P.O.W. rescue, a woman named Jessica Lynch.  As awful as I feel for the fear she must face, and admire the courage I’m sure she’s showing, I do believe this to be a big Public Relations stunt. Do not mistake me, I wish everyone in trouble to be rescued, but sending this many folks for a single low ranking soldier screams of media blitz.”

      Kracauer persuaded Marie Tillman (Pat's wife) to let him see the diaries.  Pat had carried around one of Kracauer's books in his pack just before he was killed, and his wife agreed to be interviewed:

         "Once Marie decided to cooperate in New York City, I stayed up all night, buzzed on coffee, making copies of all Pat wrote. Hearing his words was so powerful. I knew he was sort of a maverick and not a typical jock and football star, but I had no idea how complex he was, how sensitive or how liberal were his politics. God, I cannot imagine how Pat served in the war in Iraq that he thought was wrong, brought about by an incompetent president. And he could have gotten out of the Army after two years and returned to the NFL—I would have been out of there so fast! But Pat wouldn’t do it even though he loathed the war, was not happy in the Army, and felt guilt about how miserable he was making Marie. The journals show what an amazing love story there was between Pat and Marie. Marie did not talk about that, but Pat wrote about it extensively. It was very powerful and heartbreaking to me. Pat Tillman was a special guy, not just some jock constructing a different persona [sic - few athetes are just 'jocks']. He was the real deal."

      A man who went his own way and liked to read any time he got the chance, Tillman had arranged to meet Noam Chomsky the next time he was on leave in the United States.  He detested the Iraq War.  He was a patriot, not a fool, a human being, not a celebrity.  His nobility shines out at us.

      For the Pat Tillmans of this world, Lincoln spoke his immortal words at Gettsyburg:  that this great and so far brief, threatened experiment of government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.  The lies about Tillman, as Bush’s concealment of the other dead – the silence of Gettysburg – betray his sacrifice. Lincoln’s words honor serious concern for a democratic common good.  Lincoln’s words are what Pat Tillman gave his life for.

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