Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Killed By Friendly Fire

Former Arizona Cowboy, Army Ranger Pat Tillman died deep in southeastern Afghanistan April 22, 2004. Army Ranger Tillman died knowing he was a victim of friendly fire. I first learned of Pat Tillman after the Tillman family (Pat’s mother and brother Kevin, also an Army Ranger in Pat's Platoon) finally rooted out the true information, that had been hidden from them, and they began speaking out in public.

When I saw author Jon Krakauer interviewed on Book TV on a recent Saturday, I determined to find his newest book--Where Men Win Glory, Doubleday, 2009. I found the $28 hardcover among the new book offerings at our local library. Krakauer has detailed a rivoting chronicle of a tragic odyssey that left a trail from SE Afghanistan through the White House, to Pat‘s home on the West Coast. Krakauer researched his book assiduously.

Tillman, an undersized professional football player who made history on the gridiron, extended himself to serve his country and become a tough Army Ranger. He ended up in Iraq, part of an "oversized staging" of the rescue of Jessica Lynch. Driven by complicated emotions, personal notions of patriotism, pride, and masculinity, Tillman overcame his conclusion that the Iraq War was “illegal as hell” and determined to serve his full enlistment--finally dying in Afghanistan.

Deep in the mountains adjacent to Pakistan, maintaining a relatively insignificant outpost, his platoon found themselves floundering with broken down equipment, senseless orders from higher up, and inadequate support. Ordered to divide their Platoon into two groups, they separated as ordered--against their better judgment they followed orders. Pat Tillman’s section eventually came under some enemy fire.

The real conflict came when the second group inadvertently came up unwittingly on Pat’s group--pinned down. In the chaos and confusion, the second group began firing at the first group (unidentified in the dusk) and ultimately the Afghani with Pat was killed and Pat was critically wounded. Krakauer successfully unthreads the complicated story and makes it a very readable adventure.

What disturbed me was the way the Military wanted to use their celebrities (Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman) as Posters to increase public support of the war--being willing to manipulate people, tell glorious lies, and show an utter contempt of truth in doing so. What made it even more sickening to me was how the Military Chain of Command abused the system, hid the truth as long as they could, and deleted integrity.

Henry Waxman, chairman of the Congressional Oversight Committee that finally got hold of it, “stated in frustration, ‘What we have is a very clear, deliberate abuse intentionally done. Why is it so hard to find out who did it.'”

Interestingly, the soldiers involved finally received a variety of relative slaps on the wrist as punishment, they did not feel was justified, while the two ranking officers up the echelon received promotions; one became a full Colonel, the other a Brigadier General. Correspondent Ed Henry challenged President Bush with the fact that seven investigations had FAILED to get to the bottom of the truth, but Mr. Bush equivocated.

Pat Tillman’s lifestyle was not one I would choose. Some of the language is not language I find comfortable. Yet, I found compelling reasons for being attracted to the core character and integrity of Pat Tillman, although I am a man of religious faith and he was not. I admire a man who will walk away from a multi-million-dollar contract just to do what he believes is the RIGHT thing to do.

I found the Military-Political behavior revealed throughout the investigations of the “friendly fire” incident self-serving, despicable, unacceptable, totally untrustworthy. Accidents happen. Friendly fire kills many; I understand and accept that, but let the truth be told.

I believe Jon Krakauer found Pat Tillman too good a human being to be wasted as a tool for propaganda and covered up with a Silver Star because of the bungling of a desk officer up the command. It is a remarkable story, more compelling than fiction--worth reading whichever side of the war argument you are on.


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