For those who don’t know the story, Pat Tillman was a professional American Football player with the Arizona Cardinals who gave it all up in the aftermath of Sept. 11 when he enlisted (with his professional baseball-playing brother) in the U.S. army rangers.
He served in Iraq before being deployed in Afghanistan (with his brother Kevin) where he was killed in what the U.S. military said was a contact with the Taliban but, after a terrible cover-up, it emerged was friendly fire.
Tillman had it all — a handsome, gifted athlete well loved by his wife, family, friends and fans — but using Tillman’s diaries and exhaustive interviews, Krakauer paints a picture of a young man who is an intelligent, deep thinker, strongly anti-Bush and his administration, a staunch atheist and very much against the Iraq war.
Nevertheless, he had joined the army to do service for his country. He never gave a single interview about his shock switch and he refused to accept the hero status that the authorities thrust on him and tried so hard to capitalise from.
It was an ironic scandal that the authorities tried to gain from Tillman’s death and a credit to his family that they refused to allow this to happen.
The strange-but-true aspect of the Tillman story is that while serving in Iraq, a war that deeply troubled him, he was part of the special forces operation that “rescued” Private Jessica Lynch, that poor girl who wandered into a shit storm and was “kidnapped” before being rescued in full technicolour by an administration desperate to paper over the deadliest day in the entire war for the Americans, with almost all the casualties coming from “friendly fire”.
It still amazes me that Rumsfeld and his cronies survived the fall out from that. They portrayed Lynch as a heroine who had gone down fighting before being badly injured and kidnapped by Iraqi troops or militia. The truth was her injuries, which were severe, had come from a humvee crash and she had been taken to a civilian hospital where she had been treated kindly, with some staff even donating blood for a transfusion. She she started recovering, the Iraqi medical staff put her in an ambulance and tried to drive her to American lines for better treatment, but they had to turn back when they were fired on by a U.S. checkpoint.
The raid to rescue her was ridiculous — there was simply nobody holding her. Tillman writes in his diaries about how he was disquieted by the whole affair. He would have gone mental at the lies the spun around his death.
I can’t recommend the book enough — even for those who are very much against Washington’s foreign adventures and, like me, are likely by instinct to dismiss Tillman as a naive, typical gung-ho American.
I expect a hollow jock, but Krakaur painted a portrait of a fascinating man; a genuine hero.