Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pat Tillman

I reluctantly wrapped up the first season of The Walking Dead, leaving the post-zombie apocalypse world to find my next Netflix offering: The Tillman Story. On the surface, reader, this was a queue management fail but I persevered. There was nothing else to watch.

I knew the Pat Tillman story had something to do with the war in Iraq. However, I think I may have been conflating the Tillman family with the Sheehan family. My lack of sports knowledge is entirely to blame. It truly is a cultural handicap for which I require a reasonable accommodation.

Both the Sheehans and the Tillmans are from California. Each had sons killed in war in 2004: Casey Sheehan in Iraq and Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. The mothers of each man were spurred into action following their deaths; the similarities end there.

After Casey Sheehan was killed by enemy fire in Iraq, his mother Cindy subsequently became an outspoken critic of the war and of Bush's and later Obama's foreign and military policies. In 2008, Sheehan launched an unsuccessful bid for Congress in California, although she captured 16% of the vote, which is really pretty good considering she ran against Nancy Pelosi.

If you're anyone other than me, you already know who Pat Tillman was, but humor me: Pat Tillman was a football player for the Arizona Cardinals who famously turned down a $3.6 million contract to enlist in the Army with his brother Kevin shortly after September 11th.

The documentary, directed by Amir Bar-Lev, describes Tillman as disillusioned with the war after his first deployment in Iraq but returned for his second deployment to Afghanistan, where he was killed by friendly fire. This is not what the Army first reported to the family. In fact, as the movie unfolds, it becomes clear that the Army went to great lengths to cover up this incident, then try to cover up their cover-up.

On the one hand, I get it. The country's most famous soldier, a poster boy for patriotism and sacrifice for country, has been killed by another American with no enemy combatants in sight. What a shit show. Yet, this is one of the things that can and does happen during a war. Based on interviews in the film, I bet the Tillmans would have had a lot more respect had the Army simply acknowledged the terrible reality of these kinds of deaths that are part of war. But no, they suppressed the truth and tried to cover it up despite the event being witnessed by a fellow soldier who has consistently maintained what happened that day. I mean my god, if you're really intending to cover-up, then cover up! Kill all the witnesses! It's like the toddler who 'hides' by covering their eyes with their hands.

It gets worse. When responding to the Tillman family-encouraged government investigation of what happened and why, the responses from military leaders were all essentially variations on "I didn't get the memo" that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire.

Really! It makes total sense that when Tillman enlisted, Donald Fucking Rumsfeld sent him a personal thank you letter, but when Tillman was killed by fratricide, Rumsfeld didn't find out. At least not right away. Actually he's not sure when he found out. The memo may have been sent to the wrong office or misfiled by some incompetent clerk. Sure! I believe that! It's so hard to find good help.

The movie doesn't address the question of whether Tillman was actually assassinated. This is odd, because the circumstances surrounding his death are rather questionable--there was no sign of enemies according to the witness, no evidence of enemy gunfire, so what exactly prompted the other Americans to start shooting?

There are lots of articles on interwebs positing that this is exactly what happened. In addition to the lack of the cue for the shooting, Army medical examiners felt the bullet holes in Tillman's head did not support the story as relayed, but rather pointed to a closer-range shooting. Could the Army have been so worried that Tillman, their celebrity soldier who was disillusioned and not afraid to say so, would publicly tarnish the war that they decided to have him killed? I think I need to entertain the possibility.

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