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Pat Tillman, Our Hero | The Nation

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Pat Tillman, Our Hero

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"I don't believe it," seethed Ann Coulter.

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Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin, The Nation’s sports correspondent, is the author, most recently, of Game Over: How Politics Has...

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Her contempt was directed at a September 25 San Francisco Chronicle story reporting that former NFL star and Army Ranger war hero Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan last year, believed the US war on Iraq was "f***ing illegal" and counted Noam Chomsky among his favorite authors. It must have been quite a moment for Coulter, who upon Tillman's death described him in her inimitably creepy fashion as "an American original--virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be." She tried to discredit the story as San Francisco agitprop, but this approach ran into a slight problem: The article's source was Pat Tillman's mother, Mary.

Mary and the Tillman family are relentlessly pushing for answers to the questions surrounding Pat's death in Afghanistan. They want to know why it took the Pentagon five weeks to tell them he died in a tragic case of friendly fire. They want to know why they were unwitting props at Pat's funeral, weeping while lies were told by eulogizing politicians. Mary is now hoping that a new Pentagon inquiry will bring closure. "There have been so many discrepancies so far that it's hard to know what to believe," she said to the Chronicle. "There are too many murky details."

The very private Tillmans have revealed a picture of Pat profoundly at odds with the GI Joe image created by Pentagon spinmeisters and their media stenographers. As the Chronicle put it, family and friends are now unveiling "a side of Pat Tillman not widely known--a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books...to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author." Tillman had very unembedded feelings about the Iraq War. His close friend Army Spec. Russell Baer remembered, "I can see it like a movie screen. We were outside of [an Iraqi city] watching as bombs were dropping on the town.... We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f***ing illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush." With these revelations, Pat Tillman the PR icon joins WMD and Al Qaeda connections on the heap of lies used to sell the Iraq War.

Tillman's transition from one-dimensional caricature to critically thinking human being is a long time coming. The fact is that in death he was far more useful to the armchair warriors than he had ever been in life. When the Pro Bowler joined the Army Rangers, the Pentagon brass needed a loofah to wipe their drool: He was white, handsome and played in the NFL. For a chicken-hawk Administration led by a President who loves the affectations of machismo but runs from protesting military moms, this testosterone cocktail was impossible to resist. The problem was that Tillman wouldn't play their game. To the Pentagon's chagrin, he turned down numerous offers to be its recruitment poster child.

But when Tillman fell in Afghanistan the wheels once again started to turn. Now the narrative was perfect: "War hero and football star dies fighting terror." The Abu Ghraib scandal was about to hit the press, so the President found it especially useful to praise Tillman as "an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror." His funeral was nationally televised. Bush even went back to the bloody well during the presidential campaign, addressing his team's fans on the Arizona Cardinals' stadium Jumbotron.

We now know, of course, that this was all a brutal charade. Such callous manipulation is fueling the Tillman family's anger. As Mary Tillman said this past May, "They could have told us up front that they were suspicious that [his death] was a fratricide, but they didn't. They wanted to use him for their purposes.... They needed something that looked good, and it was appalling that they would use him like that." A growing number of military families, similarly angered, are criticizing the war in Iraq through organizations like Military Families Speak Out.

As for Chomsky, whom Ann Coulter would undoubtedly label "treasonous," Mary Tillman says a private meeting was planned between him and Pat after Pat's return--a meeting that never took place, of course. Chomsky confirms this scenario. This was the real Pat Tillman: someone who, like the majority of this country, was doubting the rationale for war, distrusting his Commander in Chief and looking for answers. The real Pat Tillman, the one with three dimensions, must stick in the throat of the Bush-Coulter gang, a pit in the cherry atop their bloody sundae.

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