Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Greatest Fucking American Hero

On Friday, I went to see the documentary about Pat Tillman and his family. For some reason, Pat Tillman's story has touched me in a place I can't fully articulate. He is undoubtedly the most famous friendly fire casualty and clearest case of how wasteful war truly is when great human beings like him are sacrificed by the cowards in political office.

I normally prefer to watch documentaries on DVD because it seems silly to pay $10 to see one on the big screen (although I have seen several Michael Moore and Iraq War documentaries in theaters), but I simply cannot wait however many months for this one. I've only read bits and pieces of Pat Tillman's story over the years, so here was a chance to get a more complete picture of the man and his tragic end, from the perspective of his family. In fact, so desirous was I in wanting to see this documentary on opening day that I missed out on an opportunity to attend a spiritual lecture about Law of Attraction type ideas that was being filmed for a documentary at the same church that held the Bruce Springsteen Eucharist and U2charist earlier this year.

I had never heard of Pat Tillman until 2002, when he became the most famous military enlistee. He was a professional football player with the Arizona Cardinals, who had a $3 million offer to play for the St. Louis Rams. He turned it down to enlist in the U.S. Army with his brother Kevin, supposedly inspired by the call to serve in the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks (though he never gave his reasons publically). That act made him more famous (particularly for people like me who do not follow sports). Rightwing commentator Ann Coulter called him "the ideal Republican man" for doing this, which was absurd, because most Republicans in Congress, the Bush Administration, and on talk radio had avoided military service in Vietnam like the true cowards that they are. A liberal commentator supposedly called Tillman an example of a meatheaded jock.

He was neither. The reason he captivated my interest is because his act of leaving a well paid and dream career to serve in the military in a time of war is simply unheard of. It showed that this guy marched to the beat of his own drummer. The man has integrity. He meets the true definition of "nonconformist." I admire people like that, even though I thought this was a bad idea for him. However, his actions showed that he was not like the celebrities we've grown accustomed to, where materialism, wealth and fame are the point of existence.

Even more than this amazing decision, Tillman refused to speak to reporters about his decision and he requested that the U.S. Army treat him the same as every other soldier, which is to say: treat like shit. He became part of the elite group of Army Rangers and deployed to Iraq. In the documentary, my favourite quote is when he supposedly came back from that war saying, "This war is so fucking illegal." What I learned in the documentary is that his entire family has a fondness for the f-word and use it often. His youngest brother, Richard, even used the word at his funeral, saying something along the lines of: "Pat's not with God. He's an atheist. He's fucking dead." Pat might have been an atheist, but I definitely believe he's with God. How could a true, inspiring, and great human being not be?
The documentary covers the hero worship and media whitewash of Pat Tillman, which bothers his family. The building of a heroic myth was disturbing for the family because much of what was said about him did not reflect reality. People also tried to take "ownership" of him for whatever self-serving agendas (the Bush Administration for propaganda purposes, the Army for recruiting goals, the rightwing radio for bashing war dissenters, the liberals for the tragedy of war, etc). As one who has been in the military myself, I believe that Pat was the kind of person I would have naturally been friends with in the military. According to those who knew him, he liked to discuss history, politics, religion, and economics. He had a passion for heated debate. One found him reading books by Noam Chomsky, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. He kept a journal. And he made it explicitly clear that he did not want his decision or possible death to be used for propaganda purposes.

When I was in the Navy, I always cringed whenever strangers thanked me for my service and praised me without even knowing anything about me. I am still bothered by the civilian worship of the military, particularly by conservative, evangelical types. Whenever I hear their lavish praises to military members, I wonder if they would still think the same if they knew military guys the way I knew military guys. The reason why it was difficult for me to find true friends in the military is because many enlisted guys I served with were alcoholics, vulgar, coarse, and sex obsessed (adultery was prevalent). Conservative evangelicals love to moralize and demonize people who disagree, but when it comes to the military, they seem to think that guys who join the military are pure, ethical, and godly. It makes me want to strap them to a chair and force them to watch a miniseries like Generation Kill, which reflects how guys really behave in company with one another. Some conservatives have found that show to be offensive, which shows how clueless they are about the reality of guy culture in the hypermasculine world of the military. And yes, the enlisted side of the military is far different from the officer side. As an enlisted guy, I had more in common with officers but due to the rules against fraternization, enlisteds and officers could not be friends (the biggest rule I hated, though I understood the reasons why there needs to be such a rule).

If I knew Pat in the military, he and I would have likely been friends because the friendships I did make in the military were generally with guys who could discuss something other than sex and sports. Having heated discussions about politics and religion is my forte, so I think Pat would have appreciated talking about such topics with a person like me. Since I think of the f-word as my favourite word in the English language, I think Pat would have appreciated that view, considering how often he used it. In fact, his last words were: "I'm Pat fucking Tillman!" He screamed that at the guys in his unit who were firing up at the ridge he was on, before getting hit in the legs and then in the head.

Seen above is a photo of Pat (on the left) with his younger brother Kevin. I'm surprised that they served in the same unit together. I thought that was not allowed, due to the policy of avoiding a tragedy where a mother loses more than one son in war. But, they probably wanted to serve together, since they enlisted together. Pat was the oldest of three boys.

After his tragic death, the U.S. Army told the Tillman family that he had died by saving his unit, as he charged up a hill at enemies. He was even given a Silver Star for that act. The family, though, were skeptical of the story they were told because they knew Pat was not the type who would charge the enemy when being fired upon. There were other holes in the story that did not make sense to them. Soon, they learned that he was killed by members of his own unit with some suspicion that it might have even been murder, rather than accidental.

The Army kept changing details of the story, which frustrated the Tillman family. As made clear in the documentary, the Army "messed with the wrong family." The Army probably thought that they would be like most families, being satisfied with the "official story" and the Silver Star award and not asking too many questions or delving too deeply into the written reports. But that's exactly what the Tillman family did. They requested documents and pored through every word, even making educated guesses about who said what in the redacted names that punctured the reports. They wanted to know who was responsible for the cover-up and didn't believe the fall guys that the Army offered.

The documentary points to Donald Rumsfeld as the key person, which I can believe based on everything else we know about the douchebag. He is a rotten piece of shit who I hope will burn in hell for a long time before he reincarnates in a warzone in a future lifetime. I can understand the U.S. Army's predicament when the most famous enlistee is killed by friendly fire. That kind of thing can kill recruiting efforts. Teens being sold on "An Army of One", where they can put their video game skillz to good use, get money for college, and not even serve in a war zone, would think twice. Here's a guy whose fame and relative financial comfort did not save. If someone like Pat Tillman could be killed in war, anyone could be! And friendly fire is probably the worst way to die in war. This scenario was a true nightmare for the Army, the Department of Defense, and the Bush Administration. Like every other uncomfortable bit of news, the Bush team begun spinning their lies until it became "true", no matter who got hurt in the process.

The photo above is of Pat Tillman on his wedding day to Marie. I was stunned to learn that he had known his wife since they were both four years old. In 9th grade, they were in the same school together and Pat was in love with her, but did not ask her out until they were seniors because he was finally taller than her. They remained a couple through college, his professional football career, and his enlistment. I love hearing that about him. That's actually the kind of wife I would like...someone I knew for a long time, where a friendship grew into something more. Its another example of Pat's nonconformity. He simply did not fit into any box that people wanted to put him into. I believe its a sign of his spiritual evolution: he's an "old soul."

Last year, Jon Krakauer released his latest book, which was about the life and death of Pat Tillman. I had wanted to read it, but waited until it was released in paperback. After I left the theater on Friday, I went straight to Powell's City of Books to buy a copy, as well as the memoir tribute written by his mother, Mary "Dannie" Tillman.

I'm currently reading Mary Tillman's book right now, which is probably not a smart thing to do on the bus during my morning and afternoon commute. I have found a few times, my eyes welling with tears. Its great to read about a guy from his mother's perspective, as she gives us insight into his being by writing about how he was as a child. I believe character is developed or formed in childhood. One thing the Tillmans taught their boys is that they needed to speak up and question things when they feel something is not right. I think I would have fit well in this family, because my questioning (as well as my demand for respect when faced with abusive coworkers) has gotten me in trouble at work. People in management or leadership positions generally do not like being questioned, so its not considered good for one's career to be so "disagreeable." But who cares what managers and leaders think? If they treat their underlings wrong, they can deal with the discomfort of questions they don't know the answers to.

Watching this documentary about a true hero of mine is probably not a good thing, considering what I'm planning to do regarding my work environment. In fact, learning more details about Pat Tillman's personality, life, and family only emboldens me to act against the injustice I feel. I know one thing about the managers at my office. They are cowards, cooped up in their office kingdoms and so afraid of being confronted with the truth of their incompetence. Its time to shine the spotlight on them for the lies they try to hide.

Pat Tillman may not have fit into people's comfortable boxes, nor was he a hero in how many people view heroes, but to me, he will always be a nonconformist hero that I admire. I'm glad that his family is not afraid to speak truth to people in power, making them feel uncomfortable as well they should. People who lie deserve no comfort. They must be held accountable for their cowardice. Its truly tragic that our country loses honourable men like Pat Tillman while evil fucks like Dick Cheney keep living despite heart attack after heart attack and evil scheming ways. I have no doubt that Pat Tillman found his way to the spiritual realm, despite his lack of belief in an afterlife. He was an advanced soul, who lived true to his calling no matter what people thought of his decisions.

If I have only one complaint about the documentary, its that they do not name the person who fired the fatal shot. They don't even hint at it or show any indication that the family was interested in knowing who fired the fatal shots that killed him. Perhaps this is to protect the guy(s), who likely feels horrendously awful if the friendly fire incident was accidental. Still, even if they don't name the person who fired the fatal shot, it would have been nice to know how the person felt upon learning that he had killed the most famous enlisted man of our generation, and what this person is doing now (is he in Fort Leavenworth prison, for instance?).



If they make an actual movie about Pat Tillman, there is only one actor who can play him. When watching the documentary, I was stunned by how much he looked like Seann William Scott (pictured at right). However, if this casting coup and movie gets made, I hope Seann will drop his goofy "Stifler" frat-boy antics in favour of a more nuanced performance. Pat Tillman deserves a respectful portrayal on the big screen. His life is a story for the ages. An inspiration about living true to your inner calling and having no fear of questioning leaders who lie to your face. It is up to each one of us to not tolerate those who would lie to us, especially when their jobs depend upon it. If we want to make the world a better place, we should take the advice of Pat's father, Patrick, who signed a letter to military leaders after reading their illogical report on Tillman's death: "Fuck you...and yours!" If the word is offensive to people, too bad. The Tillman family and I love the word. It gets the point across, doesn't it?

6 comments:

Julie said...

"I am still bothered by the civilian worship of the military, particularly by conservative, evangelical types...Conservative evangelicals love to moralize and demonize people who disagree, but when it comes to the military, they seem to think that guys who join the military are pure, ethical, and godly."

I have thought the same thing you're saying here, but am usually too scared to say it.

I'd also add that some conservatives--like some pro-war conservatives--seem to think that everyone in the military, and in every military family, agrees with them. Well, just from people i know, i know that is not necessarily the case. Another thing that bothers me is the attitude some people i know seem to have, that if you support the military, you have to agree with everything they do or are commanded to do. To me it's a non sequitur sometimes. Just because i like and/or support someone doesn't mean i approve of everything they do. It's especially odd when people that seem to have that attitude also believe we're all sinners. Well, if we're all sinners (which i do believe) then obviously that includes people they look up to and i look up to.

Anonymous said...

"act of leaving a well paid and dream career to serve in the military in a time of war is simply unheard of"

What a stupid statement. You can find examples in every war America has been involved in from 1776 to today. WWII in particular, if you care to look it up.

Sansego said...

Not stupid. I wasn't talking about WWII or even of Elvis Prestley. I'm talking about since Vietnam. Name me one wealthy and famous who gave up a lucrative career that paid a lot of money to be an enlisted man in the military in a war zone? Pat Tillman is the only one I can think of.

We are living in the selfish generation. People want a war but don't want to enlist, so we've had to look to Latin America with promises of citizenship for recruits who join and fight in our wars abroad.

The point I wanted to make is that Pat Tillman is a rare and honourable human being. I'd like to see some famous actor or rock star or professional athlete or corporate executive do what Pat Tillman did. Doubt you'll be able to name me a famous person (no, children of celebrities do not count).

Catherine said...

No doubt Pat would be offended by your claim that he is with God. Doesn't matter if you believe - he didn't and would resent you trying to thrust your beliefs on him. Face it - Pat Tillman did not believe in God or any kind of afterlife. He is exactly where he believed he'd end up after death - nowhere. Period.

Catherine said...

No doubt Pat would be offended by your claim that he is with God. Doesn't matter if you believe - he didn't and would resent you trying to thrust your beliefs on him. Face it - Pat Tillman did not believe in God or any kind of afterlife. He is exactly where he believed he'd end up after death - nowhere. Period.

Sansego said...

Thank you for your comment.

However, I think you missed the point of my post. A person who was an "atheist" in life, who then died and realized that he still exists in a spiritual form would not be "offended" by someone in human form saying that I think he would go to heaven.

I'm not thrusting my beliefs on him. Nor would I ever tell his family that "Pat's in heaven" because it would be inappropriate to do so. But since this blog is about how I view the world, I have the right to express my opinions regarding the fate of Pat Tillman and I really believe that he went to heaven.

Most atheist I know don't really object to an afterlife existence. It's that they cannot believe it exists because they require scientific evidence before they believe, and they have seen too many people make too many divisive claims regarding spiritual ideas that they don't want to spend the time to find a belief system that might resonate with them.

I completely understand the knee-jerk reaction to those who push an evangelical / fundamentalist Christian view of existence and afterlife possibilities. However, evangelical Christians likely believe that the atheist Pat Tillman would be burning in hell for his lack of belief in God. My universal spiritual view indicates that even an atheist like Pat Tillman would likely be in heaven and I don't think he would object to having discovered that he is an eternal being who will one day see his family someday.

I don't think Pat Tillman would be "offended" by what I wrote in my blog tribute to him. As the documentary pointed out, he felt like an protective older brother to a Mormon guy in his platoon. Pat appears to me to be a truly open-minded guy who read things, even if he did not agree with the message (he did read the Book of Mormon out of curiosity).