I am sure I ignored or tried to ignore the image that was being created by the Bush administration. I was and am, however, enough of a football fan to have heard of Tillman to know that he was a cagey, undersized strong safety. An underdog who hit hard and didn’t talk much on or off the field. In short he was a solid player I admired. But once he became captain America meets GI Joe, I lost interest mostly because, like most Americans, I was duped and conned by the Army’s propaganda machine and eventual cover up of his death.
Now six years later, ironically on the anniversary of his death, I just finished Where Men Win Glory, the new Jon Krakauer book, which exposes the cover-up and sheds light on what an amazing human being Pat Tillman truly was. I wanted to read the book more so because of my love for Krakauer than Tillman. I have read every book Krakauer has ever written, and I had been waiting for this latest book well before it was released.
This post is not meant to be a review of the book. I will simply say that Krakauer once again works his magic. The prose is crisp and elegant. As always the author weaves two stories into a beautiful tapestry illustrating the tragic story of Pat Tillman with the equally disastrous stories of the War on Terror and the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda. I will leave it to you, reader, to get your hands on this book and see for yourself.
What I do want to reflect on in this post is the impact that Tillman’s life has had on me. The word hero is bandied about way too often for my taste in America. Our obsession with Super heroes, firemen, police officers and finally soldiers can be nauseating and cliché. So I asked myself what does the word hero mean to me? Do I have any heroes? Why? Why not? As always I started with a definition:
A hero in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion. Later, hero came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good, originally of martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.Upon reading this definition, I was left underwhelmed. After all, ambiguous words like courage and moral can seldom be considered objectively. I liked the idea of people acting for the greater good, and I liked the idea of sacrifice. I suppose it was this generic definition that Fox News and the Bush distraction tried to pin on Tillman, after all an American football player who leaves his professional sports career and enlists in the United States Army the aftermath of the September 11 attacks to join the United States Army Rangers and serve multiple tours in combat before he was killed by friendly fire in the mountains of Afghanistan sounds like your typical American Hero to me.
This standard image was the only one most people had seen back in 2004, and honestly while I admire this type of self-sacrifice, I do not really consider these acts to be heroic. But I am getting ahead of myself, because I have yet to define a hero for myself. Perhaps this entry from Tillman’s journal will shed some light on what I feel are heroic characteristic:
I do not intend to get dramatic, but life is about feeling and emotion…Love, laughter, and joy, as well as pain, longing and sorrow, are all part of the ride. Without the latter you cannot truly appreciate the former, cannot come to understand just how much you truly care…I’m experiencing and growing and with this comes suffering, but it’s all part of the deal. I feel I am headed in the right direction.For me heroes have always been men and women who are never satisfied with the status quo and people who act on their dissatisfaction to help ignite the souls of others. People who exude, “a passion for life that is contagious and uplifting.” People who devour knowledge, push their own boundaries, and subsequently force others to push theirs. Simply put heroes are people who live their lives to the fullest with no regrets.
Passion is what makes life interesting, what ignites our soul, drives our curiosity, fuels our love and carries friendships, stimulates our intellect, and pushes our limits…A passion for life is contagious and uplifting….In my life I want to create passion in my own life and with those I care for. I want to feel, experience, and live every emotion. I will suffer through the bad for the heights of the good.
According to speakers at his funeral, Tillman was very well-read, having read a number of religious texts including the Bible, Qur’an and Book of Mormon as well as transcendentalist authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The September 25, 2005, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper reported that Tillman held views, which were critical of the Iraq war. According to Tillman's mother, a friend of Tillman had arranged a meeting with author Noam Chomsky, a prominent critic of American foreign and military policy, to take place after his return from Afghanistan. Chomsky has confirmed this.
I also feel that heroes should never be predictable and follow the paths their followers try to carve for them. The biggest tragedy, besides his death by friendly fire in a war he did not believe in at the hands of men he did not respect was the lie that was sold to the American people. Rather than share the fireball, non-conformist, vocal, anti-war who he was, he was shrouded in a blanket of clichés and lies. After being propped up as a false hero, he was never allowed, until now, to be seen as the man he truly was.
I guess at the end of the day, Tillman’s story, his true story is not that unusual. I have been lucky to try and surround myself with these types of people my whole life. But to read Tillman’s words comforted me in a way that I have not experienced in some time:
Sometimes my need to love hurts- myself, my family, my cause. Is there a cure? Of course. But I refuse. Refuse to stop loving, to stop caring. To avoid those tears, that pain…To err on the side of passion is human and right and the only way I’ll live.Spoken like a true hero. The following song is my simple tribute to Pat Tillman: