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Pat Tillman: Beyond the Hype


The American football hero may be gone but details of his mysterious death in Afghanistan just won’t go away. Most recently, as reported by Time Magazine, “Nine officers, including up to four generals, should be held accountable for missteps in the aftermath of the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.”

This is as good a time as any to contemplate how and why Pat Tillman ended up in position to be killed by his fellow soldiers. Here’s how the New York Times described Tillman at the time of his death:

“A graduate of Arizona State University, Tillman, a safety, played for four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. But as an unrestricted free agent in 2002, he turned town a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals and enlisted in the Army.”

Accordingly, when Tillman was killed, the predictable platitudes followed:

* Defensive tackle Corey Sears of the Houston Texans, who played with Tillman on the Cardinals from 1999 to 2000, said: “All the guys that complain about it being too hot or they don’t have enough money, that’s not real life. A real life thing is he died for what he believed in.”

I wonder if Sears views Iraqis dying for what they believe in to be “a real life thing” or is that reserved exclusively for Americans? If Tillman were still alive, I’d like to ask him what exactly it was that he “believed in” enough to die for. Was it, say, for-profit health care for the few or pre-emptive wars or corporate welfare or maybe the death penalty? How about strip malls, Reality TV, SUVs, or cell phones? Maybe the right to vote for the next American Idol? I’d just like some clarification.

* Former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis said Tillman who “represented all that was good in sports…proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling.”

Definition of “greater calling”: An ex-NFL player ruthlessly hunting CIA-created Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in a misguided, myopic attempt to avenge 9/11.

* “Pat Tillman personified all the best values of his country and the NFL,” declared commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

What values, Mr. Tagliabue? The values outlined in our history texts or the values of militarism and greed this nation has lived by for over 200 years? (Did Tagliabue or Tillman ever read, say, Zinn’s People’s History or Blum’s Killing Hope?) Can someone do me a favor and list the “best values” of both America and the NFL?

* “Where do we get such men as these? Where to we find these people willing to stand up for America?” asked Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Arizona.

Which America was Tillman standing up for-the bosses at Halliburton or the homeless guy I see every day on the subway steps? Do you know anyone who needed Tillman to “stand up” for them by bringing indiscriminate death and destruction upon Iraq and Afghanistan? Are we so numb to the clichés that we’ll let them pass without comment or contemplation?

* More Rep. Hayworth: “He chose action rather than words. He just wanted to serve his country.”

Again, what country was Tillman serving? The country personified by war criminals like Bush, Clinton, etc.? The country defined by corporate pirates? Indeed, Tillman wasn’t serving the two million behind bars or the two million locked in nursing homes against their will. The action he chose over words didn’t make our air or water cleaner or stop the suburban sprawl. Tillman could have chosen to serve his country by challenging the corporate-mandated status quo…but that’s not how things work around here, is it?

* Even more from Hayworth: “He was a remarkable person. He lived the American dream, and he fought to preserve the American dream and our way of life.”

What American dream? The dreams of Wal-Mart, Nike, and The Gap? Whose way of life-Wall Street speculators, professional athletes, and digitally- or surgically-enhanced celebrities? I certainly didn’t ask him to kill anyone and he sure wasn’t protecting anything I hold dear. Pat Tillman, to me, seemed like a pre-programmed American male…the spawn of decades of corporate conditioning and State-sponsored patriotism.

When Rich Tillman showed up at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden memorial for his big brother Pat, he “wore a rumpled white T-shirt, no jacket, no tie, no collar,” and “asked mourners to hold their spiritual bromides.” He later stated: “Pat isn’t with God. He’s fucking dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead.”

Pat Tillman walking away from millions to “fight for his country” does not impress me…but I am awed by the ability to manipulate humans into consistently acting against their interests and the interests of the entire planet.

“People often are conscripted into armies, but sometimes they enlist with gusto,” explains Steven Pinker, director of the Center of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Jingoism,” Pinker declares, “is alarmingly easy to evoke.”

“War itself is venal, dirty, confusing and perhaps the most potent narcotic invented by humankind,” says New York Times columnist Chris Hedges. “It allows us to suspend individual conscience, maybe even consciousness, for the cause. And few of us are immune… The contagion of war, of the siren call of the nation, is so strong that most cannot resist.”

But resist we must…and unless we in America create new, powerful-and urgent-ways to resist, we cannot expect the victims of our indifference and ineptitude to not hold each of us accountable. As Ward Churchill explains, it’s not acceptable or realistic to believe that the “brown-skinned folks dying in the millions in order to maintain this way of life…can wait forever for those who purport to be the opposition here to find some personally comfortable and pure manner of affecting the kind of transformation that brings not just lethal but genocidal processes to a halt.”

As yourself this: Who gave up a life of luxury and turned his back on millions to fight in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan for what he believed in and, as a result, is revered by millions as a “hero”?

Depending on who you are and where you live, you might answer “Pat Tillman” or you might answer: “Osama bin Laden.”

The world doesn’t need any more “heroes” like Tillman or Osama. One of the first things it needs is for the American people to snap out of their propaganda-induced fog ASAP and seek a “greater calling” in the truest sense.

MICKEY Z. can be found on the Web at


Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here. This piece first appeared at World Trust News.  

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