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What I Want to Ask Mary Tillman

This Friday, I will have the privilege to interview Mary Tillman, the mother of the late Pat Tillman: former NFL player turned Army Ranger, turned casualty of a criminal war.

Mary Tillman has written a book along with Narda Zacchino called Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman. It’s a heart-ripping account of one family’s lonely search for justice, and how, even aided by public outcry and heavy hitters in Congress, the truth about what actually happened to Mary’s son remains at arm’s length.

There are, after four years, six investigations and two congressional hearings, still a host of unanswered questions about how Pat was killed. Boots on the Ground is yet another attempt by Mary Tillman and her very private family to force the spotlight upon his case–and to their discomfort, put the spotlight on themselves.

Mary Tillman and the Tillman family are a very true reflection about where we are as a country and where we are as a people desperate to end this war. They are furious and disillusioned, like so many of us. They are also isolated and dislocated from the kind of movement that could bring the troops home…like so many of us.

I want to ask Mary Tillman about all of this. I also want to ask Mary Tillman why she believes this government chose to smother Tillman’s death in propaganda and how the story could have careened so recklessly from killed in action to a friendly-fire death, shot at long range in the chest, to the truth–bullets at close range in the forehead. I want to ask her what she thinks of a president who, armed with the facts, would lie over Pat’s dead body. I want to know if she believes George W. Bush belongs in prison.

But I also want to ask Mary Tillman about the person her son was, and the person her son was becoming: the Pat Tillman moving against the war in Iraq; the Pat Tillman who was a voracious reader, turning his attention to critics of empire like Noam Chomsky; the Pat Tillman whose journal and personal effects were burned and destroyed immediately following his death.

This is a Pat Tillman who deserves to be heard.

And I also feel a need to ask Mary Tillman about their strategies seeking justice. The Tillmans have taken great pains to pursue the truth alone, not enlisting organizations like Iraq Veterans Against War or United for Peace and Justice. They have relied on people like Gen. Wesley Clark or Sen. John McCain (who spoke at Pat’s funeral) to be vigilant on their behalf. I want to ask Mary Tillman if she fears that John McCain would not be an honest truth seeker given his unconditional support for the war. I want to ask her what her other son Kevin, who enlisted in the Army Rangers alongside Pat, thinks of Senator McCain.

Remember, it was before the 2006 mid-term elections that Kevin released a scathing statement called “After Pat’s Birthday,” which read in part,

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is. Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance. Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

The Tillman family has been transformed by tragedy. They are like so many people in this country that saw their trust in an administration abused, and their loved ones sacrificed by “narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals.” I want to ask Mary Tillman about how you even begin to rebuild yourself, your family and your sense of self when it all gets ripped away. And at long last, I want to ask her, as a fellow parent, where in the world she gets the strength.

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of “Welcome to the Terrordome” (Haymarket). Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

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DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

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