13 September 2010


I spent Sunday outraged at one thing or another.

First there was an official ruling in the NFL so egregious it could only happen to my Detroit Lions. The details are not terribly interesting but the fallout can be summed up thusly:

I did not record that clip but I used many of the same words in my description of the situation.

Football is a stupid thing to get worked up about and it wasn't until later in the afternoon I found something truly worthy of anger.

The Tillman Story is one of the few valuable films I've seen that I would caution people before watching (the transparency of Restrepo makes that difficult movie much easier to take). After absorbing the story of the Tillman family, I sat in the theater shaking, wishing I had picked the easy escapism of Centurion.

Amir Bar-Lev's documentary begins with a great shot of Pat Tillman, then a starting safety for the Arizona Cardinals, trying to stay still for ten seconds while doing a promo for Monday Night Football. He can't do it, saying ten seconds "is a long ass time to just sit there." While the background material on his roughneck nature did not surprise me, his lack of religious beliefs or conservative politics did. He was a liberal atheist who died believing the war in Iraq was illegal.

The circumstances around his death by fratricide go far beyond the "fog of war" generalities that have been used in all reports that I've ever read on the subject. The gist is as follows. While tracking back to the rest of his battalion with a couple of other Army Rangers, Pat Tillman is pinned down by friendly fire from the very Rangers he is trying to help (it has never been determined that any enemy combatants were present at the scene). A member of the volunteer Afghan security force running beside Tillman is killed by the Rangers immediately, presumably for looking too much like an enemy combatant. Tillman throws a smoke grenade in the air, to try to alert the firing soldiers that they are on the same side. The Rangers continue shooting at Tillman and Pfc. O'Neal, approaching as close as 40 yards to their position. After shouting for the last time, "I'm Pat fucking Tillman, why are you shooting at me?" Tillman's head is blown completely off his shoulders by heavy rounds and the sound of blood pouring from his neck is, accordingly to O'Neal, "like a water fountain."

After a heroic fight against government and military stonewalling, the Tillman family forces the matter before Congress. Then, once again, the terrible facts of the matter mount. That all the highest ranking Army generals knew how he died and lied about their handling of the situation when questioned by Congress ("I don't recall," "I don't recall," "I don't recall"). That Donald Rumsfeld knew and lied about it when questioned by Congress ("I don't recall"). That George W. Bush knew and propagated lie after lie not just to obscure the truth, but to use Pat Tillman as a recruiting tool for the military. That this is another American scandal without justice, for the conspiracy is too vast to be publicly revealed.

Pat Tillman should have been back this weekend, finishing out his football career as a fan favorite. Instead he's dead, murdered by the men he helped protect, used unwittingly as propaganda by the country he served, in a story few of the fans who loved him will ever know.

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