Since I love most everything by John Krakauer, I knew I wanted to read Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. It’s been on my Amazon wish list awhile, and when I finally got it, it was already out in paperback. Turns out this was great because a few things happened since the book was first published in early 2009 and Krakauer was able to add some snippets in and fill out the story even more.
After just the first five pages I was already sad and depressed. War really sucks. However, I tend to live in my own little world and go about my day, so I felt a bit out of the loop when it came to some of the aspects of the war(s). Krakauer alternates telling us about Pat Tillman with telling us about Afghan history and the war. It would’ve been easy to just think of Tillman as your typical football jock, a rough-and-tough meathead. But Tillman was the opposite. Sure, he was strong and fast and could tackle like any other NFL defensive player, but he also read the classics, wrote in a journal, cried when he was overwhelmed and hiked alone so he could think. For him, football wasn’t about the money (i.e. he turned down a $9 million deal from the Rams and continued to play for Arizona for $500,000), it was about the challenge. He didn’t enlist after 9-11 just to go “shoot ‘em up.” He believed it was his duty. And then when he got to boot camp and was surrounded by a bunch of immature babies, he questioned his decision. When he felt the war in Iraq was illegal (he enlisted to fight in Afghanistan, not Iraq), he thought about quitting. And if he wasn’t so strong willed and committed, maybe he would’ve quit. But he made a deal, and he wasn’t going to break it. He was honorable. His journal entries were amazing and really let you see inside the man he was. He was a true hero, and it’s insulting and criminal the way the Army and the government disgraced him and his family.
I know politics is all about the spin. And I fully learned through Where Men Win Glory just how much spin there is. I work in the media, so I understand, too, what it means to market something. And, sure, it makes sense that a government may have to market a war. I just didn’t realize to what extent the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were marketed. They actually have their own marketing departments; people paid to spin the bad news into good, or if there is no good, do their best to cover up the bad. To use the “rescue” of Jessica Lynch as a means to cover up the fact that the first dozen or so deaths of the war were actually deaths by friendly fire? That takes some serious spin. To burn the uniform of Pat Tillman and force his comrades to lie to the Tillman family (and so many other bad, bad things) as a means to cover up his death by friendly fire? To make his mom fight the government for three years just to get the truth? I have no words; it’s just so sad.
And this whole friendly fire thing? I had no idea how common it was. I knew it happened, but I had this weird notion that it only happened in some confusing ground battle, where amongst all the ruckus, it’s hard to see who’s the enemy and who isn’t. Well, we don't really fight wars like that anymore, do we? It seems friendly fire really happens because these kids are inexperienced, have never shot weapons before, aren’t trained to use radios properly and everything just becomes a big hot mess. All the kids get on the radio at the same time, jam the frequencies and the necessary messages aren’t relayed, so our jets never learn that those tanks they’re dropping bombs on are actually American soldiers. Are you kidding me? Or, the mixed messages from the top commanders - who aren't on the ground themselves - are forced upon lieutenants who, while they disagree, must follow orders and people end up getting hurt. I understand there will be casualties of war, and I understand mistakes will happen and people will die, but after reading this book, I wonder if we’re even learning from our mistakes? Things don’t seem to be getting better.
The book was eye opening and informative. I learned a lot about the war that I think I either glazed over previously or just didn’t know about. Or, I heard the first spinned account of some story (Jessica Lynch) and then when the truth came out, I never heard the less-publicized follow up. And while the war part of the book was most definitely interesting to read, I truly loved learning about Pat Tillman and his strong and charming family. His strength, his truth, his beliefs were heart warming and inspirational and I’m glad I got to know more about him.