BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
WHERE MEN WIN GLORY: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, by Jon Krakauer
, March 5, 2011
Death by friendly fire
WHERE MEN WIN GLORY:
The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
by Jon Krakauer
(London: Atlantic Books)
Paperback: 400 pages
Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States, celebrated American sports player Patrick Daniel "Pat" Tillman enlisted in the US Army Rangers, an elite unit within America's special operations forces.
His intention was to serve his country in combating terrorism, in the full realisation that he could be killed in action. However, what made his death on April 22, 2004, so tragic was that he was killed by friendly fire.
Renowned writer Jon Krakauer - whose previous works include Into Thin Air (1997), the account of his own ascent of Mt Everest and its disastrous aftermath - explores the life and tragic death of Pat Tillman.
Krakauer commences with Tillman's childhood and upbringing, and parallels events in Tillman's life with the political events that were to shape the military actions in which Tillman was subsequently involved.
Tillman was born in 1976. Paradoxically, much of his childhood spanned the years when the former Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan. This occupation was strenuously resisted by the Afghan jihadist Mujahideen, whom the United States covertly supported in the 1980s.
Some of the Mujahideen were later to form the nucleus of the repressive Taliban movement which utilised weapons that had been supplied by the Americans to seize power and form a particularly repressive Islamist government during 1996-2001.
Krakauer also surveys the rise of the militant Islamist terrorist group, al-Qaeda, and reminds his readers that September 11 was not its first attack on either US targets or on New York's World Trade Center. He contends that its 1993 bombing of the Twin Towers in fact came relatively close to succeeding. What al-Qaeda learnt from it, and from subsequent attacks on other targets that achieved marginal success, was how to be more adept at executing terrorist actions.
Tillman's upbringing was typical of many middle-class American youngsters. However, his resolution to turn his back on a lucrative career in the National Football League and serve his country made him stand apart.
That he enlisted a number of months after 9/11 suggests that it was not a rash decision, but rather a carefully considered one which reflected his core values.
Tillman willingly sacrificed a multi-million dollar income in football in order to serve his country. Moreover, he enlisted in the army as a private rather than as an officer. Serving as an officer would most likely have resulted in his not fighting terrorists; and he believed strongly in the importance of fighting for freedom.
His needless death in 2004 by friendly fire is made all the more tragic by its cover-up by military and other authorities.
For example, contrary to normal army protocol, Tillman's body armour was destroyed, rather than accompanying the body for autopsy - otherwise an item of his kit would have revealed clear evidence of his death by friendly fire. (Tillman's platoon had been split into sub-sections during a reconnaissance, with one section mistakenly believing that the other section it encountered was the enemy.)
Similarly, Tillman's family members were only notified that he had been killed by friendly fire some time after his memorial service.
Jon Krakauer is understandably extremely critical of the US Army. He is likewise critical of the West's continued involvement in Afghanistan, arguing that it is an unwinnable conflict.
On balance, Where Men Win Glory is an interesting read. Krakauer's carefully considered insights into the political background leading up to 9/11, as well as his observations on the current situation in Afghanistan, make for interesting reading.
He contends, for example, that one of the greatest current challenges is that the Taliban is being aided and abetted by sympathetic elements from across the border in Pakistan.
The slowest moving section of the book is his lengthy account of Tillman's death by friendly fire. However, Krakauer's reasons for giving such a lengthy description is to try and present as accurately as possible all the known facts surrounding Tillman's death.