A true story with fascinating characters, and a disturbing expose.
John’s Thoughts: This is an enlightening book about a fascinating character, while at the same time being a disturbing expose on how the Army and the Government hid the truth, lied and spun a tale to help promote their unpopular foreign policies.
Tillman was a good-looking, intelligent, charismatic and exceptionally gifted athlete who was winning fame for himself as a professional American Football player. However, deeply moved by the events of 9/11, he turned his back on a multi-million dollar contract to enlist in the army as a regular soldier. He was a man with a strong moral code who did things because he believed they were right. Once he’d made his decision he refused to talk to the press despite the huge media interest; he wanted to be treated just the same as all other army recruits.
Two years later Tillman and the platoon he was a member of found themselves on patrol in a remote mountainous area of Afghanistan, in Taliban territory. After a bewildering and asinine order from their superiors back at base, the platoon is forced to split into two halves and go off in different directions, much against the better judgment of the platoon leaders on the ground. Shortly after they separate, one of the two groups comes under attack from local fighters. In the confusion while trying to escape the ambush, some of the soldiers inadvertently fire at their comrades and Tillman is killed by “friendly fire”.
Most of the platoon members know immediately that Tillman was shot by his own side - the fact is never in doubt. However, they are given firm orders not to share that fact with anyone else. So begins a sorry tale of a cover up, destroyed evidence, obfuscation, falsified documents and a refusal to share the truth with Tillman’s family or the outside world; much of this driven by a desire to somehow generate some positive PR.
It is only after the funeral and after some of the press attention has died down that some of the sad facts start to leak out. It then takes several years and several investigations before the story is pieced together – and still it is not known who ordered the cover up or was responsible for the deliberate deceit. None of this would have come to light if it hadn’t been for the determination of the Tillman family to uncover the truth. As one of the member of the troop in Tillman’s platoon points out, standards and codes of conduct are ruthlessly drilled into regular soldiers, and yet those same standards are totally ignored by their leaders whenever it suits them.
Krakauer includes a wonderful quote from the ancient Greek writer Aeschylus –“In war, truth is the first casualty”.
While this all made for a good read, the most interesting parts of the book were the insights into Tillman himself. He was a successful professional athlete but a long way removed from the archetypal sports jockey; despite being a tough and driven person, he was also gentle, thoughtful, kind and curious; he was a smart guy with a mind of his own and a strong sense of what was right and wrong (for example, while he agreed with the war in Afghanistan, he thought the war in Iraq was a sham and immoral); and while there were a lot of things about his time in the army that drove him crazy, he turned down the opportunity of an early discharge and a return to football. Tillman had committed himself to three years in the army and there was no way that he would renege on that commitment.
Regarding the book itself, I did enjoy the read a lot. In places it felt a bit like a cut-and-paste job and it bounced around quite a bit. Krakauer also dwelt on some topics which were interesting background but didn’t really add to the story itself. But this is the second book by Krakauer that I’ve read, and one thing I do like about him is that he tells things the way that he sees them. If he thinks that someone has done something wrong he’ll say so in no uncertain terms. If you want to read some untarnished material about what war is like, this will be a good book for you. If you like biographical books, this is also recommended. I’d rate it 3.5 stars.
- Where Men Win Glory – The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
- by Jon Krakauer
- ISBN: 978-0-385-52226-7
- Pages 292: hardback
- Doubleday, 2009
- Genre: Biography
Apparently the movie version of this book will be coming out in the next month or so.
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