Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review by JD: Where Men Win Glory – The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer




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

Amazon purchasing and pre-purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.

Apparently the movie version of this book will be coming out in the next month or so.

As always John/JD will be addressing your comments, so don’t forget to click the follow up box. He loves to hear from you.

Thanks for reading Layers of Thought!


logankstewart said...

Sounds interesting. I read Into the Wild a few years back and really enjoyed it. Mayhap I'll give this a shot one of these days.

Great review.

CGLnyc said...

Great review! Would you recommend to someone who's a bit shy of memoirs and war stories? :)

John D said...

Hi Logan - I haven't read Into The Wild though I did see the movie, which was pretty good. Another interesting character. I have read Into Thin Air which was a great read - though I have a thing about the Himalayas so I was an easy sell.

Hi Topher - yes I would! I wouldn't really call this a memoir; it kind of is but there's more to it than that. And it's really not a war story either. It does describe some of the events that happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that's more of a backdrop to the real story. If you do give it a go, I'd be interested to hear what you think about the book.

CGLnyc said...

Yes, more biographical than memoir - I'll give it a try. Into the Wild was an impressive one, so that's enough for me.

John D said...

I've not read Into The Wild yet though I've seen the movie. I don't usually read a book if I've already seen the movie; it tends to spoil the enjoyment a bit.

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