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Saturday, May 27, 2017
Remember Pat Tillman on Memorial Day
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
I wrote this five years ago after seeing this film. This Memorial Day let's not let them airbrush Pat Tillman from History. We owe it to Tillman to remember him and give him the place in history he deserves. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bush, they all loved him. They used him. But Tillman was not a person that could be bought off easily. He was a leader. He came from strong family; above all, he had principles and a person who has principles can change their views when the objective facts demand it.
If the reader hasn't seen this film you should. You might not draw the same conclusions as this writer when it comes to the issue of who fired the shot that killed him. But you will come to admire him for what he was-----a heroic figure. We don't need the spin doctors picking hero's for us.
The Tillman Story
Most Americans would know who Pat Tillman was and why he is so controversial, but for those readers abroad that might be hearing the name for the first time, he was a young professional football star, who, along with his brother, gave up a multi-million dollar sports future and enlisted in the US army. The Bush Administration and the capitalist media made Tillman the poster boy for their propaganda machine, he was a popular, modest figure respected by those that knew him; a perfect example of what a real patriotic American should be; having him be a spokesperson for their murderous foreign policy was a gift from above. Tillman, on the other hand, never explained his reason for enlisting keeping his views private. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.
The official US government explanation for Tillman’s death was that he was killed in action, dying amid a hail of gunfire defending his troops against Taliban militia. But from the beginning things didn’t seem right. The Tillman Story describes the now famous cover up that came to light only through the dogged persistence of Tillman’s mother and family. Much of it is already known but this powerful documentary directed by Amir Bar Lev strengthens my belief that Tillman was probably assassinated although the film doesn’t draw this conclusion, or, in my recollection even suggest it.
After his death the government continued to use him, as it did when he was alive; as war propaganda. The media spread the government’s line and there were memorials held and events honoring Tillman as a war hero, from his former college team Arizona, to a huge memorial a month after his death in San Jose's Municipal Rose Garden.
But, as the film shows, Tillman’s mother and entire family weren’t buying it. The film describes how it comes to light that the US destroyed all his belongings, even his clothes were burned; and more importantly his diary. Why would the military burn the diary of a war hero? His fellow Army rangers were instructed not to talk to anyone about the details of his death. One of them, Russell Baer, attended his funeral and initially went along with the lies as instructed by his superiors. It is Baer and another Ranger, Bryan O’Neal, who stood out for me as honest and brave people who helped get the truth out there.
O’Neil was standing next to Tillman when he was shot by his own troops in what the US government describes now as “friendly fire” or Fratricide. Baer also explains how so many of the young people that joined did it to get an education or to “blow things up and shoot guns”. Initially, Tillman’s mother believed that it was simply terrified young men shooting wildly in panic after being attacked, but given the evidence it was more like gross negligence she explains.
But I cannot help drawing the conclusion from the detailed description of the events that day that those that shot Tillman knew who they were shooting at. Tillman was shot, sniper style with a bullet to the Head. At one point, O'neil describes Tillman standing up shouting “I’m Pat Tillman”. At this point the assailants (this was a half of the troop that were a half mile behind Tillman’s section) had moved to within 40 yards of Tillman and O’Neil, they had purposefully moved closer which doesn't sound like a frantic, uncontrollable melee. O’Neil said that he started to pray and Tillman told him to stop praying and deal with the here and now or words to that effect. O’Neil described it as Tillman preventing him from going in to some “La la land”, O’Neil, described as a devout Mormon, commands a lot of respect in this documentary.
This raises another issue, Tillman’s politics and his religious views, or lack of them There is a clip from his funeral that shows Tillman’s youngest brother getting up to speak right after the preferred war hero, John McCain. I have never seen this shown in the thousands of hours of media coverage. He’s dressed in a tee shirt and has a beer in his hand that he takes a quick swig from. He cusses a fair bit which is the only “official” reason the film got an R rating, but it was more likely to reduce attendance by young people. He counters McCain’s previous remarks that his brother is “with God” because Pat "wasn’t religious”. “He isn’t with God—he’s fuckin’ dead” he adds.
Tillman was no idiot. He read political literature and was interested in Chomsky. He was also an atheist. In one scene a military investigator claims in a radio interview that the reason Tillman’s family won’t give up on the case is that they’re atheists and that they don’t understand about duty. What scum these people are. Imagine how they treat their adversaries in foreign lands.
I am sickened by patriotism and all the phony nationalism that accompanies their propaganda efforts to get support for wars that no worker benefits from. But throughout this film I felt such admiration and respect for Pat Tillman and his family. I was transfixed as I watched the family, including Tillman’s wife, at an Arizona game honoring Pat. His mother was looking around at all the flag waving and circus atmosphere surrounding her son’s death and you could see she was sad and sickened by it.
Due to the Tillman’s family persistence, at one point, Tillman’s father wrote a letter to military bigwigs recounting all the lies the family had been told and concluded it with ”Fuck You” and “Fuck Yours” the government was forced to address the issue and held a congressional investigation where the mass murderer Donald Rumsfeld and the generals were dragged before Congress. Prior to this, they had made a retired three star general the fall guy but the Tillman’s wouldn’t have it. As the father said about the military, “You don’t piss unless you’re told to” and are we to believe this cover up didn’t go to the top? The documentary reveals that a memo from Gen Stanley McCrystal had been sent to the entire chain of command informing them of the real sequence of events long before these thugs admitted it.
I don’t subscribe to the view that all that happens is the result of a conspiracy. But apart from the description of the events of that day that strengthen for me, the possibility that he was murdered, we should consider the threat the Tillman represented to them. They had hung their hopes on this “All American” white football star being the front man for their foreign policy. But after returning from Iraq, Tillman was disillusioned with this foreign policy. He didn’t like what he saw and he was not a person who was afraid to speak his mind. Tillman was an honest, dedicated and independent thinker from a family that treasured such qualities; this comes across quite clearly in this film. The opportunity to return to football was there after his Iraq tours but he committed for three years and he believed in fulfilling his commitment.
Who knows what was in his diaries and we can only guess what he said privately to his fellow Army Rangers or the extent of his influence among them. There is not a shadow of a doubt that on returning to the civilian life, Tillman would not play the role they had mapped out for him; he was a real threat.
The weakness in the movie for me is the weakness all of these expose type films have; there is no alternative put forward. In response to the Congressional hearings Tillman’s mother said that she felt there was not “much else that could be done”. Her husband refused to talk to a Congressman so disgusted he was at the whole charade; “None of these actors are held responsible” he says. Tillman’s brother said that his mother “Hit the ball out of the park but the government kept moving the fence back.”
Because no alternative is even hinted at, the need to build a mass party of the working class as opposed to the two Wall Street parties for example, this film can re-enforce the mistaken view that we have to overcome in this country that there is nothing that we can do; that you “Can’t fight City Hall”. It can have a demoralizing effect as the control exercised by an “all powerful” state and its flunkies seem insurmountable. It would have been good had someone mentioned that given the lies around Tillman’s death, we can only imagine the lies and propaganda about the need to go to war in the first place. It would have been nice to have some mention that these wars were not about democracy or hunting terrorists or freedom, but a struggle for control of the world’s resources; they are wars conducted in the interests of US corporations
Perhaps, others will argue, a documentary would not get any distribution at all were this the case, or would not even me made, but I would like to think this seed could have been sown in some form or fashion
Nevertheless, this is a very powerful indictment of the US government and the politicians in Washington. It exposes the rotten ruthless nature of US capitalism. After watching it I wanted to meet the Tillman’s and shake their hands. Their actions alone are an encouragement to us all that it is better to fight than to not and it does show that their actions forced the mighty US government machine to defend itself. Unfortunately, no one will pay for the murder of their son.
See this movie and take the kids. The Tillman Story