THE TILLMAN FILES - Part One
An Offering of Our Fear
Military/Veterans Affairs Editor
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May 4, 2006 1530 PST – (FTW) - Captain Scott felt the mixture of anxiety and resentment rising in his throat like the onions from a bad sandwich.
He’d known somewhere backstage in his brain all along that he would cross that portal and run smack-dab into the reality behind the rah-rah about Army Values: Integrity, my ass. This one was always too big for integrity. It had spin written all over it; and it went high, very high. But he’d had to test it, had to do it by the book, make it real, ask all the questions…state his true conclusions.
No way he wanted to go into that room, face that flat-eyed phalanx of careers and agendas. He had known, somewhere before the little voice could even say it aloud in his head, this is one where you are supposed to read between the lines. This is one that is so big, heads are going to roll, and pawns are going to be sacrificed in a bureaucratic gambit of “protect the king.”
Integrity was no longer about Army Values. It was about making a choice he’d have to live with for life; and he had known that his quiet conscience was going to be purchased at great risk.
Colonel Kazlorich had told him, when he assigned him this fucking investigation…it was fratricide. One day after it happened. Hell, minutes after it happened, they knew. Pat Tillman—Pat fucking Tillman!—was killed by his own men.
Those had been among his last words before he stood up during the lull in fire, thinking they’d figured it out, only to be gunned down in a resurgent hail of automatic weapons fire.
“Stop shooting! I’m Pat fucking Tillman, goddamnit!”
But when the public statements had come out, Captain Scott reflected anxiously—waiting to be called into the room—even before he’d assembled his materials to conduct the investigation, whoa Nelly! He remembered thinking then, this can’t possibly end well…do they really think they can get away with this? They can’t hide this.
Now he was walking into a room full of them, officers with their career-obsessed asses on the line, a very dangerous crew. This is so fucked up, he found himself thinking, so big…and I’m just a squirrel here, trying to cross an eight-lane highway. Two little fucking words, and now I have to face the whole fucking chain of command after they cut some kind of deal and changed those statements. Two words: ROE and negligence.
In April, I wrote an FTW commentary about the fratricidal killing of Pat Tillman and the subsequent attempt by the US government to first spin it, and then to bury it.
The commentary came to the attention of Pat’s mother, Mary. After an email introduction, Mary Tillman and I have had a series of conversations. I have also spoken with Pat’s brother, Kevin, assigned to the same platoon with Pat and who was on the road to Manah, Afghanistan with Pat when these fatal events unfolded, and was then separated from his brother by 15 minutes after the fateful directive was passed down from Khost to split the platoon.
In what I am about to write—an investigative series about not only Tillman’s death, but more significantly about a felonious conspiracy to cover up the lies that followed his death—I am in no way claiming to represent the remarks of either of these family members. I have attempted to clarify a number of details with them, but I have relied on documentation to establish most of the pertinent facts and statements. What the Tillmans have had to say on this matter is public record; and what they choose to say in the future is not for me to direct or amend in any way. They are quite capable of speaking for themselves, as I am sure they will.
There are plenty of people remaining to be called to account for what happened during and after the events that ended the life of Pat Tillman: some for stupidity, some for naked ambition, some for criminality, and some for a basic lack of common decency. I’ll address the last, first. The others will be addressed in due course.
When the death of Pat Tillman became public, there was a feeding frenzy of commentary. I expect the right-wing media to put out simple-minded demagogy, so the fact that they did so is of little concern to me. But I also stand alongside a lot of people in my opposition to the Energy War in Southwest Asia—Iraq and Afghanistan are the same war, in my opinion—and when our putative allies cross the line of common decency, we have to take them to the woodshed.
Indymedia of Portland, as one example, published a reprehensible headline that read: “Dumb Jock Killed in Afghanistan,” which provoked a pile-up of similarly insensitive and outlandishly celebratory posturing—escalating their tantrums to one-up each other for cyber-anarchist bona fides. Some apologized once they learned that Pat was becoming a critic of the war; but that does not let them off the hook. My abrupt advice to all of these commentators is to get the hell out of politics. Find a nice, quiet, nine-to-five job where you can’t break anything until you can gain at least as much integrity and maturity as Pat Tillman had. I don’t want you anywhere near me, until you have enough experience with the real complexities of life to divest yourselves of your sanctimoniously bad manners.
Pat Tillman was a person, not a symbol. He understood this better than anyone, from what I can glean.
As different as we were in many respects, the more I have learned about Pat, the more I find myself identifying with him. Obviously, I never had his physical gifts. But at some level, closer to the hard-wiring wherever personality traits are rooted in the cerebral cortex, my reading and conversations have highlighted a restless inquisitiveness about Pat Tillman—one that didn’t accord well with authority all the time, even as he craved the discipline and challenge that reveals not just external reality, but something about what we are inside our own phenomenological experience.
Pat Tillman played football—undersized by most accounts—with a kind of ballet-dancer’s sixth-sense, sometimes angering his coaches by ignoring their directions, almost as merriment in the existence of his own body. He also ruminated on the writings of Henry David Thoreau. His GPA was 3.85. He asked questions like, how far? How high? How hard? How true?
This is where I feel the most powerful identification with Pat, and even though I never knew him, I feel sure that over time he would have inevitably ended up as I did…on the other side of everything he knew. It is that restlessness and inquisitiveness that takes one there…along with a compulsion to turn those questions in on oneself in an incessant auto-interrogation.
Many believed that Pat Tillman abandoned a lucrative football contract to join the Army because he was out for revenge against the perpetrators of 9-11. That’s what I thought. But, in his own words, he said that while football had been very good to him, he’d never really “put it on the line” as his great grandfather, a survivor of Pearl Harbor, had.
Many who are now familiar with my writing on gender will be surprised by my valorization of this. But the same people often ask me, how did a career solider become a radical, a feminist? It wasn’t from reading. It was from a restless inquisition of both my circumstances and myself. I can’t even take credit for it. It is how I am wired. I wish I could shut it off sometimes.
I am not idealizing Pat’s masculine exploits in the military. I did the same thing, and I am on record that at the end of that particular path, there is nothing. Neant. Nada. Nothingness. But I was restless as a ferret, so when there was nothing there, I kept nosing around until I found something. I don’t celebrate the path. I celebrate Pat Tillman’s nature. He kept asking questions. He kept boring in on life. He offered life a lot of himself, but he would not offer it his fear. That’s why I know, had he stayed longer, Pat Tillman would have abandoned old paths and found new ones. That’s why I am confident that there would have been a place where we could have come directly together, instead of along this meandering umbilicus of history and memory.
This series on Pat Tillman’s death and the government cover-up in its wake is dedicated to Pat Tillman, both what he was and what he would have been. In the current struggle to break the power of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld clique that Pat Tillman had unmasked for himself and learned to despise, I feel confident that he would have approved how his own story—the story of a human being—might become one among many successive waves of attack against an immense edifice of malignant power. He would have understood that whether we succeed or not—while important—is not the measure of what we are. The measure of what we are is that we try, and that we don’t supplicate ourselves before that malignant power and make an offering of our fear.
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