-- Bob Dylan, "Masters of War"
Here's how the New York Times described Pat Tillman: "A graduate of Arizona State University, Tillman, a safety, played for four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. But as an unrestricted free agent in 2002, he turned town a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals and enlisted in the Army."
Thus, when Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan last week, the predictable platitudes followed.
For example, former teammate Corey Sears said: "All the guys that complain about it being too hot or they don't have enough money, that's not real life. A real life thing is he died for what he believed in."
There was no mention if Sears views Iraqis or Afghanis dying for what they believe in to be "a real life thing" or if that experience is reserved exclusively for Americans. There are a lot of people, like Sears, speaking for Tillman since his death but none have elaborated upon what it was he "believed in" enough to die for, except bland statements about "defending freedom" or "giving something back." Here is a brief sampling:
* Former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis said Tillman "represented all that was good in sports" and "proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling."
* "Pat Tillman personified all the best values of his country and the NFL," said commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
* "Where do we get such men as these? Where to we find these people willing to stand up for America?" asked Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Arizona. "He chose action rather than words. He just wanted to serve his country. He was a remarkable person. He lived the American dream, and he fought to preserve the American dream and our way of life."
We've all heard this kind of talk before (Does the space shuttle crash ring a bell?) but it does little except soothe Americans who want to believe in heroes. Talk of "best values," "a greater calling," and "the American dream" roll off the tongue of the average citizen but how would that same citizen react if a "war hero" came home sick from exposure to depleted uranium and decided to speak out against the U.S. government and its crimes? Would he/she still be revered for "preserving our way of life" if s/he organized protests and boycotts and reached out in solidarity across international borders to those who have suffered from U.S. foreign policy?
We all know the answer to that last question, don't we? Tillman (or someone like him) could've chosen to "serve their country" by challenging the corporate-mandated status quo...but that's not how things work around here, is it?
Instead we get endless talk about preserving freedom and defending our way of life and standing up for America. Such clichés are designed to discourage critical thought but the questions must be asked: Which freedoms? What way of life? Standing up for whom and why?
Are those men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq in agreement with, say, for-profit health care for the few, or pre-emptive wars, or corporate welfare, or the death penalty, or maybe unelected presidents? Are they fighting to defend strip malls, SUVs, or cell phones...or maybe the right to vote for the next "American Idol"? I'd just like some clarification.
Is it really a "greater calling" for an ex-NFL player to hunt down CIA-created Taliban fighters in Afghanistan (with much "collateral damage," of course) in a misguided, myopic attempt to avenge 9/11?
What values is NFL commissioner Tagliabue referring to...the values canonized in our history texts (but ignored in reality) or the values of militarism and greed this nation has lived by for over 200 years?
Which America was Tillman standing up for...the bosses at Halliburton or the homeless guy I see every day on the subway steps? The country personified by war criminals like Bush and Kerry? The country defined by corporate pirates? Indeed, soldiers like Tillman aren't serving the 2 million behind bars or the 2 million locked in nursing homes against their will. The actions they chose over words don't make our air or water cleaner or stop the suburban sprawl. If anything, they have exactly the opposite effect.
What American dream are Tillman's eulogizers talking about? The dreams of Wal-Mart, Nike, and The Gap? Whose way of life...Wall Street speculators, professional athletes, and digitally -- or surgically -- enhanced celebrities? I certainly didn't ask him (or anyone) to kill for me and he sure wasn't protecting anything I hold dear. Soldiers like Pat Tillman, to me, seem like heavily-conditioned American males, the spawn of decades of corporate conditioning and State-sponsored patriotism.
I know many will say Tillman was defending my right to voice dissenting opinions: "In other countries, you can't write this kind of stuff." But none of those critics will ever explain how Pat Tillman's actions or his death impacts on anyone's freedom to write an article in America. That question is left unasked, as if the answer was obvious.
But yet again, the opposite is true. As Arundhati Roy explains, "The organizations that control the world today -- the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank -- operate in complete secrecy." This nefarious system guarantees that the Tillmans of the world will be revered as heroes, while the beat goes on.
Pat Tillman walking away from millions to "fight for his country" (by becoming a mercenary for Corporate America) does not awe me as much as the dangerous skill to manipulate humans into consistently acting against their interests and the interests of the entire planet.
"People often are conscripted into armies, but sometimes they enlist with gusto," explains Steven Pinker, director of the Center of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Jingoism," Pinker declares, "is alarmingly easy to evoke."
"War itself is venal, dirty, confusing and perhaps the most potent narcotic invented by humankind," says New York Times columnist Chris Hedges. "It allows us to suspend individual conscience, maybe even consciousness, for the cause. And few of us are immune... The contagion of war, of the siren call of the nation, is so strong that most cannot resist."
But resist we must, and unless we in America create powerful and urgent ways to resist, we cannot expect the victims of our indifference and ineptitude not to hold each of us accountable.
"[T]he brown-skinned folks dying in the millions in order to maintain this way of life...[can't] wait forever for those who purport to be the opposition here to find some personally comfortable and pure manner of affecting the kind of transformation that brings not just lethal but genocidal processes to a halt," explains Ward Churchill in a recent interview.
Churchill warns ominously that those "brown-skinned folks dying in the millions" have "no obligation -- moral, ethical, legal or otherwise -- to sit on their thumbs while the opposition here dithers about doing anything to change the system."
The world doesn't need any more “heroes” like Pat Tillman. It doesn't need young men and women -- heads filled with noble aspirations -- sent off to die to defend corporate profit. The world needs the American people to snap out of their propaganda-induced fog ASAP and seek a "greater calling" in the truest sense.
Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Prime Books) and Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). His most recent book is The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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After: Rwanda and the G Word