American football hero may be gone but details of his mysterious death in
Afghanistan just won't go away. Most recently, as reported by
Time Magazine, "Nine officers, including up to four generals, should be
held accountable for missteps in the aftermath of the friendly fire death of
Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan."
This is as good a time as any to contemplate
how and why Pat Tillman ended up in position to be killed by his fellow
soldiers. Here's how the New York Times described Tillman at the time
of his death: "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."
Accordingly, when Tillman was killed, the predictable platitudes followed:
Defensive tackle Corey Sears of the Houston Texans, who played with
Tillman on the Cardinals from 1999 to 2000, 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."
I wonder if Sears views Iraqis dying for what they believe in to be "a real
life thing" or is that reserved exclusively for Americans? If Tillman were
still alive, I'd like to ask him what exactly it was that he "believed in"
enough to die for. Was it, say, for-profit health care for the few or
pre-emptive wars or corporate welfare or maybe the death penalty? How about
strip malls, Reality TV, SUVs, or cell phones? Maybe the right to vote for
the next American Idol? I'd just like some clarification.
Former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis said Tillman who "represented
all that was good in sports... proudly walked away from a career in football
to a greater calling."
Definition of "greater calling": An ex-NFL player ruthlessly hunting
CIA-created Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in a misguided, myopic attempt
to avenge 9/11.
"Pat Tillman personified all the best values of his country and the NFL,"
declared commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
What values, Mr. Tagliabue? The values outlined in our history texts or
the values of militarism and greed this nation has lived by for over 200
years? (Did Tagliabue or Tillman ever read, say, Zinn's People's History
or Blum's Killing Hope?) Can someone do me a favor and list the "best
values" of both America and the NFL?
"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.
Which America was Tillman standing up for: the bosses at Halliburton or
the homeless guy I see every day on the subway steps? Do you know anyone
who needed Tillman to "stand up" for them by bringing indiscriminate death
and destruction upon Iraq and Afghanistan? Are we so numb to the clichés
that we'll let them pass without comment or contemplation?
More Rep. Hayworth: "He chose action rather than words. He just wanted
to serve his country."
Again, what country was Tillman serving? The country personified by
war criminals like Bush, Clinton, etc.? The country defined by corporate
pirates? Indeed, Tillman wasn't serving the two million behind bars or the
two million locked in nursing homes against their will. The action he chose
over words didn't make our air or water cleaner or stop the suburban sprawl.
Tillman could have chosen to serve his country by challenging the
corporate-mandated status quo... but that's not how things work around here,
Even more from Hayworth: "He was a remarkable person. He lived the American
dream, and he fought to preserve the American dream and our way of life."
What American dream? 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 to kill
anyone and he sure wasn't protecting anything I hold dear. Pat Tillman, to
me, seemed like a pre-programmed American male... the spawn of decades of
corporate conditioning and State-sponsored patriotism.
When Rich Tillman showed up at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden
memorial for his big brother Pat, he "wore a rumpled white T-shirt, no
jacket, no tie, no collar," and "asked mourners to hold their spiritual
bromides." He later stated: "Pat isn't with God. He's fucking dead. He
wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead.''
Pat Tillman walking away from millions to "fight for his country" does not
impress me... but I am awed by the ability to manipulate humans into
consistently acting against their interests and the interests of the entire
"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
But resist we must . . . and unless we in America create new,
powerful-and urgent-ways to resist, we cannot expect the victims of our
indifference and ineptitude to not hold each of us accountable. As Ward
Churchill explains, it's not acceptable or realistic to believe that the
"brown-skinned folks dying in the millions in order to maintain this way of
life . . . can 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
As yourself this: Who gave up a life of luxury and turned his back
on millions to fight in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan for what
he believed in and, as a result, is revered by millions as a "hero"?
Depending on who you are and where you live, you might answer "Pat
Tillman" or you might answer: "Osama bin Laden."
The world doesn't need any more "heroes" like Tillman or Osama. One of
the first things it needs is for the American people to snap out of
their propaganda-induced fog ASAP and seek a "greater calling" in the