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(DV) Petersen: Antithetical Heroism







Antithetical Heroism
by Kim Petersen
October 10, 2005

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I was somewhat taken aback when I read progressive sportswriter David Zirin describing ex-professional football star Pat Tillman as a “war hero” in an e-mailing entitled: “The Meeting That Never Was: Pat Tillman and Noam Chomsky.” [1] It was unclear whether Zirin was expressing his own opinion or not. But the e-mailing noted that the article also appeared in The Nation where it became clear, as the title was “Pat Tillman, Our Hero.” [2]


Undoubtedly, Tillman was motivated by some undefined concept of personal conviction in giving up millions to go to Afghanistan, put his life at risk, and supposedly defend his country against the terrorism behind the 9-11 attacks [assuming 9/11 was an external attack against the United States, and also separating it from all US foreign policy actions in the Middle East]. Yet it is unclear just whose hero Tillman is. Is he now the hero of progressives that Tillman’s respect for dissident professor Noam Chomsky has been revealed? Nonetheless, more important is whether the willingness to kill perceived enemies, in fact, constitutes heroism.


Tillman surely did not follow the pronouncements of Chomsky when he headed off to invade Afghanistan. About the US government tactics that were imperiling the lives of millions of Afghanis at that time, Chomsky stated, “I think we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled.” [3]


Chomsky in his booklet 9-11 considers identifying the attackers and their motivations to be important. Chomsky notes that the “plausible” attackers linked to Osama bin Laden had a historical association with the CIA and that US foreign policy such as the brutal US-abetted military occupation of Palestine, the UN sanctions killing innocent Iraqi children, and the situating of US military on holy Islamic territory aggrieved bin Laden and his associates. [4]


Chomsky called for the perpetrators to be apprehended and brought to justice. [5] He did not call for a terrorist invasion of war-ravaged Afghanistan with its long suffering, beleaguered population.


Zirin’s disgust at the Bush regime’s misuse of Tillman and the deception of his family is shared by most well meaning people. However, the depiction of the warrior Tillman as a hero contradicts much of his previous writing.


For example, Zirin lauded the antiwar stances of athletes such as basketball MVP Steve Nash and baseball all-star Carlos Delgado. But he singles out Muhammad Ali for special praise.


We may know that the great boxing champ Muhammad Ali refused to fight in Viet Nam. But we don't know he consciously stood with the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, -- the resistance -- saying, "The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice freedom, and equality." [6]


Zirin’s first book draws its title from Ali’s dissidence:


What's My Name, Fool?, it’s a reference to really what the heart of the book is about. The book is about the intersection of radical politics and pro sports, about times when movements off the field found _expression on the playing field, and to me the high point of that history was the time when the heavyweight champion of the world had one foot in the Black Freedom struggle and one foot in anti-war movement. And, of course, I’m talking about Muhammad Ali. [7]


Ali was deprived of his world heavyweight title and sentenced to five years imprisonment for refusing induction into the US military during the Vietnam War era. Zirin considers “the tradition of Ali and that tradition of resistance is something that’s … very important for people to know.”


Zirin quotes Ali.


“The enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my people, my religion, or myself by fighting against other people” -- speaking about the National Liberation Front in Vietnam -- “who are fighting for their own freedom, justice and liberty.” And so he came out very -- there was no mistaking where he stood on this. [8]


Ali sacrificed himself, embodying principle and Black resistance to White wars of aggression. “I will not compromise myself for the white man's money,” he declared.


A comparison is perhaps unfair but nonetheless illuminating. Both Tillman and Ali gave up big money. But Tillman volunteered for the Rangers and Ali refused military service.


According to Tillman’s close friend Army Spec. Russell Baer, Tillman stated,  “You know, this war is so f***ing illegal.” [9] Yet, this is a war that Tillman took part in. Tillman who “totally was against Bush” regardless became in life and death a pawn in the Bush cabal’s warmongering plans.


Surely, if Tillman had read Chomsky and absorbed the gist of his writings then he would have realized that the US has a long and bloodthirsty history of imperialist-driven violence to benefit the corporate “elites” of US society. Knowing this and jumping into military fatigues is morally contradictory. Nowadays, the definition of a war hero from the West tends also to be contradictory.


What constitutes war heroism in a country that first destroys its "enemy" with military technology from a great distance? War heroism is anachronistic definition of physical courage and has no resonance in modern war. World War II was the last war where so-called heroism mattered and should be excluded from all successive wars of the West. It is time for progressives to put that concept to rest and actually fight it.


However noble but misguided Tillman’s original intentions were, in the end he acquiesced to the illegal demands of authority. To submit oneself to the perpetuation of illegal violence is antithetical to heroism. Tillman is better characterized as a well-intentioned victim.


Kim Petersen, Co-Editor of Dissident Voice, lives in the traditional Mi'kmaq homeland colonially designated as Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at:

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[1] Dave Zirin, “The Meeting That Never Was: Pat Tillman and Noam Chomsky,” Edge of Sports emailing, 6 October 2005.

[2] Dave Zirin, “Pat Tillman, Our Hero,” The Nation, 6 October 2005.

[3] Radio B92, Belgrade, “Interviewing Chomsky,” CounterPunch, 18 September 2001.

[4] See Noam Chomsky, 9-11 Ed by Greg Ruggiero, Seven Stories Press, 2001.


[5] Ibid.


[6] Dave Zirin, “Storming the Castle: Why We Need To Know Our Radical Sports History,” League of Fans, 14 July 2005.


[7] Interview with Amy Goodman, “What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States,” Democracy Now, 21 July 2005. Zirin states: “obviously I'm greatly taken with [Ali’s] political stance in the 1960s.


[8] Ibid.


[9] Ibid.


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* Progressives and the Imperialist Line
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* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part Five
* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part Four
* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part Three
* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part Two
* American Violence in Iraq: Necrophilia or Savagery? Part One
* Darwinian Survival of the Fittest Meets Wal-Mart and Hiroshima
* Making Sense of Terrorism
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* Objectivity in Independent Media, Part 3
* Objectivity in Independent Media, Part 2
* Objectivity in Independent Media, Part One
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