POSTED ON NOVEMBER 24, 2010:
What Really Happened
The Tillman Story reveals not all was as it seemed
Band of Brothers. Former NFL player Pat Tillman served in the army, along with his brother, Kevin, and was killed in the line of duty. His story, which has been filled with lies, has been an inspiration to many.
Pat Tillman was the best and worst thing the military's publicity department had concerning the Iraq War. Tillman was a square-jawed, fierce hitting professional football player who walked away from millions of NFL dollars after Sept. 11 to become an Army Ranger. He did not complete his three year tour, ending up dead in Afghanistan mountains, given the Silver Star by President Bush and branded a national hero by the media. All things that would make a soldier's family proud.
It was a little more complex for the Tillmans. Something didn't sit right for the family. There were elements of the story of his death that nagged them and they could not let it go. The Tillman Story is Amir Bar-Lev's documentary of the family's fight for truth surrounding Pat's death. The relentless, angry, stubborn Tillman family never gave up searching to uncover the facts and when they get them, they want people in the military and government held accountable. The Tillman Story is an engrossing film that digs into one person's extraordinary life, the modern soldier's lust for combat, the importance propaganda plays during war and the lies concocted to manipulate reality through its most famous casualty: Pat Tillman.
Pat Tillman was raised in Arizona along with his rambunctious two younger brothers. Encouraged to embrace his individuality when he was growing up, the free-spirited Tillman was a football star at Arizona State University. Considered too small for the pros, he confounded scouts when he became a late-round draft pick in 1998 by the hometown Arizona Cardinals and by making the All-Pro team in 2000. When the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, Tillman joined the U.S. Army with his brother Kevin.
Tillman gave no media interviews regarding the reasons he enlisted. It was a deep-seeded sense of duty and a family history of military service, reasons he considered to be private. The media wanted more, so they created a story for him that branded him labels he was uncomfortable with. When Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, the press would really kick into gear. Assisted by what they were continuously told by the government, the mass media latched onto the notion of "hero" and ran with that idea ad nauseam.
According to the government, Tillman died in Afghanistan, sacrificing himself against the evil Taliban, while protecting his fellow Army Rangers from sure death in rocky, inhospitable terrain. This was a lie created by an assortment of military officers at the scene of his death. The lie started in Afghanistan and began to go up the chain of command. It ended at the desk of President George W. Bush, who embraced the version that would gain the most support in important polls that might influence the continuation of his war and help his legacy. A true-blooded American hero is always good to sucker the public into believing what they are told. Mary, Pat's mom, wanted none of this, and went on a one person crusade to "set the record straight," even if this meant stripping her son of his "heroic" status with the public.
It's surprising (and commendable) that grieving parents such as the Tillmans would turn their lives upside down in pursuit of the truth. By relentlessly attacking the tale fed to them by the government, they opened themselves up to criticism from the "patriotic police" that exist as pundits, media, politicians and everyone else attempting to latch onto Tillman's death to promote the continuation of the war. The Tillman family didn't give a damn and kept on lashing out in their own way. Very gutsy and admirable of them.
It led all the way to a congressional hearing where they faced off with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and assorted military leaders. This section of the documentary, with these cowardly people absolving themselves of any connection to a cover-up and the easy pass lackey politicians gave them, is probably the most sickening display I've recently seen involving our government. That's saying a lot considering we are living in an age where elected officials repeatedly find shameful new ways to embarrass themselves regarding corruption, cronyism, mistruths and holding onto their coveted place in the lucrative, powerful machine.
The fact that the military and the government lied about Tillman's death and used it as a propaganda tool shouldn't really come as a surprise. This is what all governments do when engaged in warfare. All of them. It's been this way in America since we took on the "redcoats" in the 18th century. The public's opinion on a military conflict is important for whatever administration has engaged an enemy. No president wants to fight in a war the masses are against. It's extremely naive to not believe stories have been concocted about battles, soldiers, deaths and events in every war to manipulate the emotions of citizens. Tillman's death isn't the first to be used as propaganda and it certainly won't be the last. It will just make those doing the fabricating more careful when covering their tracks.
There are numerous revolting aspects of the aftermath of Tillman's death. Multiple levels of Army soldiers and officials realize early on that the way Tillman was killed could turn into the biggest PR disaster of a war growing increasingly more unpopular. They destroyed evidence, bullied, threatened and lied all they could. Yet, it wasn't enough. The family found the information they were looking for and then they went public. Also, the individuals who attached themselves to his death (various media) or the funeral service for the visibility it would give them (John McCain and Maria Shriver, I'm talking about you) was despicable. Absolutely nauseating.
The Tillman Story is a terrific film. It's one of the best documentaries of 2010. Tillman was indeed a patriot and a hero, but he wasn't the simplistic, jingoistic kind that he was portrayed to be. That's what makes this thought-provoking documentary so wonderful. One thing is certain: Tillman's Army officers, his military superiors, all the politicians and government officials, his Commander and Chief George W. Bush, not a single one of them deserved to have Tillman serve under them based on their actions.
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