Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
by Jon Krakauer
Doubleday, 2009, 416 pages
Most people know Pat Tillman as the football player who walked
away from the NFL to join the War on Terror. Most people also know
that after he was killed in Afghanistan, the Army and the White
House covered up, for five weeks, that he died by friendly fire.
After reading scores of official documents, which lend an
objectivity to the book, Jon Krakauer delves further into Tillman's
life and the morass of lies and obfuscations surrounding his
painting a bigger picture of the man he was, and the tool for
White House propaganda he became.
Krakauer begins by sketching the incident that took Tillman's
life, then backtracks to his childhood, teenage years, college life
and NFL career, all with an emphasis on Tillman's strong character,
almost superhuman athleticism, and constant focus on doing the
right thing. Throughout the middle chapters, Krakauer weaves in
current events: as Tillman set an Arizona Cardinals tackle record
in 2000, Bush v. Gore was playing out in the courts. As
Tillman prepared for preseason in mid-2001, the CIA was reporting
that Bin Laden's threats were real, while top administrators,
including President Bush himself, continued doubting those threats.
Shortly before Tillman began his fourth season, 9/11 struck.
Krakauer aims for fireworks; he wants the reader to become
inflamed, and he is successful. There simply is no way to avoid
Krakauer's viewpoint, but it is entirely well supported with facts
and documents (and a compendium of sources).
In 2002, Tillman and his brother, Kevin, enlisted in the Army.
The brothers assumed they would go to Afghanistan; but in 2003, the
administration presented persuasive, but erroneous, evidence that
Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and the Tillmans
first were sent to Iraq. What the reader might not know: Tillman
did not support this war; he saw no "clear purpose" for it.
Nevertheless, as he wrote in his journal (excerpts of which pepper
Krakauer's narrative), he and Kevin "willingly allowed ourselves to
be pawns in this game and will do our job whether we agree with it
or not … [But] we harbor no illusions of virtue."
Against this backdrop, Krakauer details the friendly fire
incident in Afghanistan in 2004. Krakauer catalogs the Army's
aggressive maneuvers to conceal details from Tillman's family and
the public, even awarding him the Silver Star for actions when
"ambushed." A captain ordered Tillman's blood-soaked uniform and
body armor to be burned, contrary to military procedures. And the
White House went into "overdrive," rushing a statement to the media
that withheld the known fact that Tillman was killed by his
Curiously, the Army assigned a captain to investigate the
incident, even though higher ranking personnel might have made the
errors leading to Tillman's death. That investigation, concluding
that fratricide caused Tillman's death and that gross negligence
was a factor, disappeared in the chain of command. The Army finally
disclosed the truth, though, as Krakauer suggests, only because
Tillman's brother was returning to duty, and "[g]uilt, anger, and
alcohol were likely to loosen tongues."
Few disciplinary actions were taken, perceived by the family as
wrist slapping. The Army still denied there had been fabrications,
just misunderstandings about regulations and secrecy policy.
Krakauer's level of detail is impressive, as is his knowledge of
Army procedure. The reader never wonders, never sees a hole in the
logic of this comprehensive biography. And Krakauer proves his
theory - that the Army and the White House duped the country into
believing that Tillman was killed by the Taliban, for the sole
purpose of positioning Iraq as a righteous war. Krakauer
accomplishes in this book what he's best known for: seizing a
provocative story, illuminating its details, and exposing the
Lynn S. Muster is a senior staff attorney at the Massachusetts