Friday, October 1, 2010

Where Men Win Glory

My latest read came highly recommended by my dad, who I would describe as a huge Jon Krakauer fan.  I must confess that I read about half of Krakauer's book Into the Wild based on several recommendations, and while it was very readable, could not establish much of a connection with the story.  So, I wasn't sure what I would make of Where Men Win Glory (2009) since it is definitely not a book that I would have chosen to read on my own.  Well, I'm certainly glad I gave it a chance--it was a deeply affecting and, dare I say, perspective-altering experience.

At its heart, Where Men Win Glory is a biographical sketch of Pat Tillman, a professional football player who left behind a successful career (and, I hasten to add, his wife of only a year) to enlist in the United States Army after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  He was subsequently killed in Afghanistan in 2004 as a result of friendly fire.  I must admit before reading this book that I hadn't really given Tillman much credit in the hero department--I only vaguely remembered the story that had been put out in the mainstream media (much of which, as it turns out, was a complete fabrication).

Krakauer spends the first half of the book examining the personality and motives of Tillman, with much of the material culled from Tillman's personal journals. These pages are well spent.  As it turns out, Tillman was the complete opposite of what I expected him to be.  Instead of fitting the classic jock stereotype, he is revealed to be a deeply thoughtful individual who felt an almost instinctual need to serve his country in the wake of 9/11.  This is in spite of the fact that he had considerable qualms over the morality or justice of the war effort of which he was to be part.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and time spent in Afghanistan on the ground, Krakauer proceeds to paint a vivid picture of the incident that ultimately resulted in Tillman's death.  The description is so intense that during the firefight scene I found myself shrinking down a bit in my chair to avoid an imagined hail of gunfire.  It was fairly agonizing reading this section, all the time knowing what was coming--I found myself irrationally hoping that Tillman might escape unscathed.  Sadly, that was not the case.

The final portion of the book describes the aftermath of the death of Pat Tillman and, more specifically, the lengths to which the United States government went to obscure the truth of the incident.  The conclusion that the Bush White House and the US Army ill-used the legacy of Pat Tillman is inescapable.  Perhaps the most egregious decision by the powers-that-be was to withhold the real circumstances surrounding Tillman's death from his wife, brother, and parents.  It was not until the media finally got wind of the real story that the Army was essentially forced to confess the truth.

Where Men Win Glory is an imminently readable book and a fitting tribute to Tillman and his family.  I leave you with a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche (found in the book) which I found a poignant description of the life and legacy of Pat Tillman:

I love him who does not hold back one drop of spirit for himself, but wants to be entirely the spirit of his virtue: thus he strides over the bridge as spirit.  I love him who makes his virtue his addiction and his catastrophe:  for his virtue's sake he wants to live on and to live no longer.

1 comment:

  1. Did you see Tillman's brother's interview this week with Bill Maher? It's NSFW, but it clearly shows that the pain that family was put through is not over.