Just finished listening to “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman” by John Krakauer.
It’s a well written and timely (believe it or not) account, which I can recommend.
Like the men whose epic stories Jon Krakauer has told in his previous bestsellers, Pat Tillman was an irrepressible individualist and iconoclast. In May 2002, Tillman walked away from his $3.6 million NFL contract to enlist in the United States Army. He was deeply troubled by 9/11, and he felt a strong moral obligation to join the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Two years later, he died on a desolate hillside in southeastern Afghanistan.
Not knowing anything about Pat Tillman except for a few newspaper reports about multiple investigations into his death by Friendly Fire, I picked the book because I was a fan of Krakauer’s, having enjoyed both “Into Thin Air” and “Under the Banner of Heaven”.
And I wasn’t disappointed by Krakauer’s honest, multi-dimensional portrayal of Tillman from the time he was growing up in the Bay Area until his death in Afghanistan. The book reflects a huge amount of research into what documents were publicly available, along with extensive interviews of the Rangers who trained with Tillman and were on the scene when he was killed. When you add to that the fact that the Tillman family cooperated and made Pat’s personal diaries available, the result is a credible account of his character and what motivated his decisions.
All that would have made a fine book by itself, but Krakauer also relates the history and a detailed account of what was going on in Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously in another part of the world. These two parallel universes are merged throughout the book to create a great perspective on the person and the larger conflict.
Krakauer goes deeper into the story by attempting to explain how a series of stupendously stupid decisions could possibly have been made by the military to cover up the fact that Tillman was killed by Friendly Fire. This has gotten him ‘Blow Back’ from some military reviewers; whose argument is simply that he’s not qualified to make judgement calls on the military.
While I agree with the point that Krakauer doesn’t have the military chops to pass judgement in that area, in my opinion they miss the point. The case he makes is that politics and public pressure created an atmosphere where Tillman’s death became a Media Event and a Propaganda Event in the midst of a very complicated war. And I believe Krakauer does have the chops to make a value judgement in that area, and he presents a very credible case.
Krakauer wrote the last chapter of the book in January 2009 from Forward Operating Base Tillman, on the Afghanistan / Pakistan border, which was named for Pat. Krakauer accurately nailed everything that has come to pass over the succeeding 9 months regarding the war with insurgents and the Taliban in the tribal and border areas.
This book is a great listen, and especially timely now as we consider the future path in Afghanistan.