Jon Krakauer’s bestseller Where Men Win Glory is one of those books that most sports fans have heard of – it’s “the Pat Tillman Book” – though I know very few people who have actually read it (sort of like the new ESPN book). I picked this up a month or so back at the recommendation of my father, and initially struggled through the first couple of chapters. At first, the book seemed to be both A) more of a description of the goings-on in Afghanistan than I was looking for and B) more Pat Tillman worship than I had bargained for. Having now finished the book, I can tell you it’s easily one of the most important books I’ve read in quite a while. And it’s certainly changed my perspective on the marriage between our political leaders and the armed services.
Everybody knows the basic story – Pat Tillman walked away from a multi-million dollar NFL contract and a new bride in order to go serve in Afghanistan following the attacks on September 11, 2001. You should read this book to learn about Pat’s life and the person he was – undeniably an admirable one – but you should also read this book for the extensive research and the actual field time that John Krakauer put in while in Afghanistan. Krakauer’s analysis of the sketchy circumstances regarding Tillman’s death, and of the Afghan war in general, are presented in a very unbiased fashion which I certainly appreciated. But as more and more disturbing information is revealed, the conclusions you draw for yourself are clear. Without giving too much away, some aspects of the book I found particularly interesting were:
1) Tillman was undoubtedly killed by friendly fire, by a comrad of his who had never seen combat and was a bit trigger happy from about 100 yards away. The Taliban had engaged Tillman’s convey, but shooting had stopped long before. Tillman had been standing up and waving his hands to signal that he was a friendly when he was shot in the head. The handling of Pat’s body and gear once he was killed broke all military protocol, in an effort to throw those responsible for determining his cause of death off track. Some of his brain matter, which was actually scrapped up off the dessert floor by one of his comrads and stored in a canteen so that it could be buried with his body, is still missing to this day.
2) Under pressure from the US government and well as internal pressure, the friendly fire aspect of Tillman’s death was covered up throughout the course of multiple follow up investigations. His family, as well as his brother who was serving with him, were blatantly lied to. Essentially, the US government wanted to use Tillman’s death for propaganda and knew that the story would be much less effective if the fact that he was killed by friendly fire was known. Krakauer also reports disturbing details on how the rescue of Jessica Lynch was smeared similarly in order to raise the morale of the American public with regards to the war in Afghanistan.
3) Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and George Bush all continuously expressed doubts about the extent to which Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban were a threat. On August 6, 2001 the CIA presented a report to Bush entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike US.” The report included the following passage, “information gathered by the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” This report was the 36th time in the preceding 8 months that Bush had directly been warned by the CIA of an imminent threat by Al-Quaeda or Bin Laden himself. The CIA officer who pitched this report to Bush was subsequently told by the president in a sarcastic tone, “All right, you’ve covered your ass,” before he dismissed him. After this occurrence, Richard Clarke, the Cheif Counter-Terrorism Advisor to the National Security Council and President Bush, desperately sent Condoleeza Rice a a scathing email asking how her White House colleagues and her would feel when “in the very near future Al-Qaeda has killed hundreds of Americans…. what will you wish then that you had already done?” Clarke’s email was sent on September 4, 2001.
Regardless of your political leanings, Krakauer presents an incredibly well written portrait of the man that Pat Tillman was – as well as some eye opening insight into the War in Afghanistan. Check it out.