Last night I was torn between going to see The Girl who played with fire and The Tillman Story. I wasn't sure if I wanted a Swedish rip-roaring psychological thriller or an all too true to life psychological shit storm. As a masochistic activist, I chose the latter. I was very disappointed. The documentary was a triumph: brilliant story telling, well organized with clear cut vantages from all characters involved. The story is what was overwhelmingly disappointing.
I don't cry often. In fact, I can't remember the last time that I did cry, but yesterday brought me damn close. For those of you who don't know the tale of Pat Tillman, he was a football star who gave up a multi-million dollar career to go serve in the armed forces after 9/11. That is of course the abridged version of his background. For more info, I highly recommend the movie.
In any case, Pat Tillman was as one of his army friends notes, "the most famous enlisted man." After his enlistment, he got a personal letter from Donald Rumsfeld, the current Secretary of Defense, thanking him for his patriotism. Tillman was first sent out to Iraq, where, according to friends and family, his skepticism as to our legal involvement in the middle east grew daily. He returned home, and despite offers from the NFL, went back for his second tour of duty, this time in Afghanistan, because that's what he had promised to do. On April 22nd, 2004, Pat Tillman was murdered...by his own men.
The circumstances surrounding the exact happenings of that day are still clouded over by cover ups and smoke screens, but one thing is certain: it was fratricide. Unwilling to send the coffin of their most famous enlisted man home with no "evil taliban" to point the finger at, the smoke screen men fabricated a complex web of lies that worked in their favor.
They painted a picture of a corageous hero who led his men into battle against enemy forces, risked and lost his own life to protect those of his men. In reality, Pat Tillman died screaming his name into the echoic canyon of a desert land neither he, nor any other American soldier, should ever have set foot in.
What followed was a rollercoaster of military back door deals, back scratching, fact finding, truth digging, and propoganda spinning that eventually led to a congressional hearing on the facts and falsities of Pat Tillman's death.
At this point in the movie, I very nearly lost it. Pat Tillman's brother, Kevin, made opening remarks. Kevin had been in the same canyon on April 22nd. He had arrived at the scene 10 minutes later and simply sat down next to his brothers body. On the plane ride home, he said nothing. He went into seclusion, making this his first public appearance since the death of his brother. Pat Tillman's mother, father, widow and younger brother were also there. His mother commented that she just wanted the truth, that she wanted the American people to bear witness to this injustice and for those responsible to drop the smoke screens and fucking stand up to what they orchestrated. What her and her family got was the most atrocious display of justice since the days of witch burnings.
The head generals of the country and Donald Rumsfeld all sat in front of the panel, evidence of their cover up on the table in front of them, and lied, again. "I don't recall." "I can't be sure." "That's a guess." "I don't know." "I really couldn't say." Not one straight answer. And instead of holding them accountable, instead of shoving the evidence in their faces and saying - you fucking bastards - how dare you stand in front of this congressional hearing and lie to the people whose son you murdered? No, none of that. "Thank you general." "I understand, secretary." "I see." "Thanks for clearing that up, general."
At the end of the hearing, Rumsfeld and the generals stood up, shook hands, smiled and laughed before leaving the room. They'd gotten away with it. The Tillman family sat at the back, bewildered, betrayed. Their country, the country their son died for, raped their freedom, their justice, their grief, their suffering.
And this country, as it did with the fable of Jessica Lynch watched, shrugged their shoulders and moved on. How? Why? If you go to a party and some guy shoots your friend, or even a friends friend, would you not care? And then if they try covering it up with some bullshit story and tell you you're wrong, would you take it? If you answered yes, then you're an asshole...but you do have the continuity of apathy going for you. B/c that's what this country did. They watched as congress and the top echelons of our government walked over Pat's grave and spat, laughing and congratulating each other on being masters of the universe. As I say quite often, in a republic, it's our names that are behind the smoke screens, it's our fault if our country has blood on her hands...because this is our country. Regardless of whether we take advantage of it or not, we are the people that stand for this country. Of the people, for the people and by the people. That's what it says (it being the constitution). That's who we are. How did we lose sight of that? How are we now so overfed, under educated, over pious and under attentive that we don't know or care what our country is doing or saying?
The Tillman story is therefore not just gut wrenching because of the players at the top, but gut wrenching because of the players down here, us, we the people, have blood on our hands.