Like the rest of us, I knew that the military had used the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman for propaganda purposes. The former Arizona Cardinals safety was supposedly killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. I had only seen good reviews of the movie, The Tillman Story (2010), so I figured I could spend an hour and a half of my life watching it. It was even better than I expected.
The movie feels a bit like a murder mystery. Evidence useful for a forensic investigation disappears or is destroyed. Mary “Dannie” Tillman, Pat’s mother, goes through a laboriously painstaking process, sifting through reams of documents that the Army dumps on her.
Then-Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, irritated because the Tillman family keeps pushing for more investigation after they know that they have been lied to, offers this explanation: “These people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs.” He adds, “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt.”
I suppose a “faithful” response would be one that sits down, shuts up, and forgets about discovering the truth.
Speaking of discovering the truth, there’s a great scene of a congressional committee meeting in which we see the Tillman family, a row of generals, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A frequent refrain among the military guys goes along the lines of “I don’t remember.” And speaking of Rumsfeld, it’s noted that he personally wrote a letter of congratulations to Pat Tillman when he left the NFL to enlist. Friend of the family and Special Forces veteran Stan Goff (a man who served with the Rangers and Delta Force) wonders why he didn’t get a letter of congratulations from the Secretary of Defense when he enlisted!
After the fiasco of the congressional hearing, Dannie Tillman sighs, “I feel like I’ve done what I can for him.”
This movie made me mad. I didn’t realize how badly the Bush administration had manipulated Pat Tillman, his memory, and his family to manufacture a hero in order to sell their war.
But this movie also made me happy. It made me laugh. And as an NFL fan, I was reminded of the one year of Tillman’s career when the Cardinals had a decent season. They qualified for the playoffs as a wild-card team and knocked off the Cowboys in the first round. (Watching the movie takes the sting out of that!)