Where Men Win Glory
In “The Soldier’s Faith,” his 1895 Harvard Memorial Day tribute to the Civil War dead, Oliver Wendell Holmes concludes that “every society rests on the death of men.” Only “true and adorable faith,” Holmes continues, “leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has no notion, under tactics of which he little understands.” Wounded in the Battles of Ball’s Bluff and Antietam, Holmes came finally to insist on the dignity of war as an exercise in personal virtue. If somehow a reincarnated Holmes could be privy to the tragic crucible of Specialist Pat Tillmana soldier of such “true faith” in himself as to be martyred by itwould the jurist still, as he seemingly did, approve of war?
Former National Football League (NFL) strong safety Tillman rejected a multimillion-dollar contract to enlist as a private in the U.S. Army in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After deployment to Afghanistan, he was the belatedly acknowledged victim of friendly fire in a remote canyon (since designated as Tillman Pass). Jon Krakauer, the biographer of another profoundly driven figure in Into the Wild (1997), has outdone himself with Where Men Win Glory, his comprehensive account of the tragic fate of a compelling man. Tillman walked away from the $3.6-million contract offered to him by the Arizona Cardinals in part out of honor, duty, and family tradition. His great-grandfather had served at Pearl Harbor during World War II. His younger brother, Kevin, enlisted with Pat and served in the same Ranger platoon. As Krakauer reveals, however, these matters are the virtues in which male aggression often cloaks itself. Honor and duty could just as easily have obliged Tillman to resist the war in Iraq, which he called “illegal as hell” and an act of “imperial whim.”
Tillman was convinced to enlist in part by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” (1841), especially its last lines: “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” Two months before he enlisted and a month before he married his childhood sweetheart, Tillman, in a document he called “Decision,” wrote, “However, these last few years, and especially after [September 11, 2001], I’ve come to appreciate how shallow and insignificant my role is. I’m no longer satisfied with the path I’ve been followingit’s no longer important.This new direction will, in the end, make [life with Marie] fuller, richer, and more meaningful.” Krakauer has subtitled his book The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, which obviates the complaint of one reviewer who faults Krakauer for devoting nearly 250 pagestwo-thirds of the book to Tillman’s life before he and Kevin were shipped from their training base at Fort Lewis, near Seattle, to Bagram Airfield, Iraq. An odyssey is a long series of wanderings. Where Men Win Glory seeks to document these wanderings, not merely the tragic conclusion to which they led.
During six weeks at Fort Benning, Georgia, Pat and Kevin completed “jump” training and the challenging curriculum designed to impart the skills Rangers need for special operations warfare. Shortly before Christmas, 2002, Pat and Kevin received their tan berets and assignments to a unit called the “Black Sheep”: Second Platoon, Alpha Company, Second Ranger Battalion, based at Fort Lewis, near Seattle. When they enlisted, the Tillman brothers assumed they would be deployed to Afghanistan to fight Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. They, like most Americans, had no reason to suspect that in November, 2001, scarcely two months after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al-Qaeda, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had instructed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to secretly create a detailed plan for the invasion of Iraq. It was in Iraq, at Qadisiyah Airbase, that Pat was denied his first combat engagement because his M4 carbine, a small-arms rifle, lacked a grenade-launcher attachment. When a member of his team, the squad automatic weapon (SAW) carrier, was wounded, Pat became his replacement. “Truth be told,” Pat confessed in his...
(The entire section is 1756 words.)