"I don't believe it," seethed Ann Coulter.
Her contempt was directed at a September 25 San
Francisco Chronicle story reporting that former NFL
star and Army Ranger war hero Pat Tillman, who was
killed in Afghanistan last year, believed the US war
on Iraq was "f***ing illegal" and counted Noam Chomsky
among his favorite authors. It must have been quite a
moment for Coulter, who upon Tillman's death described
him in her inimitably creepy fashion as "an American original--virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be." She tried to discredit the story as San Francisco agitprop, but this approach ran into a slight problem: The article's source was Pat Tillman's mother, Mary.
Mary and the Tillman family are relentlessly pushing
for answers to the questions surrounding Pat's death
in Afghanistan. They want to know why it took the
Pentagon five weeks to tell them he died in a tragic
case of friendly fire. They want to know why they were unwitting props at Pat's funeral, weeping while lies were told by eulogizing politicians. Mary is now hoping that a new Pentagon inquiry will bring closure. "There have been so many discrepancies so far that it's hard to know what to believe," she said to the Chronicle. "There are too many murky details."
The very private Tillmans have revealed a picture of
Pat profoundly at odds with the GI Joe image created
by Pentagon spinmeisters and their media
stenographers. As the Chronicle put it, family and
friends are now unveiling "a side of Pat Tillman not
widely known--a fiercely independent thinker who
enlisted, fought and died in service to his country
yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war
in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an
avid reader whose interests ranged from history
books...to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite
author." Tillman had very unembedded feelings about
the Iraq War. His close friend Army Spec. Russell Baer remembered, "I can see it like a movie screen. We were outside of [an Iraqi city] watching as bombs were dropping on the town.... We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f***ing illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush." With these revelations, Pat Tillman the PR icon joins WMD and Al Qaeda connections on the heap of lies used to sell the Iraq War.
Tillman's transition from one-dimensional caricature
to critically thinking human being is a long time
coming. The fact is that in death he was far more
useful to the armchair warriors than he had ever been
in life. When the Pro Bowler joined the Army Rangers,
the Pentagon brass needed a loofah to wipe their
drool: He was white, handsome and played in the NFL.
For a chicken-hawk Administration led by a President
who loves the affectations of machismo but runs from
protesting military moms, this testosterone cocktail
was impossible to resist. The problem was that Tillman
wouldn't play their game. To the Pentagon's chagrin,
he turned down numerous offers to be its recruitment
But when Tillman fell in Afghanistan the wheels once
again started to turn. Now the narrative was perfect:
"War hero and football star dies fighting terror." The
Abu Ghraib scandal was about to hit the press, so the
President found it especially useful to praise Tillman
as "an inspiration on and off the football field, as
with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on
terror." His funeral was nationally televised. Bush
even went back to the bloody well during the
presidential campaign, addressing his team's fans on
the Arizona Cardinals' stadium Jumbotron.
We now know, of course, that this was all a brutal
charade. Such callous manipulation is fueling the
Tillman family's anger. As Mary Tillman said this past
May, "They could have told us up front that they were suspicious that [his death] was a fratricide, but they didn't. They wanted to use him for their purposes.... They needed something that looked good, and it was appalling that they would use him like that." A growing number of military families, similarly angered, are criticizing the war in Iraq through organizations like Military Families Speak Out.
As for Chomsky, whom Ann Coulter would undoubtedly
label "treasonous," Mary Tillman says a private
meeting was planned between him and Pat after Pat's
return--a meeting that never took place, of course.
Chomsky confirms this scenario. This was the real Pat
Tillman: someone who, like the majority of this
country, was doubting the rationale for war,
distrusting his Commander in Chief and looking for
answers. The real Pat Tillman, the one with three
dimensions, must stick in the throat of the
Bush-Coulter gang, a pit in the cherry atop their
Dave Zirin is the author of "'What's My Name, Fool?':
Sports and Resistance in the United States" published
by Haymarket Books. Reach the author at
email@example.com. This piece is running in this week's print edition of
the Nation. It is also available at thenation.com.