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Where Men Win Glory

An exploration of the life and death of football star and US Army enlistee Pat Tillman.

By Erik Spanberg / October 7, 2009



Many Americans who watched the 9/11 attacks from afar insisted their lives would never be the same after that day, that they could never go back to the way things were before Al Qaeda killed 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Few, if any, lived up to that vow with the conviction of Pat Tillman.

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An outstanding defensive back on a lousy NFL team, in 2002 Tillman chose enlistment in the US Army over a $3.6 million contract. He became an Army ranger with his brother, Kevin. They saw limited action in Iraq and later went to Afghanistan.

It was in remote Khost Province, near the Pakistani border, where Pat Tillman died in April 2004, the victim of friendly fire. Those details alone would make Tillman’s story ideal for Jon Krakauer, whose nonfiction bestsellers include “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air.” What happened after Tillman’s death, combined with a soldier’s story that is at once unique and universal, provides a perfect foundation for exploring the response of the United States to 9/11. Add Tillman’s rugged intellectual curiosity and independence, as well as his penchant for testing the outer limits of his physical endurance, and you have the perfect protagonist.

In Where Men Win Glory, Krakauer weaves Tillman’s story into the larger American war on terror, with predictable but no less disturbing conclusions. Krakauer reveals how political and military leaders let Tillman’s family – and the rest of the nation – believe his death came at the hands of the Taliban, not his own platoon. Tillman died just as the first reports on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal were breaking and as bloody fighting raged in Fallujah, where the burned corpses of four American contractors were dragged through the streets. Tillman’s death, Krakauer asserts, offered a handy diversion.

His argument is convincing in many respects. A year after Tillman’s death, Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) presided over a congressional hearing on the subsequent bungled military inquiries. He closed the hearing by saying, “What we have is a very clear, deliberate abuse intentionally done. Why is it so hard to find out who did it?”

Top military brass rushed through a Silver Star commendation for Tillman immediately after he died, part of a public-relations offensive aimed at making the former NFL player a poster child for the American military campaigns. It was an effort Tillman himself would have abhorred: He told a fellow soldier on an earlier occasion that he feared dying in action and being paraded through the streets as a justification for war.

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