on September 19, 2009
This book is not a `war story'. It is a rendering of a man who was far more complex than the one-dimensional hero who was portrayed in the media and who, through no fault of his own, was basically used as propaganda by the US government. Interestingly, that was one of the threads woven throughout the book, along with the use of Jessica Lynch as a tool to boost support of the war.
Krakauer does a great job in the beginning of the book by contrasting the carefree life of an American boy growing up in the suburbs vs. groups of boys being groomed by the Taliban to become terrorists. His description of Pat Tillman's early life gives insight into how he came to make the decisions that ultimately resulted in his joining the Army.
Some of the detail in the middle of the book got a bit cumbersome. However, it was a useful primer on some of the things that went terribly wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan during Tillman's time there, and I'm not certain that Krakauer could have told the rest of the story without the level of detail provided.
Nonetheless, the author provides a refreshingly honest look at a man who at times I found rather unlikeable, frankly. Without question however, the picture of Tillman that emerges is one of a man who cannot be categorized easily. His complexity was well illuminated in the book, which was a far more honest and respectful portrayal of his life than if he were simply portrayed as the `good' character in a morality play.
This book does not paint a rosy, cozy picture of the US government's actions, of the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan, or, it must be said, of Pat Tillman himself. But that served to make both the book and the man more interesting.
on September 17, 2009
I was originally not very impressed by Pat Tillman's sacrifice. I believe our culture it too quick to call someone a hero. Most people use the expression to counterbalance their own insecurity of not serving in the military. After serving 6 years in the army including tours in Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, I can honestly say I did not meet one hero--including myself. I now believe Pat Tillman's life was heroic. I say this because he was truly cognizant of America and its misgivings and yet he still willingly served. I did not become aware until about halfway through my tour in Iraq. Once I became aware, rage consumed me. Rage is a normal reaction when one realizes halfway through an act that what they are doing is morally reprehensible. Tillman could have easily escaped combat duty if he wanted. He refused to be used by the Bush regime and the military industrial complex, but still performed the duties that he believed to be right. I cannot express how unique of a person he was. He was a rarity in our world. The narrative on how the military brass and the Bush regime tried to use him and then cover up how he died made the rage come back all over again. I had to walk away from the book several times. The politics behind the story is vital to the context of the story. It's what makes him a tragic hero. A story that only romanticizes his sacrifice so we Americans can thump our chests in pride would be a disservice to his life. Those who are truly aware will appreciate this book. Those who wish to be in the dark will not.
on January 3, 2010
I don't typically write reviews, but I think a few points raised by other reviewers need to be addressed...
First, Krakauer isn't just writing about Pat Tillman. He's also writing about Afghanistan. To suggest that Tillman's story could be told in a simpler fashion is merely stating the obvious.
Second, Afghanistan is a complex story. To tell it honestly requires exploring details that might not excite a reader looking for action and adventure. War isn't always what you see in the movies.
Third, Tillman's story would not be complete without addressing the political fallout of his death. Does Krakauer express opinions on these topics? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean he approached the subject with a political agenda.
If anything, Krakauer is attacking the political forces that would seek to use Tillman's life to advance their own agenda -- something that Tillman himself would have done if he were alive to do so. It's disingenuous to criticize somebody's writing simply because you disagree with the political truth that the author is exposing.
This is a complex book handled deftly by a strong, even-handed storyteller. I highly recommend it.
A brief disclaimer to begin. Like Pat Tillman, I was a post-9/11 volunteer enlistee, and for that reason his story has always had particular resonance. That said, the similarities end quickly. I did NOT walk away from millions to enlist. I did NOT join an elite infantry unit, nor did I see any action in a theatre of combat - let alone engage in fire fights. Lastly, I DID make it home.
Krakauer takes up the Tillman story with a view to what made the NFL Safety turned Ranger tick. In some reviews, including Dexter Filkins' NYT review, the fact that it takes Krakauer more than 150 pages to get Tillman's boots into the Afghan sand is to the book's detriment. In my opinion, Krakauer's aim - if not the book itself -is better served by the time he takes in exploring Tillman's motives.
Those looking for either a behind-the-lines military tome with some added star power, or a pot-boiler about government and military propaganda and corruption, should look elsewhere. Instead, Krakauer spends most of his effort on trying to wrestle with a very common conflict in the hearts, souls and minds of many post-9/11 military volunteers. While visions of the towers tumbling compelled Tillman instictively to look for some way to help, he also couldn't help but retain the healthy skepticism of his government that had him concerned - in Krakauer's telling - that should he die on the battlefield, he might be used for propaganda purposes.
That conflict is a defining element of the all-volunteer force that is fighting these wars. So many of the men and women I served with loved their country, but joined to defend their families as much as to fight for their government. That might not be a logical or well-informed course of action - but, for many, like Tillman, it was an instinctive one.
Krakauer wrestles with that conflict, and that insight is the value of this book. I don't think it achieves the effect so spectacularly, but like IF I DIE IN A COMBAT ZONE, I expect this book to eventually enter itself into the Iraq and Afghan literary canon as a nuanced look at the soldiers fighting this war.
Tillman's fame and his dramatic story are perhaps most valuable in that context. After reading this book, I am left with an impression of Tillman as a microcosm of that component of today's force who seem - paradoxically - to be among the last people we might expect to subject themselves to service, but the first we would expect to step up when the call to action comes.
on October 17, 2009
Jon Krakauer, author of riveters like "Into Thin Air" and "Under the Banner of Heaven", has taken up the story of NFL star Pat Tillman in his latest book, "Where Men Win Glory". The result is a thought-provoking, inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking read, chronicling Tillman's tragically short life.
A few things stand out in this book for me. One is the deep and complex nature of Tillman's motivations for enlisting. When I first heard about Tillman, right after he announced he was enlisting, I assumed he was a straightahead flag waver. As Krakauer shows, the truth is more complicated. Tillman was rather that rare breed - what I might call a "critical idealist" - who believed in principles and the possibility of living up to them, while recognizing that it was too much to expect that this would happen very often. Yet one's duty was to try nevertheless. And obviously, he did.
But other aspects about the nature of his motivation come through, and for me, these are the most interesting. In particular, I am intrigued, because of parallel experiences in my own life, by how even Tillman himself becomes unable at times to articulate to himself why he is doing what he is doing. There is something pushing him, some voice within, to drop the NFL and go and fight, and when he is honest with himself, he has no idea what this force is, where it comes from, or why he must obey it. But in the end, he realizes that he cannot *be* without it. It is, Krakauer shows, his very essence.
Krakauer's handling of Tillman's death likewise is quite masterful. Without ever sinking to rancour, he shows how, in effect, pressured, detached deskmen enforcing mindless, arbitrary "timelines" and protocols, and the panicked idiocy of a few American soldiers - one in particular - combine to cause Tillman's death by friendly fire. Krakauer then chronicles the government's and Army's shameful response to this tragedy: the Army's flagrant breach of their own guidelines in handling Tillman's corpse, its ludicrous "investigations", the White House's propaganda efforts and outright deception, and the fact that the seemingly criminal negligence on the part of the American soldiers who killed Tillman was never investigated in a court-martial (instead, a few guys were just demoted from the Rangers to the regular Army, including the idiot who actually killed Tillman).
In the background of the whole story looms the shadow of Donald Rumsfeld, a man who, despite whatever virtues he may have, persisted in chasing his own untenable visions at the cost of sense, fact, and most of all, the lives of the men and women serving under him.
In the end, Tillman, though not a saint, comes across as a far better man than those he entrusted his life to. His odyssey is, in many ways, tragic; at the same time, his life represents a code of personal honour in which duty comes before pleasure, principle comes before gain, and conscience comes before convention. Inspiring.
I hope this review helped someone.
on September 21, 2009
Where Men Win Glory is a biography of the late Pat Tillman interwoven with a hornbook political history of Afghanistan in the last thirty (30) years. It's interesting, thoughtful and features Krakauer's trademark: impeccable and exhaustive research. The author also has priceless access to Tillman's personal journals which were given to him by Tillman's widow, Marie. If you are a Tillman or Krakauer fan, the book is a must read.
The book also functions as a modern Greek tragedy. The title comes directly from dialogue spoken to the Greek hero, Achilles, in Homer's Iliad. Comparisons between Achilles and Tlllman are implicit throughout the book and Tillman comes off as a modern hero, tragically flawed in the tradition of Achilles. Some examples include: the almost supernatural physical abilities of Tillman, Tillman's adherence to an admirable code of values to his own detriment and to the detriment of his loved ones, and Tillman's ultimate end. Further, the bungling of Tillman's military superiors as well as, the exploitation of Tillman by the government made me think of Agamemmnon and Menelaus from the Iliad.
While justifiably critical of the Bush Administration generally, and Rumsfeld's defense department specifically, the book is not a vicious attack from the Left. The point Krakauer makes is that perhaps the true heroes of western culture always have been (and always will be) exploited, betrayed and let down by their governments, superiors and society. It's a theme that is almost 3,000 years old.
Even those unfamiliar with ancient Greek tragedy will still be treated to an easy-to-read, page turner that's a must for anyone interested in the army, football, the Afghanistan war, politics and interpersonal relationships between spouse, family and friends.
Everyone who has followed current events even slightly over the past five years knows that football hero and soldier Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, and that the military had trouble telling the truth about his death from rifle fire by his own platoon. Tillman had a remarkable life for one who died at age 27, and in _Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman_ (Doubleday), Jon Krakauer has provided the biography that Tillman deserves, vivid and compelling. As good as the biography is, however, it isn't Krakauer's main story, which concentrates on the political and moral crimes committed by the Bush administration and the Army as they tried to convince Americans (and Tillman's family) that Tillman had heroically died shot by Taliban soldiers instead of sadly, futilely dying from friendly fire. Krakauer has drawn his title from Homer, and within the book uses also an epigram by Aeschylus; this is not exaggeration. For one thing, Tillman, in addition to countless other interests, was compelled to study the Greek classics. More importantly, this is a brilliantly-told story of a genuine dramatic tragedy, because readers know how it is going to turn out, and watch as Tillman, compelled by his own sense of duty and self-challenge, is doomed by the fates and the powers that be.
Tillman was an extraordinary character, and liked doing things his own way. He drove a Jeep, a car that had no flash, and he kept cats, not dogs. He was an ardent advocate for the rights of homosexuals, and he always had a book handy so that no time was wasted. He had brains, something that football players are not celebrated for, but more importantly, he was introspective and self-critical, constantly writing in his journal about any defects he saw in himself and what he would do to overcome them. (One of the most attractive parts of Krakauer's book is its generous quoting from the journals.) He was a standout as safety for the Arizona Cardinals, earning a fine reputation for playing a smart and aggressive game even though the Cardinals weren't much of a team otherwise. He had a $3.6 million dollar contract coming up, but after 9/11, walked away from it to sign on for the Army for three years. He thought about joining the officer corps, but wanted to be in the immediate action. The Bush administration saw the propaganda value of this young man so devoted to serving his country, but Tillman would not cooperate. He refused interviews and media appearances; he had his job and he wanted just to do it, and he faded into Army obscurity. When he was assigned to Afghanistan, it was not long before he was in the mission that resulted in his death. The mistakes that happened, compounded errors and misjudgments, might be excused as mere manifestations of the fog of war. What is inexcusable is how, after Tillman was shot three times in the head by an American machine gunner, the Army quickly sprang into action to cover up the friendly fire incident. Krakauer writes, "When Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan his Ranger regiment responded with a chorus of prevarication and disavowal. A cynical cover-up sanctioned at the highest levels of the government, followed by a series of inept official investigations, cast a cloud of bewilderment and shame over the tragedy, compounding the tragedy of Tillman's death."
The military realized that it was going to have a problem keeping up the falsified version of Tillman's death, because his brother was in the same firefight at a different locale, and their buddies in the platoon knew the truth, and eventually at some point they would, even against orders, spill it. Tillman's mother pushed the issue, and got one after another official investigation, each of which lied in different degrees. Krakauer shows that the White House was eager to peddle the story of the hero as a counter to the revolting revelations from Abu Ghraib and to the increasing evidence that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Krakauer's fine book is full of sadness; it is a shame this worthy man had to go to war, it is a shame that he had to die, it is a shame that his death was a terrible accident. Above all, it was a shame that his chain of command, top to bottom, lied to his country and to his family about his fate. Tillman insisted on pushing himself hard to do the right thing; the dishonest and craven actions of his Army chain of command and the Bush administration are in wretched contrast.
on September 28, 2009
Pat Tillman went from playing in the NFL to giving up a
multi million dollar contract to become a "friendly fire" statistic
in Afghanistan. Krakauer says thus far in the current Iraq War 41
percent of U S casualties are by "friendly fire". The number was 39
percent in Vietnam and 52 percent the first Iraq war. Tillman's
widow Marie was the only family member to contribute "on the record"
for Krakauer's book. Political alert: Since most of my conservative
friends see anything that challenges their orthodoxy and world view
as unworthy of attention I don't think they will like or appreciate
this book. Why? Because we learn that Pat Tillman and his family do
not reinforce the stereotype of a fallen American Military hero.
Tillman questioned the Iraq war, opposed the Bush administrations
conduct of the war, was an atheist who did not wish to have a
religious or a military service if he died and all the same was a
reluctant hero who gave up much to volunteer along with his brother
to fight after 9/11. Why did Tillman join the Army and want to be an
enlisted man? Tillman kept a very detailed and personal journal and
Krakauer is an excellent writer who seems to find these unusual
individuals that defy convention (such as in his books Into the Wild
and Into Thin Air which is still his best work). Here Krakauer jumps
back and forth between recent events to focus on Tillman's life,
marriage, and friends concluding with how it was possible for him to
be shot by an individual from his own platoon with three .223-caliber
bullets tightly grouped together as they entered the right side of
Tillman's forehead. His brain to be found days later in the dirt near
where he died and it was later lost as a result of one of many
strange Army snafus. How could this event happen? Why when it did
happen did the Army cover it up? Did they cover it up? Why did the
Army provide false testimonial evidence to support a silver star for
Tillman? Why did they order members of Tillman's platoon not to
provide accurate information on the events of the shooting,
especially to Tillman's brother who was a member of that very same
platoon? And why was manufacturing pro war propaganda so important to
those in the Bush administration? And lastly, how many Americans
today even know the truth about Tillman after all these years
(Tillman was killed in 2004)? This is a sad and disturbing book that
leads one to think about what it means to fight and die for one's
country. This is also an important book, if only to insure we obtain
a better understanding of what happened to someone who marched to his
own personal beliefs no matter the risk. And how his government
betrayed his memory. (Note: Krakauer's book reminded me, in part, of
the excellent 1976 book about Vietnam by C.D.B. Bryan, titled
"Friendly Fire". That book is about one of the individuals who became
part of the 39 percent statistic that Krakauer quotes for that war.)
on November 11, 2009
Where Men Win Glory tells the converging stories of pro-footballer, Pat Tillman and the history of America's involvement in Afghanistan. Author, Jon Krakaur, deftly narrates what is a complex tale. The ultimate tragedy of this book isn't the death of it's hero at the hands of his own men but rather, that a talented and extraordinary man, motivated by the highest intentions was so disgracefully let down by his military and his government. It is hard not to feel outraged at the unfairness of it all.
I am somewhat surprised by the reaction of some of my fellow reviewers who criticise the author for what they claim is a political bias. They argue that such observations detract from Tillman's story. I think that it would be difficult to write anything concerning Pat Tillman not include something about the Bush Administration's conduct. It would have been an obvious and distracting oversight.
The ultimate moral of the book is that men do not win glory on a battlefield or a football field. They win glory through their actions and the integrity with which they live their lives. To that end, Patrick Tillman was a true hero.
on November 14, 2009
This book will make you angry but you should not be angry with the author but rather with the actions of the military and our government. Many reviewers are upset with Krakauer, accusing him of putting forth a political agenda in this book. What I cannot understand is how these readers are not actually upset with the cover-up and exploitation of Pat Tillman's death. Everyone needs to suspend their political beliefs and just focus on the extraordinary story of Pat Tillman and what he did for his country. Yes, I can see how readers may have felt that Krakauer may have been inserting a political agenda in this book. I have to respectfully disagree with them though, because reporting the facts does not necessarily mean a secret agenda. Who exploited Pat Tillman? Who covered up the facts? Read this book to find out. You may not like what you find out, but the truth can be painful. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It truly was hard to put down. I hope one day that the Tillmans find the answers that they are looking for.