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Trying to Make Sense of the Afghanistan Quagmire

04.06.10

I just finished reading Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, the story of Pat Tillman’s odyssey from New Almaden, California to his glory days playing in the NFL to his tragic death by friendly fire as an Army Ranger fighting in Afghanistan.

It’s phenomenal.

I can’t convey all of the emotions that I feel after having read the book.  I thought that I would be angrier, actually, given the lengths at which the Bush Administration covered-up the fratricide – lying to not only the country but to Tillman’s mother, father, brother, and wife – in order to use Tillman’s devastating demise to prop up support for the unpopular war.

But, I wasn’t.

Perhaps I’m too far removed from Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld now to feel more disgust at their actions than I already do.  Instead this narrative simply added more evidence to those feelings of shame that we called that man “President” for eight years.  It just wasn’t shocking to read about multiple levels of complete disregard for rules and regulations that not only led to the propaganda in the aftermath, but also that led to Tillman’s accidental death at the hands of his own comrades.  Perhaps that’s shocking in and of itself.

Mostly I just felt heartbroken.  Like with all good stories, you hate to see them end.  You’re inclined to rush to the finale to find out how everything works out and then you’re sad to have to say goodbye.  This was no different.  Only there’s no happy ending here.  And it’s not just a tale; this really happened.  Corporal Patrick Tillman is really gone.

There were times when I thought I would truly connect with Tillman had we had the chance to meet in real life.  And other times when I felt he’d be the kind of guy that I’d be sure to avoid had we crossed paths.  But, I loved his complexity, his depth, and his unabashed sense of self.  And even though Krakauer made sure to remind us frequently that Tillman was a large man, much more muscular than his fellow soldiers, his personality and his emotional range always made me picture someone more average.

I don’t mean that to diminish his stature; only that, Tillman’s physical prowess wasn’t what made him a hero.  No doubt he was an athletic specimen of the highest caliber.  But he was more than that.  The core of his person felt true and authentic, which I found to be the true source of his heroism.

While Tillman’s story was magnetic, I was thoroughly engrossed in Krakauer’s back story on the Afghanistan quagmire that started in the late-1970s when the Soviets were embroiled in an unwinnable war against the very people in Afghanistan that we supported then yet are now currently fighting.  It’s a stark reminder of how important it is for our leaders to be humble and intimately knowledgeable on world events.  And it’s equally mind-blowing how infrequently we learn from history.

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Two days from now marks the third anniversary of Pfc. Levi Hoover’s death in Iraq.  He was my brother’s best friend.  He was family.  And his death still haunts and debilitates my brother to this very day.

I hope that one day I can stop saying this but as every year goes past, it remains the same: we’re still in the desert.

Image courtesy of SmileDarling

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