Football and war are far from my favorite topics, but I am a fan of Jon Krakauer, so there was never any question of my reading his latest book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009). Whether Krakauer is talking about climbing Mt. Everest or fundamentalist Mormons, he never fails to draw me in with his in-depth and sympathetic research and storytelling. And Where Men Win Glory was no different, sucking me into the life of Pat Tillman and deeply affecting me.
I find the news incredibly frustrating to watch, so for better or worse, I tend to avoid it like the plague. Thus, although Pat Tillman's story sounded vaguely familiar, I knew basically no details about his life, his death, or how it was reported at the time. I have since learned that Pat Tillman was an idealistic and unique individual whose hard work and self confidence earned him a spot on the Arizona Cardinals' NFL team after college. But the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 affected him deeply, and his idealism and love of challenges had him giving up a promising and lucrative football contract and leaving behind his loving wife to join, along with his younger brother, the Army Rangers for a three year contract. After his training and a relatively noneventful tour of duty in Iraq, Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Adding insult to injury, the true story of his death was kept from his friends and family as the Bush administration turned him into a martyr and symbol of the war on terror.
I love the way Krakauer writes: he finds a subject that deeply interests him and delves into every facet and detail in order to give a comprehensive picture of the people involved, their motivations, and the environment surrounding them. And I don't know how he does it, but I couldn't put this book down--even the detailed descriptions of Pat's football games had me gripping the edges of the book and reading on without pause. With such a detailed and careful look at Tillman's life as well as the many revealing quotes from Pat Tillman's journals, I felt like I knew him, and I knew that I would have liked him. It's hard for me to even imagine what his brothers, parents, wife, and friends went through when they lost him, and I was left with my constant refrain when it comes to war: What a waste. Why do we do this? What a waste.
Krakauer dicusses in some detail some other friendly fire cases as well as the story of Jessica Lynch, all of which were hi-jacked by the Bush administration and re-told in a more palatable way in order to encourage the country to support the war. I really felt like I got a good, visceral idea of what happens during a war when everything gets fucked up beyond recognition and there are no do-overs. Some of the reviews on Amazon complained that Krakauer was too partisan and used this book to dump on the Bush administration. Certainly, Krakauer is no fan of the Bush administration and is obviously disgusted (as am I) by how they started the war in Iraq, ran the war in Afghanistan, and used Pat Tillman's death for their own purposes, but his primary focus remains on the life and thoughts of Pat Tillman. Krakauer does spend a couple of one-sided pages on the 2000 Bush-Gore election and the Supreme Court decision that gave Bush the presidency, but when seen as one of the many, seemingly unrelated circumstances that eventually led up to Tillman's death, I can see why Krakauer included it. Krakauer also understands the inevitability of friendly fire and that governments have consistently tried to cover up these instances throughout history; in that, he doesn't single out the Bush administration.
Krakauer's style, subjects, and attention to detail are especially appealing to me, so I am not certain that everyone will like this book as much as me, but I found it eye-opening, insightful, educational, and moving. I also believe that you have to read the entire book to really understand (as much as is possible) what made Tillman click and how he lived his life and lost it. A short synopsis won't give you the full picture.