Pat Tillman and the Nihilistic Myths of the State


'I'm (expletive) Pat Tillman, damn it!' he was heard to cry as bullets tore through his flesh and his body crumpled in a heap on a ridge in Afghanistan . Tillman, like thousands of other young American soldiers, was deployed there to combat the Taliban, who were identified as providing aid and comfort to al-Qaeda, the radical Islamist terror network responsible for the 9-11-01 attacks.

'I could hear the pain in his voice,' one of his fellow Rangers later reported.

But Pat Tillman did not meet the Grim Reaper by way of the Taliban. Rather, it was his own fellow soldiers who mistakenly dealt him the death blow in the heat and confusion of battle, as the Washington Post has recently reported.

I have no doubt that many of you reading this remember hearing of the young Arizona Cardinals defensive back's tragic death. You probably also remember the many eulogies praising his dedication and commitment to his country and his unwavering sense of public service. After 9-11, he turned down a lucrative $3.6 million contract with the NFL to join the U.S. Army and travel thousands of miles across the ocean to defend his country. His sense of self-sacrifice was hailed far and wide; he was the very archetype of the American hero.

'Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush,' proclaimed White House spokesman Taylor Gross.

'Pat represents all that is good with this country, our society and ultimately the human condition in general,' said Seattle Seahawks general manager Bob Ferguson, who was the Cardinals' general manager when they drafted Tillman.

According to the Washington Post, friends and family thought of him as something of an 'American original,' a 'maverick' that 'burned with intensity' and 'bucked convention, devoured books and debated conspiracy theories. He demanded straight talk about uncomfortable truths.' (Emphasis mine.)

So in the memory and spirit of the man who made 'the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror,' let's do that, shall we? Let's start demanding some straight talk about some rather uncomfortable truths.

It is all well and good to know that the Bushes prayed for Tillman's family after he was slaughtered, though I'm not sure what good that does for someone who has forever lost a son, a brother, perhaps an uncle. What exactly will the president's prayers do for them? Will his prayers bring back the bright, vibrant, successful young man who died senselessly at the hands of scared, panicky fellow soldiers confused by miscommunication and misguided orders issued by arrogant commanders far removed from the field of battle? I don't think so.

Here's another rather uncomfortable truth: It appears that the Pentagon actually exaggerated much of Tillman's exploits in that war-battered, God-forsaken hellhole of a country so as to make greater his legend while simultaneously glossing over the foolish errors that were committed. This should come as no surprise, as this type of irresponsible propaganda has long served the U.S. Federal State's never-ending recruitment drive to entice young men'and nowadays young women as well'into risking the loss of their own lives for the State's ongoing Machiavellian schemes to slaughter and plunder the many for the benefit of a select few.

The most tragic detail that arises from Tillman's story is that by all accounts he was an extremely well-read, curious, inquisitive young man, someone with a genuine thirst for knowledge. One friend described him as "thought-provoking . . . he liked to have deep conversations . . . .,' which makes Tillman's following statement to NFL Films after the 9-11 attacks all the more frustrating:

'I play football. It just seems so unimportant compared to everything that has taken place . . . a lot of my family has gone and fought wars, and I really haven't done a damn thing.'

He had this to share with NBC News the day after 9-11:

'My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor , and a lot of my family has . . . gone and fought in wars, and I really haven't done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that.'

Now I can certainly understand how a colossal tragedy could give an individual such a jolt as to cause him to reassess his priorities in life, but what I absolutely cannot figure out for the life of me is why he would think going off to a foreign country to kill or be killed at the State's behest is a greater or more meaningful endeavor than what he was already doing. If he no longer considered playing professional football a worthy use of his brief time on this planet, then there are an infinite number of other choices that he could have made that didn't involve the maiming and killing of foreigners and the risk of one's own annihilation. He could have dutifully applied his natural curiosity and reasoning skills to a quest for knowledge of why the 9-11 attacks happened in the first place. He could have educated himself to the long history of our Federal government's direct meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, particularly in the Middle East , where Uncle Sam has been overthrowing governments and carrying out assassinations since at least the 1950s. Perhaps he would have realized that contrary to what our revered leaders have said, the 9-11 attacks were hardly a 'surprise.' They had been expecting some form of violent retaliation to their interventionist criminal activities for quite some time.

Or perhaps Tillman could have better spent his time inquiring as to why the U.S. Federal Reserve Note has been steadily declining in value lo these many years, how our nation's centralized banking system contributes to that devaluation and how and why such a system ever came into being in the first place.

Or . . . he simply could have continued playing professional football. At least tossing the pigskin entertains (some) people and the NFL was willing to compensate the risk to his physical safety far more handsomely than the U.S. government ever would.

So what is it that convinces an apparently intelligent and thoughtful person to volunteer himself to become an agent of death and destruction for the State?

One of the most difficult things to grasp about this world is the fact that human beings who in all other respects appear to be decent, respectful, moral people can allow themselves to fall sway to fallacious ideas and let their thinking be trapped by an insidious system of beliefs that rationalizes such injustices as theft, torture and mass murder. The 9-11 hijackers come to mind as one such example. I recall being struck by a Sunday Chicago Tribune article some months ago that chronicled Mohammed Atta's life prior to his conversion to fundamentalist religious zealotry. The people who knew Atta described him as rather sensitive and always friendly, always willing to help out a neighbor in need, a man who loved playing with the children in his family'a starkly different image than that of the angel of death whose soulless blank stare haunted the front pages of newspapers everywhere in the days following 9-11-01.

We can only speculate as to why or how someone like Atta could allow his mind to be defrauded by a system of thought that justifies such an utterly nihilistic act as mass slaughter by way of self-immolation, but it's clear to me that we here in the United States finally need to start demanding some 'straight talk' regarding the questionable wisdom of our Federal government's continuing cycle of mass murder, and the propagation of nihilistic myths that are spoon-fed to the masses to justify it. It is past time to awake to our country's alarming slide into militarism and the resulting ongoing sacrifice of the lives of our fellow human beings both at home and abroad.

From virtually the day you are born in this country, your mind is subjected to a seemingly endless assault of false ideas and distorted interpretations of historic events in order to justify the U.S. Federal State's damn near endless expansion of power: Union forces burning down entire cities in the South during the Civil War'what Adolf Hitler would years later admiringly refer to as a 'scorched Earth' policy'was the South's punishment for practicing slavery (when it was their perfectly rational desire to escape the North's economic fascism that so provoked Uncle Sam's rage); the benevolent President Lincoln freed the slaves (he didn't); the Lusitania was an innocent passenger ship that was unjustly targeted by the Germans (it was transporting military materiel from the U.S. to England, which the Germans advised the then-'neutral' U.S. government was dangerous); the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a complete 'surprise' (it wasn't); World War II was the 'Good War' because it destroyed the evil Nazis (let's not quibble about the fact that the other brutal dictator in that war, one-time Hitler ally Josef Stalin, gained more power, territories and slaves by the end of that conflict); Islamist terrorists 'hate our freedom' (as opposed to our government's violent policies). This is but a fraction of the litany of the State's lies'lies propagated to justify its power over not only we Americans, but over people in far-flung reaches of the globe.

Note the pattern: each and every one of the events listed above was a rationalization of the State's preferred method of slaying thousands, or even millions, which it has always claimed to be for such 'collective goods' as 'national security' and 'freedom.' The State must kill, you see, in order to protect you, to protect all of us. It's tough, and it's brutal, but such is the world we live in. There is no other choice. And that is why it is such an honor to volunteer for the military machine'you're defending your country, protecting the 'homeland,' defending freedom. Risking your life to kill total strangers is a 'public service,' it 'represents all that is good with this country, our society and ultimately the human condition in general.' That destructive, nihilistic idea is hammered into people's heads day after day through government-managed public education, books, magazine articles, movies and in the guise of news reports glorifying the 'acts of heroism' in war that in most cases are acts of brutal violence.

This growing tendency to favor militarism and brute force over logic and reason, to see the individual as simply a member of a collective or a cog in a machine dedicated to supposedly noble causes 'greater' than any one of us, is the path back to the Dark Ages. It is the ideology of barbarism.

'I'm Pat Tillman, damn it!' he proclaimed as the bullets of his own comrades ripped him asunder.

'I could hear the pain in his voice.'

Was it purely physical pain he felt at that moment? I wonder if it is not possible that it was also the pain of a single, awful, final realization that he was betrayed by lies, fooled by propaganda. Could it be that in that very instant of his death he realized that there is always a choice for every individual, and that he made the wrong one? That risking one's life for a 'greater good' is not noble, is not heroic and is in fact a myth? That his life was worth so much more?

After all, he was Pat Tillman, damn it.

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Robert Kaercher's picture
Columns on STR: 20

Robert Kaercher is a stage actor and freelance writer residing in Chicago, Illinois.  He has been known to bless the reading public with his opinions and analysis at Strike The Root's blog and his own Postmodern Tribune.