We Need Better Heroes, Real Heroes
I realize that America is a country where a no-talent dimwit like Paris Hilton is a pop idol and incompetent, cruel men like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld get to run things, and continue to run things long after their idiocy has been uncovered for all the world to see. It's all false bullshit. All of it. No, America is not a country of much substance anymore and I shouldn't be surprised at who is deemed heroic or appealing or memorable.
I also realize that Pat Tillmam is a man who is dear to the hearts of many Americans, both liberals and conservatives, both pro-war and anti-war, both sports fans and not. Saying anything negative about the guy is likely to be viewed as blasphemous or unecessarily critical. Let the dead lie, right? Tillman is an American hero, right?
Sure. I understand that. But I don't agree.
I just read the article on Pat Tillman in this week's Sports Illustrated, an article that goes to great lengths to portray Tillman as a courageous man of unbreakable convictions and Pied Piper-like charisma, a man with a brave heart and unflinchable soul, a man the world could use a few more of, a rare man, indeed.
But I was left with the feeling that Tillman wasn't that rare at all. I couldn't help but think that Tillman, despite all of his admirable qualities, was your typical meathead, an over-excitable yahoo ready to blindly jump at an opportunity to fight without thinking clearly or without thinking much at all. Men like this are not rare. Not in the slightest. In fact, men like this have been the curse of mankind and tragically abundant for as long as Man has walked the earth. The History of Man's greatest follies is little more than the sad tales of preposterous, hideous leaders sneaking their way into power and all of the lesser, eager men who follow them. It has always been this way. It always will.
Millions of years and millions of Pat Tillmans and many millions more.
Don't get me wrong. I'm sure Tillman was a nice guy. I'm sure he had a good heart and an open mind. I'm sure his large following of friends and admirers had/have ample reason to adore him. I have little doubt he really was a charismatic soul, the type of man who is easy to follow. Hell, just look at his football career. While at Arizona State - a team that rarely rises above being mildly interesting - he led the Sun Devils to a near-perfect season and within a field goal of a national championship. While in the NFL with the Cardinals - a franchise that can only be described as a joke - he helped lead the team to its only playoff victory in the last 59 years.
So, no, I have little doubt that there truly was something about Tillman special and memorable.
All of that said, the sports world is full of charismatic, dynamic men who lead their teams to heights they would never reach without their vital and compelling presence. Yet Tillman has risen to the status of American folk hero, and for what? For tossing aside a football and asking for a gun to frantically go blow up people on the other side of the world, people he didn't know, people who did nothing to him? For that?
Tillman got all fired up by 9/11 but none of the accused 9/11 suspects were from Afghanistan where Tillman so eagerly ran to with a weapon and a chip on his shoulder. He was told by our conniving, deceitful leaders that there were "bad guys" over there and Tillman fell in line just like any other follower, just like any other man, and said, "Let me fight. I want to fight."
The curse of mankind.
Was there wisdom in this? Was there poise?
According to the SI article, before his death, Tillman was growing frustrated in Afghanistan because he wasn't involved in any actual fighting. He wasn't faced with opportunities to actually fire his gun, to pull the trigger. He was anxious to see how he would react in the madness of battle, which if you ask me, is a pathetically dumb reason to want to engage in battle. There are many ways to test one's courage besides arming oneself and taking human lives.
When he finally did encounter gunfire, he was...well...this is an actual Tillman quote according to the article....
"Follow me! Let's go kill the bad guys!"
Hold on a second.
Let's go kill the bad guys?
This our hero? A man leading other men to war? (I won't even talk about the fact that Tillman's strategic moves in battle on the day of his death were largely viewed as over-anxious and, well, questionable at best.)
This is all laughable. The bad guys? Who exactly were the bad guys? Anyone with brown skin? The people whose lands American bombs were destroying? Who? Did Tillman even know?
There was a story in the article about a time when Tillman was only 17. He was at a pizza parlor and was told that a friend of his was being messed with in the parking lot. Tillman immediately ran out and pummelled the first guy he got his hands on, ultimately landing this person in the hospital with a head injury and sans several of his teeth.
There was only one problem: Tillman had assaulted the wrong guy and was ultimately charged with a felony.
Oops. Just like Afghanistan has proven to be one big "oops."
While reading that passage, I couldn't help but correlate the blind rage Tillman fell victim to on that night with the blind rage that landed him in a desert half a world away with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder. It was all anger. Blind anger. Crippling his common sense, crushing his patience. Was Tillman really a hero, or was he merely a typical hot-head prone to irrational decisions?
The SI article makes sure to emphasize how saddenend and regretful Tillman was following his assult in that parking lot.
And ten years later he came to realize that the war that Bush and his cronies were selling was all bullshit. Yeah, Tillman was totally against it by the time he was killed.
Bad decisions, both. With heavy consequences, both. So what had he learned in ten years?
Passion should not be confused with recklessness.
Like I said, I'm not trying to trample on the grave of Pat Tillman. I fully believe all of the stories about what a memorable, charismatic soul he was to those who knew him. I believe he thought he was the doing the right thing when he pummelled that guy in the pizza parlor parking lot. I believe he thought he was doing the right thing by volunteering for battle. I believe he was a good guy.
And I think it's awful that nobody knows exactly what happened on the day of his death other than, saddest of all, he was likely killed by friendly fire.
But Pat Tillman wasn't a hero. He was a fuckin' idiot if you ask me. Just another inflammable meathead with a gun, his anger, and blind pride. Just another follower. Men who walk with guns and kill other men because their leaders speak of the "bad guys" are not heroes. And they never will be.
The cover of SI is a shot of Tillman posing on a tree in the desert in his army fatigues with his finger on the trigger of his gun. He's staring into the camera with a look that suggests nothing other than he's just some guy with a gun sitting in a tree in a hot desert thousands of miles from home waiting for someone to shoot at.
Fuckin' meathead. Just another dumb dude.
The curse of mankind.