Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, is a deeply disturbing book on many levels.
As usual, Krakauer did massive research on Pat Tillman’s entire life as well as on the wars against Terror after September 11, 2001.
Tillman was an unusual person and a gifted athlete. Partly his California upbringing and partly the self-possessed person he was, Tillman danced to the beat of his own drummer. Case in point, of course, he gave up a $3.6 million dollar contract with the NFL to enlist in the army.
Tillman grew up in a family of sports-oriented boys in California. As a younger lad he was small, so he made up for his size in sheer determination and practice. When he enjoyed a growth spurt in high school, he was already positioned to be a star football player. He played in college for Arizona State University where he had a scholarship, then for the Arizona Cardinals when he joined the NFL. Along the way, he met the love of his life, Marie, to whom he was faithful in spite of his celebrity. She provided the steady balance to his intensity.
One disturbing part of the story is the beating Tillman forced on a high school student whom Pat mistakenly thought had roughed up one of his high school football buddies. If not for a lenient judge, who reduced Tillman’s savage beating to a misdemeanor, he would have lost the crucial scholarship to Arizona State.
Most disturbing, however, is the chaotic mess that was the US Army in Afghanistan. Krakauer indicts the Bush Administration as well as the US military leaders for the senseless wars these young soldiers had to endure. In particular, he exposes the unforgivable sham the Bush Administration used by casting Tillman as the heroic victim of the enemy to promote their own agenda when in reality Tillman was the victim of “friendly fire.”
The terrible end for Tillman came when he was killed by his own comrades, the same soldiers he had climbed up to a ridge in the mountains of Afghanistan to protect. The waste resulting from the stupid miscommunications of the army is the sad theme that runs through the last part of the book.
Krakauer opens the different parts of this chronicle with meaningful quotes from classical writers like Homer (the title is from a quote from Homer’s Iliad) and Aeschylus. He also includes extensive notes on each chapter as well as an index. For the sometimes dense and thus confusing areas of the book, these additions are helpful.
For the general reader, though, Krakauer’s account of Pat Tillman’s driven life is the clearest and most interesting. His detailed expose of the Bush team and army leaders can lose even a careful reader, as can his step-by-step depiction of all the military operations and strategies. So Tillman and his family make up the best parts of this book. There are tender scenes of Tillman and Marie plus plentiful descriptions of Pat with his brother, Kevin, who went into the army with him and was in the same battalion that cost Pat his life.
That Tillman was such a gifted and fascinating man makes his loss ever more devastating.