The Tillman Saga: What Makes a Hero?

kevin_pat_350.jpg

Well they say time loves a hero
but only time will tell
If he’s real, he’s a legend from heaven
If he ain’t he was sent here from hell

LITTLE FEAT

Coming off of the news that Pat Tillman, the pro football player turned Army Ranger, may have been murdered and was not a victim of friendly fire in Afghanistan, there has been discussion anew of what constitutes a hero soldier.

Does a soldier have to perform Audie Murphy-like feats to be a hero? Does someone like Tillman (at left in photo with brother Kevin), who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract with the Phoenix Cardinals to enlist in the Army in the wake of 9/11, qualify as a hero? What about No Name soldiers who are killed with nary a shred of publicity, their passing barely noticed?

These questions are even more pungent because the White House has worked assiduously to try to insulate a public increasingly sour on the Iraq war from the realities of combat. And obscenely, the Pentagon has tried to downplay the carnage to such an extent that the service branches have been stingy in awarding medals because they call attention to those realities. (See the following post for more on this.)

I’ll get to my answer as to who is a hero in a moment, but first the story of the journey that I took to get to that answer.

Please click here to read more at Kiko’s House.

  

25 Comments

  1. I understand the impulse to declare all dead soldiers heroes, but being objective I can’t share it. The impulse is normal, a patriotic person loves their country, and their country is a team, a family of sorts, a home base. Soldiers are the representation of those who keep the home safe. They put themselves in situations most people would go to great lengths to avoid and the result is the protection of the country. Turning all of them into heroes is a way of trying to thank them for doing the sorts of things most of us do not have the balls nor inclination to do.

    But that doesn’t really make them heroes.

    The definition of hero, via google is: “a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength”

    Leaving aside the obvious fact that also women are heroes, the rest of the definition is apt. It’s a person that goes ABOVE AND BEYOND the call of duty. Of course a hero doesn’t necessarily need to risk life and limb to be one, but naturally doing so, and especially dying, makes you more apt to be considered a hero. Some soldiers are heroes, but not all are. If you get killed in a whorehouse brawl, you are not a hero, sorry, you’re just a regular guy. Now if you die taking a bullet meant for your buddy, yes, you are most definitely a hero. If you took a bullet for your buddy, survived and then died in a whorehouse brawl, you can still be considered a hero, just not with a heroic death. Other reasons don’t count either, you can mention the families, the people who loved them and who they loved, but it turns out that dentists also fit that standard, and no one is rushing to call them heroes.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that the armed forces is going to have a much higher percentage of brave individuals than the general populace, it has to, but that doesn’t mean they are ALL heroes. If Lynndie England had been in a car accident or even killed by an IED on her way back from holding prisoners on leashes, would she then be a hero?

    What about the soldiers of other countries. Do you consider English soldiers heroes? French? OK, how about Iraqi soldiers who killed American ones before their defeat. Also heroes? The only difference is that their allegiance is to another country, there’s no reason to think that it’s impossible that an Iraqi soldier took an American bullet meant for his buddy, or that another didn’t sacrifice himself, taking a bunch of enemy (read: American) soldiers with him trying to defend his country. How ‘bout it, you willing to call them heroes?

  2. Lynx:

    Thank you for the thoughtful and nuanced response.

    I readily admit that my definition of a hero is elastic and does not fit the parameters of Google or the OED. I also admit that some riffraff inevitably get lumped in when one paints with so broad a brush.

    But my prevailing point — prompted by the tragic case of Pat Tillman (to which the cover-up is incidental here) — is that because of the distorted nature of the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s use of fun house mirrors to sell the war, there is a need to get beyond that and look anew at what constitutes service to country in time of war, no matter how illegal or immoral.

    And yes, I would apply the same standard to men and women fighting under other flags.

  3. Leaving aside the obvious fact that also women are heroes, the rest of the definition is apt. It’s a person that goes ABOVE AND BEYOND the call of duty.

    In a country with an all-volunteer military, everyone who even joins the military has gone “above and beyond the call of duty”, at least for those who may be exposed to combat. (I add this last part because I don’t think my military desk job qualified as heroic in any way.)

    In our selfish society, the “call of duty” is non-existent. People who volunteer for jobs that involve relatively high danger and relatively low pay are definitely exceeding the “call of duty”. There may be exceptions for people that join up for more base motives, but I do not think that these are typical. In my experience, most who joined the military had in mind the job security and the college money, yes, but those alone would have been insufficient. There was almost always an underlying idealism and self-sacrifice that meets your definition of “heroic”.

  4. I’m with Jason Steck above, Tillman was a hero because he was a somewhat famous person who, after the US was attacked, immediately signed up to go fight the attackers of his country, and died because of it. It was WWII redux, and no matter what the ultimate result of this is, Tillman was a hero.

    The problem of course, is that Bush sent him to Iraq, instead of Afganistan, and Tillman, apparently not being stupid, was getting pretty pissed about the country screwing around there and ready to speak out. Then he was, at least, killed by friendly fire. Then the entire history rewritten so he died much more heroically and could be used as a prop.

    At least, that was the assumption a month ago. Now, assuming some of these theories are correct, maybe, he did die a heroic death caused by speaking out about the war, and he’s going to stand as a symbol for something entirely different, the amazing lengths this administration will go to to stifle dissent, and how it actually treats soldiers.

  5. 1. The article was written by Shaun Mullen, not me. I think Shaun’s views on the Tillman debacle are quite correct, but I didn’t write them.

    2. Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, not Iraq. So the conspiracy theory of his death kind of collapses unless, of course, you’re taking the position that the Afghanistan conflict is also completely unjust.

    3. There is no evidence that Tillman was opposed to the Afghanistan war or was preparing to “speak out” against it.

    4. Even if there were evidence that Tillman were anti-war or anti-Bush or anti-whatever, how would it be any better to use his death as a political prop for that movement than it is to use his death as a political prop for the administration?

  6. Does someone like Tillman (at left in photo with brother Pat)

    They’re not both named Pat are they? I think the brother is Kevin.

  7. Pat is on the left and Kevin on the right in this photograph taken either in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia (there is some conflict about exactly where) before they were deployed.

  8. Lynx: Thanks for pointing out all the fallacies about ‘heroism.’

    This is just an extension of the ‘every child is special’ nonsense.

    The other meme is that all cops or firemen are heroes. Nonsense.

    Although Wikipedia is a dubious source of information, at best, one cannot look at the respective Tillman and Murphy bios to see a yawning gulf in accomplishment.

    Similarly, were all the 9/11 victims heroes? With 3k dead, just on a statistical average, there were 15-1800 adulterers, a few hundred tax cheats, a few hundred felons- including rapists, pedophiles and murderers, and assorted other bad guys.

    A uniform- cop or military, does not make one a superhero, and dying is not heroic, in and of itself.

    If one cannot even admit these truths, then there is little difference between the Bushco jingoism that Shaun loathes, and his own. Only the same tune, in different offkeys.

  9. ‘Tillman was a hero because he was a somewhat famous person who, after the US was attacked, immediately signed up to go fight the attackers of his country, and died because of it.’

    Really examine what you wrote there. It’s an incredible display of snobbery.

  10. “Tillman was a hero because he was a somewhat famous person who, after the US was attacked, immediately signed up to go fight the attackers of his country, and died because of it.”
    Well, imho this doesn’t make him a hero (ok, close call), but he deserves a lot of respect for this decision.
    A LOT MORE RESPECT THAN THOSE CHICKENHAWKS WHO DIDN’T RISK ANYTHING; BUT THINK THEY ARE HELPING THEIR NATION BY SMEARING FOLKS WHO WENT IN THE LINE OF FIRE!

  11. To use an analogy from sports. Michael Jordan.

    I’m a New York Knicks fan, so I grit my teeth when I say, he’s one of the 3 or 4 greatest b’ball players ever. To compare Tillman to Audie Murphy is like comparing a HS benchwarmer to Jordan. Yes, they’re both basketball players, but that’s where the similarity ends. Tillman and Murphy were military men. That’s where the similarity ends.

    In all this BS over Tillman, what is lost is that by claiming Tillman a hero the claimants are actually demeaning true heroes like Murphy, for the benchwarming HS kid did not excel at a high level, win championships and MVPs, etc. He did nothing extraordinary. He just sat on a bench, then died.

    Murphy (or Jordan) did extraordinary things. Simply putting on a uniform and dying does not equate with (via Wikipedia) ‘destroying six tanks besides killing over 240 German soldiers and wounding and capturing many others.[4] By the end of World War II, he was a legend within the 3rd Infantry Division as a result of his heroism and battlefield leadership.[3] His principal U.S. decorations included the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Star Medals, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals with Valor device, and three Purple Hearts (for the three wounds he received in combat). Murphy participated in campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany, as denoted by his European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver battle star (denoting five campaigns), four bronze battle stars, plus a bronze arrowhead representing his two amphibious assault landings at Sicily and southern France.’

    To not see that comparing the two is a dishonor to Murphy is downright silly.

    Why doesn’t TMV do a feature on real Iraq War heroes- folk who saved the lives of other servicemen or Iraqi innocents? I thought blogs were now to do ‘reporting’ and not just be an echo chamber? Or is that too hard?

    It may not find another Murphy, but surely one can do better than the Insta-Hero Tillman, whose noted accomplishments are, as another poster noted, he was ‘a somewhat famous (and rich) person.’

    If not, then I guess Shaun and the others are too lazy to stop toeing the Bush party line: ‘A LOT MORE RESPECT THAN THOSE CHICKENHAWKS WHO DIDN’T RISK ANYTHING; BUT THINK THEY ARE HELPING THEIR NATION BY SMEARING FOLKS WHO WENT IN THE LINE OF FIRE!’

    Don’t you love jingoism?

  12. BTW: The Michael Jordan of film is dead:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07.....ref=slogin

    Ingmar Bergman, the “poet with the camera” who is considered one of the greatest directors in motion picture history, died today on the small island of Faro where he lived on the Baltic coast of Sweden, Astrid Soderbergh Widding, president of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, said. Bergman was 89….

  13. Blah, cosmo. This is my honest opinion, and I happen to take this personally. Chickenhawks are miserable creature.

    Well, now for your praise on Murphy. A hero, sure. But not for the military successes, but because he put himself into clear and present danger, beyond the call of duty. How many tanks he destroyed is secondary, that depended on a lot of luck, too. Would he have been less of a hero if a strayed bullet would have killed him in his very first day? I don’t think so.

    And that’s why I think your comparison doesn’t succeed in diminishing Pat Tillman’s personal bravery. He didn’t have to sign up, he didn’t have to join one of the most endangered units. But he did, and served honorably. That he died before he even had a chance to catch Bin Laden singlehandedly doesn’t change his character a little bit and shouldn’t diminish our respect for him.

    As for bringing Michael Jordan into this: I never heard he was in the military. Surely you’re joking, Mr. Cosmoerratica.

  14. “Hero” is ultimately a subjective term. I consider my Mother, who died earlier this year, a hero for raising me largely alone after a messy divorce and with limited means, but probably most people would have a different view and that’s ok.

    As someone who served for many years both on active duty and the reserve, I would caution people to be wary of elevating those in military service to a status above that of other citizens. Certainly, as Jason points out, service should be recognized and honored, but putting military members as a class onto a pedestal risks, imo, flirting with militarism. Honor service, yes, but do not too liberally apply the hero moniker.

    Tillman is a case where I think people should agree to disagree since it is particularly subjective. Tillman should be praised for putting his beliefs and sense of duty above materialistic concerns – if only more in our society would do the same – but does that make him a hero? Probably not, in my view, but I won’t criticize someone who takes an opposite view since it is just as valid.

  15. For obvious reasons, I’m reminded of the group specializing in disrupting military funerals, order to stage their own obsessive hatred.

    Tillman voluntarily put his life at risk for his principles, not for gain and not for fame.
    I respect him for that.

    I can’t respect the use of his death for suspect ulterior motives, not when it’s the government trying to create a false rectuitment poster, and not when someone uses the death to showcase
    his/her disdain for decency in others.

  16. No misunderstandings, pls: My rant about “chickenhawks” was aimed at commenters at right wing blogs who hold the opinion that Tillman’s death was nothing to worry about just because they were under the impression he may have been a liberal. I stumbled across some really shameful comments. That Tillman was interested in Noam Chomsky’s ideas seems to make it kind of a blessing that he was killed. Some repubs really have no sense of dignity left.

  17. Wow. As the sage Yogi Berra said “Its deja vu all over again.”

    From prior experience in a remarkably similar recent thread, I can offer the good news that no response is really required. Just put out the rope and he does the right thing all by himself.

  18. Entropy, I can’t (and won’t) dismiss that there sure are some loonies on the left spreading mind-twisting conspiration theories. But pls show us any publicly known left blogger who is promoting such nonsense!

    As for Pat Land, a quite thoughtful column on Tillman, better than most of the stories in right wing blogs. But I have two major problems with him:

    “Mary Tillman evidently wants to believe that her son’s death has some esoteric meaning. ”
    Where did he get this idea? Insisting on knowing the truth about the death of a beloved is somehow becoming esoteric in US? I call Bull! And evne most right wingers admit that the whole Army investigation is suffering from so many falsifications and omissions, that it’s definitely not helping in establishing any certainty about the true circumstances.

    “Nevertheless, one must ask, would Tillman be less dead if they had reported his death properly?”
    This question is so idiotic thyat it hurts my brain. Really, what can be gained by investigating a killing when the victim is dead? Why, nothing but truth and justice!
    Do these words not have a serious meaning for Pat Lang?
    :-/

  19. Gray: What about the word analogy did you miss?

    ‘A hero, sure. But not for the military successes, but because he put himself into clear and present danger, beyond the call of duty. How many tanks he destroyed is secondary, that depended on a lot of luck, too. Would he have been less of a hero if a strayed bullet would have killed him in his very first day? I don’t think so.’

    Well, no. Would Jordan have become a superstar if he had a stroke in high school? The point is a hero, or a superstar, or any other appellation- a great or a genius, is applied AFTER an accomplishment (or three or ten). That’s the point.

    And a person’s demeanor has nothing to do with their heroism in a field. MacArthur and Nimitz were loathed by their men, but both had great military accomplishments. US Grant was a joke to his men, for his drunkenness- BUT, come crunch time they knew he’d deliver.

    Entropy: ‘Honor service, yes, but do not too liberally apply the hero moniker.’

    Seems someone said that before.

    Gray: ‘That Tillman was interested in Noam Chomsky’s ideas seems to make it kind of a blessing that he was killed.’

    So, he’d be more or less of a hero to you because of his political beliefs rather than his battlefield accomplishments (or lack thereof)? So, when Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron’s home run record, will you be pissed because he’s a steroid freak and cheater, or mollified if he, at least, subscribes to National Review?

    The assassination angle is just a logical extension of the hero myth. One does not assassinate ordinary suckers who step into a bullet, but heroes, only cabals can take them down.

    mw: Still distorting. Watched The Godfather lately? Go ahead, lie a bit more, the snare is set. Some folk never learn.

  20. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07.....ref=slogin

    First Bergman, now Antonioni.

    Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian director whose chilly depictions of alienation were cornerstones of international filmmaking in the 1960s, inspiring intense measures of admiration, denunciation and confusion, died on Monday at his home in Rome, Italian news media reported today. He was 94. He died on the same day as Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish filmmaker who died at his home in Sweden earlier Monday….

  21. Gray,

    You obviously don’t read Pat Lang’s blog if you think he’s a right-winger.

    Cosmo:

    Entropy: ‘Honor service, yes, but do not too liberally apply the hero moniker.’

    Seems someone said that before.

    Seems like someone said something about “bicpep brain,” “dumb jock,” and other such nonsense.

  22. “The point is a hero, or a superstar, or any other appellation”
    Here’s the main reason why we can’t find common ground, Cosmo. Imho ‘hero’ and ‘superstar’ are totally different pairs of shoes. That’s why I think comparing Murphy (or any soldier who served honorably) with Jordan doesn’t make any sense at all. What grave danger did Air Jordan face? The whole idea is ridiculous.

  23. “You obviously don’t read Pat Lang’s blog if you think he’s a right-winger.”
    Gotme. I haven’t closely followed the blogs for quite some months. However, regardless of Langs’ position on the political landscape, his stance towards Tillman’s mother and on the necessity of a new investigation certainly doesn’*t put him in the liberal field on this issue.

  24. Entropy: Let’s review your dialectical skills, which unfortunately are common with most blog commenters.

    a) Distortion: the taking of comments out of context to try to prove a point when contextualized cannot be achieved.

    b) Strawmanning: a form of distortion, when commenter 1 says A, commenter 2 says #1 said B, then argues against B, and does not touch A because they cannot refute it.

    c) The Godfather Gambit: a dialectic trick that came about in the 1970s, when Italian-American rights groups protested the Coppola films claiming that even portraying Italians in the Mob was slanderous to all Italians.

    What I claimed about the Army Rangers is well known in military circles, so when I criticized Tillman and the Rangers, I made sure to differentiate between them and regular grunts. When you or the others claim I slander all the military, it’s like those who claim that a Mob movie slanders all Italians. That’s BS, and dishonest.

    But, even amidst the dung, you admit that I was the one arguing, ‘honor service, yes, but do not too liberally apply the hero moniker.’

    Things become so clear when undistorted.

    Gray: Superstar and hero are different shoes. If they were the same thing there could be no analogy. But the underlying principles apply.

    And, I’m not comparing Murphy to Jordan, but comparing Murphy’s relation as a hero to a non-hero like Tillman to Jordan’s greatness as a player to that of a HS scrub. I could just as easily have said Audie Murphy is Einstein and Tillman a mediocre math teacher, but the relative worth of the claims of heroism for the two would still be the same.

    In short, if the term hero was a job, and the two men applied for it with their resumes, Murphy would have a thick dossier to provide, while Tillman would have a blank sheet of paper, and perhaps an 8×10 glossy.

    The very fact that this whole nonsense is sprouting conspiracy theories- what’s next? Tillman’s body taken to Area 51 to be dissected by aliens?- is symptomatic of our celebrity obsessed culture. Fame used to be a thing acquired for accomplishment. An Edmund Hilary or a Douglas MacArthur were famed for great feats. Celebrities are just known for being known.

    If that tires you, change it.

    But, a look at som eof the threads at TMV, where people refuse to opt out of the R&D electoral duopoly shows just how entrenched people are in their mindsets. People want to know every fart a celebrity takes, and when a bad thing happens to one it’s news.

    Do you really think Tillman is the only dead guy in the two wars whose death was not papered over? Of course not. Revelations still come out about the dead from Korea. But, the only reason we hear about Tillman and not your average grunt whose death has been falsified is that Tillman was an NFL star, and the others were not.

    Celebrity = hero?

    Things haven’t gotten that bad yet, despite the best efforts of some.

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