Truth and Honor

I remember when Pat Tillman died. The Virginia Pilot that day had covered its entire front page with a single picture of the fallen hero, his stony features and determined gaze standing alone as he bore an American flag before what looked to be an immense crowd of people.

It’s an image not easily forgotten, this man exuded the military ideal, strong, patriotic, and stalwart. Indeed, the story of Cpl Tillman was the stuff of Americana, a lesson in loyalty. The young Arizona Cardinal had a promising career ahead of him in the NFL. His loyalty to his team had led him to turn down a lucrative contract for the St. Louis Rams. But when 19 terrorists hijacked four planes and used them in bombs in the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, Tillman and his brother Kevin found that they had a deeper calling.

Leaving the NFL, Pat Tillman enlisted in the Army, and completed the Ranger training progam and was thusly sent to Afghanistan. It was there that he had met his end, apparently gunned down by enemy fire.

But, as we as a nation would later learn, this was not the truth. In an event that is closely mirrored by the happenings of another young Army enlistee, Jessica Lynch, it became more apparent that the circumstances surrounding the Tillman tragedy were fabricated.

Pat had died in a bout of friendly fire. Today, disturbing evidence has been released that even this story may not be the case, a key component to the evidence being the fact that the nature of the bullet holes in Tillman’s forehead do not mesh with the original story, pointing to a close range kill that has at least the hint of murder.

Along with this ballistic evidence, is the following:

_ In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop “sniveling.”

_ Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.

_ The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman’s death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn’t recall details of his actions.

_ No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene – no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.

I’m not going to level charges; that would be premature. But I will say that now is the time that we learn the truth, that we eschew the simple following of whatever narrative is presented to us, and undergo the task of constructing an honest narrative from the evidence at hand.

There is a greater significance here, and it ties in with the scandal about the warrantless wiretapping, the outing of Valerie Plame, the dismissal of US Attorneys for political reasons, Jessica Lynch, and everything. There has become a blatant assault on the truth.

It has become vogue for the past few years to claim to support the troops, but it seems that to this degree, too many people believe that supporting the troops equates to putting a yellow magnet on the back of your car. I think people don’t even know why it’s important to support the troops.

Everything has become an empty platitude nowadays.

I’ve come a long way in my life, philosophically, politically, personally. I didn’t always used to be like this. I… I used to hate America, not really knowing what it was I hated. I think maybe I blamed a rather boring life on this large metaphysical state that really didn’t exist.

But as you get older, things change. I joined the military, I married my beautiful wife, we had two exceptionally intelligent and wonderful girls. I learned about the world around me. I look at the face of my daughters and come to this realization that their existence, a mixture of Chinese, Hawaiian, Japanese, and European descent, stands as a testament to how far as a people we have come, and in a way an expression of the cultural openness and freedoms that this country stands for.

My number one passion, expressing my political and ideological views, and engaging in debate over this country, is made possible by our constitution that ensures that I am free to express myself without fear of persecution. I do now without fear of retribution what millions and millions could not do on pain of death in the past, and in some countries, even now could only do so at great personal risk.

I look at the story of America, its darkness and its light, and there is something in there so wonderful; a nation of immigrants coming together and finding common ground and making life better and the world a better place. And we fail a lot, we stumble all the time, but that is part of the greatness. Coping with fallibility is, perhaps, the truest sign of greatness.

And through it all, through the generations, there has been a population that has stood up to defend all of this, to defend people with their lives whom they don’t like and don’t agree with, and its for this idea that supercedes us all that they are willing to have their blood spilled.

That is what is so important about supporting our troops. It’s because they defend us, but also, are us. They are part of the great story that is America, including their own fallibility.

When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, pundits and morning talk show hosts and conservative talking heads alike chided those who spoke out against the atrocities that occured there. Folks like Rush Limbaugh saw no fault in a few soldiers “blowing off steam”, local personalities like local favorites Tommy and Rumble were befuddled, “I don’t see the big deal. You think if one of our soldiers were caught by them they would care if how they were treated?”

But I think these people miss the point. When I talk about the greatness of our fallibility, that is not an excuse for poor behavior. We are all human, we all err, and sometimes as a very large mass of people we make huge mistakes, but the greatness lies in learning from them, from fixing them, not excusing them. That’s how we learn, that’s how we move on.

And that’s how we honor those who so rightfully deserve to be honored. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were an injustice, and a dishonor to every member who wears the uniform. I was shamed by it, shamed that my comrades in the Army would act so unamerican.

And, I was even greater shamed when the responsibility was laid so heavily on the lowest ranking members involved. That’s not how Americans act. It’s dishonest and dishonorable.

With Jessica Lynch, someone wanted a good story to gin up support for the war. There’s no truth in this, and therefore no honor. Honor does not exist without honesty, and now a brave young woman who by all rights was an outstanding souldier must live with the fact that her service was cheapened and lied about in order to tell a story and give people good vibes.

And then there’s Pat Tillman. In many ways, Cpl Tillman is a shining example. When I joined the military, it had nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with getting a stable job. Pat had a stable job making more money than most of us could ever dream of, and he gave it up all for the faith in a country.

We as a country have not acted in kind. For over three years now, we have been dishonoring the memory of a good man who had faith in us, I think it’s high time we earned that faith.

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