May 23, 2005--

Heroes mistakenly killed by heroes-- Controversy about the military's handling of information about Pat Tillman's death merits thoughtful commentary rather political hyperbole.

            According to a May 23, 2005 article published by the Washington Post and also displayed on MSNBC.Com, both of which are members of the same media family as Newsweek, "Former NFL player Pat Tillman's family is lashing out against the Army, saying that the military's investigations into Tillman's friendly-fire death in Afghanistan last year were a sham and that Army efforts to cover up the truth have made it harder for them to deal with their loss."  The article also states, inter alia:  "After a tour in Iraq, [Tillman's unit] unit was sent to Afghanistan in spring 2004, where they were to hunt for the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Shortly after arriving in the mountains to fight, Tillman was killed in a barrage of gunfire from his own men, mistaken for the enemy as he got into position to defend them."   According to that article:

Over the next 10 days [after the Army's initial report to the Tillman family that he had been killed in a firefight with the enemy], however, top-ranking Army officials -- including the theater commander, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid -- were told of the reports that Tillman had been killed by his own men, the investigation said. But the Army waited until a formal investigation was finished before telling the family -- which was weeks after a nationally televised memorial service that honored Tillman on May 3, 2004.... Patrick Tillman Sr., a San Jose lawyer, said he is furious about what he found in the volumes of witness statements and investigative documents the Army has given to the family. He decried what he calls a "botched homicide investigation" and blames high-ranking Army officers for presenting "outright lies" to the family and to the public.

The above-quoted portion of the article uses the word "reports" (that Tillman had been killed by his own men) as though it were the equivalent of "findings."  How many people using common sense would want to rely upon initial "reports" to characterize a battlefield death as having been caused by fellow soldiers rather than hostile fire?  Anyone with common sense can understand why any official responsible for reporting the causes of deaths of soldiers may be willing to risk overstating the heroism of those who died while awaiting a complete investigation but extremely reluctant to rely upon less-than-thorough findings to characterize such death as being the fault of fellow soldiers.  What's so sinister about that?   Given the the de-facto connotation (in contrast to the literally correct denotation) of the legal jargon "botched homicide investigation" attributed by article's author to Patrick Tillman's father, a lawyer, should we conclude that the father is trying to imply that one or more fellow soldiers killed Tillman on purpose rather than by mistake?   

            Few types of circumstances of death could cause more grief than that experienced by Pat Tillman's family:  Learning that their son was accidentally killed by his fellow troops mistaking him for the enemy.   Whose grief could equal or perhaps even surpass the Tillman family's grief?  Although Tillman's fellow rangers responsible for his death surely are not experiencing the kind of grief unique to parents, no sensible person can doubt that they are suffering what is likely to be a far more burdensome form of grief-- i.e., grief at the death of a fellow ranger for whom they surely felt bonds of affection that many soldiers find stronger than familial bonds compounded with the sense of moral guilt for having been the direct cause of his death.  It is not a form of callousness toward the incalculable loss experienced by Tillman's family to recognize that the form of grief being experienced by Tillman's fellow rangers whose actions killed him is in some ways far more painful and far less susceptible to being overcome than the Tillman family's grief.

            Unfortunately, the reporting of the understandable grief and anger on the part of Tillman's parents is being done in a simplistic manner ostensibly intended to support the views of those who mocked Tillman's noble motives rather than in a manner giving due consideration to the grief-stricken states of minds of Tillman's fellow rangers in the immediate and short-term wake of his death as they struggled to simultaneously cope with their sense of guilt over having caused his death and their desire that the nobility and courageousness of his actions not be diminished by their own mistakes.  

            On the many occasions when test-pilots died in crashes later determined to have been caused by engineering or maintenance errors, did their deaths under such circumstances diminish their heroism in any way?  Did the fact that bad engineering judgments led to the deaths of the crew of the Challenger render their service as astronauts any less heroic?  Did the fact that bad engineering judgments led to the deaths of the crew of the Columbia render their service as astronauts any less heroic?  With respect to the rangers killed while scaling Pointe du Hac in a mission during the Normandy invasion to silence big guns believed to have been at the top of that cliff, did the fact that such mission was predicated on erroneous intelligence render those rangers' deaths any less heroic?  

            When soldiers risking their lives on a mission to serve their country kill one of their own in the sincerely mistaken belief they were killing someone posing a threat to them or their fellow soldiers, do they deserve to have calumny heaped upon them?  If, in the wake of such event, their grief and horror motivates them to wrongly attempt to conceal their mistake, do they not deserve far more understanding for such terribly bad judgment than is typically exhibited by many moral apologists for murderers in our criminal justice system?   With respect to allegations of reluctance on the part of some in the military to explain the nature of the circumstances of Tillman's death immediately upon such circumstances being fully understood, does such reluctance (which surelyşı must have at least in part stemmed from desires not to expose Tillman's grief-stricken fellow rangers responsible for his death to unwarranted calumny) warrant the degree of condemnation now being heaped upon the military?  I think not.  

            None of those factors alters the larger truth of the matter:  That Pat Tillman died while heroically serving his country as a result of tragic but sincere mistakes of fellow soldiers also heroically serving their country.   Somehow, I doubt a person as noble as was Pat Tillman would have wanted calumny heaped upon those responsible for his death under such circumstances.  Would he have wanted his death to be used to discourage others from following his example of volunteering to serve his country?  

            Now, back to the May 23, 2005 article published by the Washington Post and also displayed on MSNBC.Com, the publication of which at this particular time prompted the preceding commentary:  Why did MSNBC and/or the Washington Post consider the article about grief and anger on the part of Tillman's parents to be newsworthy at this particular time?  What material change in the circumstances, if any, occurred since a similar article related to the April 22, 2005, one-year anniversary since Tillman's death? 

Heroes Killed by Heroes.

It's tragic when heroes are killed
by heroes who'd joined them to till
for freedom in fields
of dangers concealed
by those who would murder free will.

And likewise, it's tragic when heroes
whose errors have killed fellow heroes
are not merely blamed
but also defamed
as criminal killers of heroes.

And likewise, it's sad when reporters
repeat beyond temporal borders
an old set of facts
designed to distract
from recent faux pas's by reporters.


 Could it be that news-media "families" such the Washington Post, MSNBC and Newsweek might stoop to efforts to revive or enlarge controversies about others in order to draw attention away from recent controversy over Newsweek's behavior?  Was there "gambling" at that club in Casa Blanca?


şı Only if one were to subscribe to the caricature of the military portrayed in Apocalypse Now could one assume the deficiencies in the scope and timing of disclosures to the Tillman family arose from purely self-serving motives and callousness towards Tillman's family rather than bad judgment exercised under extremely difficult circumstances.

--Jim Wrenn, Editor at PoliSat.Com..

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May 23, 2005 #01 Daily Update at PoliSat.Com, where satire is always commentary, but commentary isn't always satire

Title:  Heroes Killed by Heroes

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