The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Movie Review:
“The Tillman Story”—A Family against the Military Propaganda Machine

Aug 30, 2010

The Tillman Story is a new documentary about Pat Tillman, who gave up a multi-million-dollar per-year NFL contract to enlist in the military after 9/11–only to be killed in Afghanistan in April 2004. The documentary shows how the U.S. ruling class tried to use Tillman as a recruitment poster boy for their so-called “war on terror.”

Pat and his brother Kevin enlisted because they had been taken in by all the patriotic propaganda after 9-11–even though many in their family strongly opposed and warned against what they were doing. When the military tried to use Tillman’s celebrity status to sell the war, he refused to go along, declining all media interviews. And from the first days of the war in Iraq, he opposed it. Tillman’s unit was a part of the first thrust into Iraq. A friend from Tillman’s unit later recounted, “We were on this bunker [in Iraq], watching bombs drop all around the city, and he said, ‘This war’s so fucking illegal.’”

After serving in Iraq, Tillman was sent to Afghanistan. At the time he was killed, the U.S. government was confronting growing opposition to the war at home. And officials knew the Abu Ghraib torture scandal would break a couple of days later. Desperate to drum up support for the wars, the U.S. military and government latched onto Pat Tillman’s death. The military concocted a story about how he died fighting to defend his unit from a Taliban ambush, and awarded him a Silver Star posthumously. Bush praised Tillman more than once, including in a broadcast at a football game. The military’s big memorial was filled with top generals and politicians.

As the documentary showed, Pat Tillman had told many people that this was exactly what he feared would happen, if he were killed. “I don’t want them to parade me through the streets.” The Tillman family also didn’t like being used by the government in all of its ceremonies and spectacles to hype the war. The family refused to allow a religious ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, citing the fact that Pat was an atheist. At the gala military memorial, Pat’s younger brother Richard contradicted all those who claimed that Pat was now in “a better place.” “He’s just dead,” countered Richard angrily.

Five weeks after Pat’s death, the family got the first inklings that he had really been killed by U.S. troops–friendly fire. When the family demanded an explanation, the military tried to drown them in paperwork, sending more than 3,000 pages of redacted–or largely censored–documents. But Pat’s mother, with the help of Stan Goff, a Special Forces veteran with a blog opposing the Iraq war, pieced together what evidence they could. For the next three years, she and others forced the military to conduct one investigation after another, culminating in a supposedly independent Congressional investigation. Of course, all these investigations were just more cover-ups, or as the Tillmans said, more “bullshit.”

The Tillman Story is a powerful documentary that recounts the story about one of the millions of lives that have been wasted and destroyed in those wars–wars that continue to this day.