Heroes Aren’t Heroes if They Disagree with Me!

Via Steven Taylor, I see that John Hinderaker describes Pat Tillman’s brother, Kevin, as “an antiwar activist who has posted on far-left web sites.”

Taylor correctly observes, “Clearly the reason to label Kevin as ‘“an anitwar activist’ is to try and discredit his claims as the rantings of some leftist loon who doesn’t like war anyway, and therefore who has an agenda beyond the issues of his brother’s death.”

Pat Tillman is indeed an antiwar activist and he has indeed posted on some leftist web sites. As Taylor notes, though, that’s a rather incomplete description. From Wikipedia:

Kevin Tillman is a former college and professional baseball player and joined the United States Army with his brother Pat Tillman. He is a graduate of Cal Poly, and before joining the Army, he played college baseball at Arizona State and Cal Poly then was drafted by the Anaheim Angels.

Tillman and his more well-known brother Pat (a former NFL player) completed training and selection for the elite United States Army Rangers in late 2002, and were assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion in Fort Lewis, Washington. Both Pat and Kevin Tillman were deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The photo below is from Truthdig, a left-of-center website, and accompanies an essay Kevin Tillman wrote about what he sees as the Army’s cover-up of the circumstances of his brother’s death.

Pat Tillman and Kevin Tillman in Iraq 2003 Photo
Pat Tillman (left) and his brother Kevin stand in front of a Chinook helicopter
in Saudi Arabia before their tour of duty as Army Rangers in Iraq in 2003.

Courtesy of the Tillman Family

Now, I happen to disagree with Kevin Tillman about both the war and the nature of the reporting on his brother’s death. As I’ve written numerous times, I believe the natural human instinct at the unit level is to portray combat deaths in the manner most comforting to the family and that this was reinforced by bureaucratic pressures when dealing with such a heroic symbol of sacrifice.

Regardless, however, Kevin Tillman has certainly earned the right to speak his mind. Not only did Kevin Tillman sacrifice a promising professional baseball career to risk his life for the meager pay of an Army specialist, he lost his brother.

As LTC Don Sondo, deputy commander of Infantry Training Brigade, noted when the brothers were awarded the 11th annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award, “The difference between sports and combat is the cost of being wrong. In a sport, you lose a game, Sondo said, adding that in combat you lose lives.” The Tillman family knows that all too well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mark says:

    Wikipedia says that Kevin and Pat were deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don’t know about Kevin, but Pat was not in Iraq, he was killed in Afghanistan. I do not think that would make him a part of OIF, would it?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Both deployed to Iraq during the initial invasion. Pat was later redeployed to Afghanistan as part of Enduring Freedom, where he was killed.

  3. John Hinderaker is just the latest example of a sickness in much of the conservative blogosphere. The hypocrisy of attacking Tillman, when at the same time lambasting those who don’t support the troops. Not to mention attacks on the manhood of those who died at VA Tech last week, Muslim hysteria, and the constant barrage against a mother who lost a son in Iraq. Yes Cindy Sheehan.

    I hate to say what Hinderaker wrote doesn’t surprise me.

    Bill

  4. Michael says:

    Heroes Aren’t Heroes if They Disagree with Me!

    Like this is a new phenomenon. John Kerry, Max Cleland, heck even John McCain have had their patriotism drawn through the dirt by people who disingenuously call themselves “conservatives” and claim to “support our troops”.

    To these people, wearing a red shirt of Fridays makes them more American that someone who voluntarily risks his or her life in a foreign country but refused to toe the line at home.

  5. Tlaloc says:

    Now, I happen to disagree with Kevin Tillman about both the war and the nature of the reporting on his brother’s death. As I’ve written numerous times, I believe the natural human instinct at the unit level is to portray combat deaths in the manner most comforting to the family and that this was reinforced by bureaucratic pressures when dealing with such a heroic symbol of sacrifice.

    That’s a reasonable view point so long as you accept the resultant conclusion: you can’t trust a damn thing the army says when it comes to how people died or what they died for, they can and will lie about it.

    As long as you’re willing to agree to that then your position is coherent, at the least.

  6. Hal says:

    Kevin Tillman has certainly earned the right to speak his mind

    Just a point, as you seem to consistently stress the fact that people who have fought have “earned the right” to speak their mind on the subject. The right to speak our mind is a right granted by our constitution that doesn’t require any earning what so ever. It’s rather odd to have this consistently framed as something that people have to earn.

  7. Hal says:

    And just to be clear, I think the correct framing is “earned credibility” rather than “earned the right”. The only thing that fighting in a war can earn you is some measure of credibility in talking about it. Although given the hierarchical nature of the military and the single minded urge we’ve seen demonstrated to maintain morale with happy happy happy talk, and given the amazing sting of one’s peers when one ventures outside the lines with criticism of the millitary as you’re pointing out here, I’m not sure how that credibility actually comes about in practice.

  8. legion says:

    As I’ve written numerous times, I believe the natural human instinct at the unit level is to portray combat deaths in the manner most comforting to the family and that this was reinforced by bureaucratic pressures when dealing with such a heroic symbol of sacrifice.

    That’s fair as far as it goes, but when that pressure goes up to the 4-star level and beyond, it’s no longer instinct – it’s a conscious decision to lie, coupled with systemic dishonesty. That’s a horse of a different color, and it’s why these hearings are getting such notice.

  9. B. Minich says:

    You know, he was dismissed as “another left-wing kook” . . . however, in all fairness, wouldn’t this experience lend itself to turning him INTO a left winger? In other words, the fact that the Army was not forthcoming to his family may have altered his perspective a bit, and this is an understandable reaction. I may not agree with it, but I can certainly understand the impulse. If I were in the same convoy with my brother when he died, I would CERTAINLY expect to be told how he died right away, and would be upset if this didn’t happen. I tend to agree with the Tillmans, though – they should have been told how their son died, not fed a lie about how it happened. Even as a friendly fire incident, there is still a lot to like about Pat Tillman, and most people understand that dying tragically under friendly fire doesn’t make your sacrifice any less noble.

  10. LJD says:

    Hal fails to realize that without the voluntary service of such individuals, there would be no Constitutional guarantess of anything.

    It is said that they have “earned” the right, because they did something to support that right other than drawing a breath of air. Something many of our young people fail to realize in this day and age.

  11. DC Loser says:

    It is said that they have “earned” the right, because they did something to support that right other than drawing a breath of air. Something many of our young people fail to realize in this day and age.

    LJD – I agree wholeheartedly, which is why I support a draft with no deferments, for both male and female.

  12. James Joyner says:

    I think the correct framing is “earned credibility” rather than “earned the right”.

    Fair enough. As I’ve written in numerous posts on the “chickenhawk” meme, citizens have every right to express their views on war regardless of their service record.

    The emphasis in my original formulation would be on earned. Certainly, he’s earned the right not to be dismissed as some nutjob.

  13. G.A. Phillips says:

    So Florida masochist, unless you have a liberals point of view, and think of yourself as some kind of victim you can’t say nothing about nobody? The noble soldiers who have died for this country are the ones who have given us the freedom of speech that our father God wanted us to have and it is to the individual on how he or she will use or miss use this this God given gift and paid for in blood American right!

  14. Tlaloc says:

    As I’ve written in numerous posts on the “chickenhawk” meme, citizens have every right to express their views on war regardless of their service record.

    That’s not what the term “chickenhawk” is about. The term specifically means a person who is a rabid supporter of military force except when it means they personally make any sacrifices.

    Of course people who haven’t been in the military have the right to an opinion on war. But when war is your only answer to every issue then you better be willing to put on the boots.

    Or you should shut up as a total hypocrite.

    That’s what a chickenhawk is, and we have a ton of them in government currently.

  15. Andy says:

    Hal fails to realize that without the voluntary service of such individuals, there would be no Constitutional guarantess of anything.

    I don’t recall the last war that threatened the existence of the U.S. that was fought with the all volunteer army.

  16. Steve Plunk says:

    Disclosure of Kevin Tillman’s politics is not off limits is it? If he testifies before Waxman’s committee he has jumped into the political fray and his positions are an essential part of context in this story. I appreciate his service and especially appreciate the loss of his brother but that does not mean his beliefs and postings are off limits.

    Waxman is using the Tillmans from what I can see. The Powerline people have not said anything false or defaming about Kevin Tillman so why all the outrage? Jumping from the facts of his politics to claiming they are labeling him a “leftist loon” is a pretty strong statement. We should stick to what people say rather than what we think they are implying by those words.

  17. Andy says:

    Disclosure of Kevin Tillman’s politics is not off limits is it?

    I’m sure that Powerline is referring to Kevin Tillman’s association with “far-left” blogs as a complement.

  18. James Joyner says:

    Disclosure of Kevin Tillman’s politics is not off limits is it?

    Not at all. He’s taken the stage as an activist, so he’s fair game. But we should honestly frame his background.

    We should stick to what people say rather than what we think they are implying by those words.

    I think it’s pretty clear what Hinderaker was implying here. If your only description of a man is “an antiwar activist who has posted on far-left web sites, denounced the military for deceiving his family about the circumstances of his brother’s death” and you thereby slide past the fact that he is an Army Ranger veteran of the war he’s “anti,” then, yes, it’s an attempt at dismissing him.

  19. just me says:

    LJD – I agree wholeheartedly, which is why I support a draft with no deferments, for both male and female.

    Not possible, there would have to be at least some deferments for those who are not physically or medially suitable. If you mean no deferments for education-not sure that I agree either-I don’t know that perhaps ending somebody’s college career for service in the military is what is best for the military or that person.

    I honestly have no real issues with deferments-I think the real issue is whether the deferments are fairly given.

    That’s not what the term “chickenhawk” is about. The term specifically means a person who is a rabid supporter of military force except when it means they personally make any sacrifices.

    Of course people who haven’t been in the military have the right to an opinion on war. But when war is your only answer to every issue then you better be willing to put on the boots.

    It may be how you define chickenhawk, but other liberals out there define it differently. My husband is a disabled veteran, he served in the US Navy for almost 8 years-on another blog he was called a chickenhawk, because he wasn’t serving now.

    Frankly, I don’t think military service grants a person any special insight as to whether or not to go to war, it may give them an insight as to how soldiers may feel or respond to certain things, but I don’t like this idea that military service somehow makes a person automatically have a “better” viewpoint.

    Waxman is using the Tillmans from what I can see.

    I agree with this sentiment.

    The military used the Tillmans, when Pat was killed by promoting a “fake” heroism story, which was wrong, and in the end unfair to Pat Tillman, his family, and other soldiers.

    But Waxman is using the Tillmans just as much to score political points.

    I don’t think either looks all that good at the moment.

  20. Andy says:

    But Waxman is using the Tillmans just as much to score political points.

    Once upon a time, this was called “oversight.”

  21. legion says:

    Once upon a time, this was called “oversight.”

    Yeah, September 10, 2001.
    [ba-da-bump]

    But to actually contribute something on-topic, has anyone seen any official response from the Army or DoD on this hearing? Has anyone actually _denied_ anything Lynch or the Tillmans have said?

  22. Steve Plunk says:

    Legion,

    My understanding of the testimony from what I have read is that they are sharing feelings not disputing facts as the army has presented them. They wanted it to go differently than it did.

    Since the army admitted it was a friendly fire accident on May 29 I hardly see a cover up.

    I guess your question should be (I apologize in advance for speaking for you) what exactly have the Tillmans and Lynch said that would incriminate anyone or be deserving of a denial?

  23. nabalzbbfr says:

    How petty and small-minded! Embellishment of heroic war stories in order to inspire people is an ancient literary tradition going back to Homer’s day, if not earlier. One is not supposed to take them literally. Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman represent photogenic archetypes of our brave fighting men and women. While the stories told about them may not be literally true, they portray a larger “big picture” truth, which is entirely valid. Reasonable people understand this. If Waxman and company think they can make hay out of this to advance their nefarious schemes, they will be sorely disappointed.

  24. LJD says:

    I don’t recall the last war that threatened the existence of the U.S. that was fought with the all volunteer army.

    Therein lies the problem.

    Our country was born by the actions of volunteers, whose plight and sacrifice many seem to have forgotten.

    These days, many don’t have the slightest idea of what threatens the existence of this country. If you close your eyes, then its just not real.

    Many didn’t believe in WWII where many hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives. Just like today, people can’t get the fact that we are currently in this very struggle against militant Islam.

  25. LaurenceB says:

    I tend to agree with James that there was probably nothing nefarious in the Army’s soft cover-up of the Tillman case. That having been said, Tlaloc’s corollary argument in the fifth comment above seems to make some sense. If we accept (as I do) that the military meant no harm, but embellished or whitewashed for entirely benign purposes, then it seems that we need to recognize that we can’t trust the military.

  26. legion says:

    Steven,
    As others have mentioned, there’s a human tendency to want things to look better than they sometimes are. But there’s a big difference between exaggerating and making s*it up out of whole cloth. The accounts of what happened to Lynch, for example, weren’t just ‘stretched’ to make things look better; the Army came in and completely manufactured a story that had absolutely nothing to do with reality and could not possibly have been suggested by any evidence they had. That leaves exaggeration behind and moves straight into dishonest, dishonorable hackery, and it’s an insult to Lynch and her comrades that were wounded and killed that day.

    Since the army admitted it was a friendly fire accident on May 29 I hardly see a cover up.

    Then you never really read anything about that “admission“. Tillman’s unit leadership knew it was friendly fire within _hours_ of the incident, but said just the opposite – not merely that the attack was under investigation, or unclear, or even not to be discussed in unclassified channels, but a flat-out, cover-their-asses lie.

    His unit leadership manufactured further stories in order to award him a posthumous Silver Star. I can say that positively, not because Tillman didn’t act in a heroic & deserving manner, but because the SS is explicitly awarded for combat with enemy forces – there are doubtless awards Tillman was eligible for, but the SS is not supposed to be awarded for a friendly-fire incident, even though the Army has already covered it ass there, too:

    Update at 6:15 p.m. ET: Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren said he has accepted the recommendation that Tillman’s Silver Star award be affirmed, even though some of information submitted in support of the commendation was inaccurate.

    Hell, just compare what the Army said here, for example, to what we now know the Army knew _at the time_ about Tillman’s death. As for what was said in the hearing that deserves a denial? I’ll do some trascript reading and ask some more-specific questions later on…