Saturday, September 25, 2010

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat TillmanWhere Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know the general outlines of the Pat Tillman story, right? A football player who gave it up to enlist in the Rangers after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan and the army then covered it up.

What I didn't know was how bad it was. In fact, the Army, from the men involved in the fratricide right up through the chain of command, knew from the minute it happened (or maybe five minutes later) that the cause of Tillman's death was friendly fire. They knew, they covered it up, they ordered the soldiers on the ground not to say anything to anyone about it, they lied to Tillman's family and to the American people, and they destroyed evidence, including tape recordings and Tillman's uniform, to do it.

In Where Men Win Glory Jon Krakauer surveys the life and football career of Pat Tillman, traces his decision to enter the military and his life in the Army, and exposes the military coverup of the circumstances of Tillman's death. He also profiles some of the facts about Tillman and his intellectual life you might not be aware of, like his opposition to the war in Iraq, his refusal to participate in flag-waving publicity stunts, and his atheism, which extended to explicit directions that there be no religious devotion at his military memorial ceremony. As someone who has absolutely no interest in football, I could have lived with a lot less detail about the games, and who made what tackle or interception or touchdown, but I could understand why Krakauer felt the need to include it.

What else does Krakauer cover? Bush administration lies about other incidents, such as the famous capture of Jessica Lynch and the Army's "daring rescue" from a hospital.

The reader also learns facts about friendly fire that were surprising to me:

"According to the most comprehensive survey of American war casualties (both fatal and nonfatal), 21 percent of the casualties in World War II were attributable to friendly fire, 39 percent of the casualties in Vietnam, and 52 percent of the casualties in the first [sic] Gulf War. Thus far, in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, casualty rates are 41 percent and 13 percent, respectively. . . . [D]ue to endemic underreporting of fratricide by the military, the actual percentages are unquestionably higher."

Where Men Win Glory is definitely worth reading.

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Blogger Howard Towt said...

Mr. McCullough:

I would be interested in your take on a similar review I did of Mr. Krakauer's book last year. For a work of non-fiction, I think his "facts" on friendly fire are distorted. See if your review of the Brookings data leads to a similar conclusion.

If you have better data, please let me know and I'll post it at

September 27, 2010 7:39 PM  
Blogger Jack McCullough said...

Thanks for the information.

I didn't jump into the ancient discussion on your blog, but I'd be curious if Krakauer has ever responded to your claims.

I also note that there is really no attempt to refute Krakauer's central thesis: that Tillman was the victim of fratricide and the Bush administration lied and covered it up as long as it could possibly do so.

October 02, 2010 10:39 AM  
Blogger Jack McCullough said...

Oops--I should have said more.

There is also no question that the Bush administration lied about the Jessica Lynch incident, and that it did everything it could to make political hay of these twin tragedies.

October 02, 2010 12:13 PM  
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