Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day 2009

On this Veterans Day I am thinking of Pat Tillman and Barack Obama. Pat Tillman is prominent in my thoughts because I am reading Where Men Win Glory, John Krakauer’s story of Tillman’s life and death. Barack Obama looms large because he could possibly strike a blow for real change and real peace but probably will not.

Tillman’s story is well-known. He was the patriotic football player who left a lucrative career and died for his country. First hailed as a combat hero and brandished by the CheneyBush administration as a patriotic prop during an election year, the Army later admitted that Tillman’s died from “friendly fire”, he was killed by his own men in an ill-fated mission. Krakauer adds depth and detail to the story, drawn from Tillman’s t diaries and recollection of family and friends. Krakauer also details the Tillman’s final mission, which was also his first as a full-fledged ranger.

What emerges in Where Men Win Glory is an account of a thoughtful, determined and dedicated young man whose talent and sacrifice were wasted. Tillman is not perfect—at 18 he was charged with felonious assault, later reduced to misdemeanor assault, for severely beating another teenager and Krakauer doesn't ignore Tillman's other less edifying behaviors—but Tillman learns from his experiences, in life, on the playing field and in the Army. I particularly identify with the Specialist Pat Tillman who forgoes the opportunity to harass lower ranking soldiers.

Krakauer subtitles his book as “The Odyssey of Pat Tillman”. The subtitle is not an overreach. Tillman was on an odyssey. Not surprising--that’s what life is. Tillman’s odyssey just played out in a more public way. Like Homer’s Odyssey, Tillman’s offers lessons about the strength and power of determination. Tillman’s odyssey also reminds us of the irrelevance of honor and patriotism in the CheneyBush wars.

Which brings me to Barack Obama, inheritor of those wars, who must now decide what to do with them. All accounts suggest that he will send more troops and try to hold off the Taliban insurgency while he jump starts the Afghan army. Obama could take a different path, a path that would lessen the violence and allow Afghan society to rebuild on its own terms in concert with its neighbors and the international community. Robert Dreyfuss offers a cogent alternative in The Nation’s recent issue on Afghanistan. Dreyfuss’ plan is one of several less militarized courses of action that the US could pursue in Afghanistan. Unlike the military options, engagement and diplomacy are less costly (in oh so many ways), they are far less likely to provoke counter attack and are far more sustainable in the long run.

On this day for remembering the sacrifices of war, I hope for peace without expecting much.


Here's why America does not celebrate Remembrance Day on this date.

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