Book Summary: Where Men Win Glory

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by Jon Krakauer

This is a book about doing what is right at all costs, and about putting your money where your mouth is. It’s about taking action rather than just talking about it, and about being virtuous in a corrupt world.

It’s about a man with boundless optimism and an unswerving sense of duty who lays it all on the line and gets screwed over by the very society he sought to serve. And as with so many great men and women, the media narrative spun around them is a pale and distorted reflection of the person behind the headlines.

You probably know the story: Pat Tillman, ASU football star and later NFL safety for the Arizona Cardinals, at the dawn of the Global War on Terror, is so moved by the events of 9/11 that he walks away from a $3M contract to enlist in the US Army.

Tillman is killed in action fighting in Afghanistan and his death is shamelessly used as a public relations opportunity by the Bush Administration to cast the failing war in a positive light — one fought by courageous heroes rather than the hopeless quagmire it turned out to be.

Then the kicker — soon after the adulatory media storm orchestrated by the Pentagon passes, details emerge that Tillman was actually killed by friendly fire — a fact that was deliberately covered up all the way up the chain of command, deceiving the American public as well as Tillman’s own family.

I can’t think of a better embodiment of the tragic hero than Pat Tillman. Eschewing the comfortable like of an NFL star– expensive cars and 6 months of off-season every year — Tillman was disturbed by the idea that he was physically capable but he wasn’t on the front lines. He needed to have skin in the game or he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.

Tillman knew that principle without sacrifice is meaningless. For him, paying mere lip service to “supporting the troops” rang hollow. So he took action.

Even after enlisting, becoming disillusioned with the Iraq war and refusing to ever give a single media interview despite his fame, he was steadfast in his dedication, as evidenced by his journal.

While tragic, the fact that his death was handled shamefully by the US Army all the way up to the White House provides poetic contrast to his actions. He held himself to a higher standard than the lying officers and the bureaucracy who commanded him.

Tillman’s stubborn idealism, his insistence in throwing himself into the action rather than standing on the sidelines, humility, and his dedication to speaking with his actions rather than words —  these are the things that brought him up and also the things that brought him down.

Quotes:

“I never explicitly asked him,, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Because I understood Pat well enough to already know . . . If it was the right thing for people to go off and fight a war, he believed he should be part of it.” – Marie Tillman, wife

“[If I die], I don’t want them to parade me through the streets.” – Pat Tillman

“What kind of man will I become? Will people see me has an honest man, hard working man, family man, good man? Can I become the man I envision? Is vision and follow-through enough? How important is talent & blind luck? . . . There are no true answers, just shades of grey, coincidence, and circumstance.” – Pat Tillman