In an effort to explain why I think the word 'hero' is often misused, I offered several hypothetical situations involving the death of former National Football League player Pat Tillman a few weeks ago. The discussion, at a Right Wing blog, occurred before the luster on the word 'hero' had been eroded by revelations that American troops in Iraq have been torturing helpless Iraqi detainees. Along with a couple allies, I was roundly condemned for not declaring Tillman a hero. It appears that one of my examples of non-heroic death in the military, an accidental shooting by a comrade, is the truth about what happened to the pro athlete turned soldier.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - Pat Tillman was probably killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan after a U.S. solider mistakenly shot at an Afghan soldier in the former NFL player's unit, military officials said Saturday.
Tillman walked away from a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Previous military statements suggested he was killed by enemy fire.
According to an Army investigation, Tillman was shot to death on April 22 after the friendly Afghan soldier in Tillman's unit was mistakenly fired upon, and other U.S. soldiers then fired in the same direction.
. . .But an Afghan military official told The Associated Press on Saturday that Tillman died because of a ``misunderstanding'' when two mixed groups of American and Afghan soldiers began firing wildly in the confusion following a land mine explosion.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Afghan official said, ``(There) were no enemy forces'' present when Tillman died.
The circumstances of Tillman's death do not detract from his willingness to put his body where his mouth was. Many people who share his Right Wing politics eschew any actions that might put them at risk. Other people are supposed to sacrifice themselves to protect them. Pat Tillman was not a coward. But, based on what is now known, I cannot say he is a hero, either. Tillman died because of an accidental shooting. He was not in the process of sacrificing his interests for anyone else's at the time, the key component of being a hero.
I hope that any American personnel or agents who performed ineptly at the time will be disciplined appropriately. The needlessness of Tillman's death should not be ignored.
Why did white, middle-class America want Pat Tillman to be a hero?