L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 271, May 16, 2004
Remember: You are the most powerful force in history!
The Price of Fame; The Cost of Freedom
Special to TLE
I read numerous online news sources on a daily basis, and I check many of them more than once throughout the day. And so it was that I heard the news of Pat Tillman's death sooner, perhaps, than many. As I read the sketchy details and looked at the photo of Tillman in his proud Ranger uniform, tears came to my eyes. In just a few words and with a single photo, I felt his loss. Oh, certainly it was the merest shadow of the loss his family must feel, but it was a loss none-the-less.
Within hours, more details of Pat Tillman emerged. There was still little information available about the precise manner of his death, but much about his personal and pre-Army professional life was published in short order. By virtually all accounts, Tillman was both a smart and a nice guy. He also happened to be a very talented football player. Throughout his school years and burgeoning career as a professional athlete, he somehow maintained that nice guy persona and a confidence tempered with real humility. I think I would have liked him. I think most of us would have liked him.
People who knew him say that Pat Tillman changed after 9-11. They say he felt bad about what had happened on a very deep and personal level. They claim it was that more than anything else that inspired him to leave a lucrative football contract (reports indicate he'd been offered more than three and a half million dollars to play for the Arizona Cardinals) and join the Army where he became one of the elite Rangers. Eventually, Tillman was shipped overseas where he fought and later died in Afghanistan.
As a college athlete, Tillman's interviews showed him to be a level-headed guy who was proud of his accomplishments, but who proclaimed himself never satisfied. There was always something more he wanted to accomplish. As a pro football player, he stayed humble. And as an Army Ranger, he stayed...silent. Tillman didn't try to publicize his decision to leave football for the Army in fact, his efforts were geared in the opposite direction. Without reminders, the press went away. Until, that is, Tillman's untimely death reminded everyone of the road that took him to that Afghan ambush.
Of course, with Tillman's reignited fame, it didn't take long for the media to label him heroic. And it didn't take much longer for a University of Massachusetts student to write an article calling Tillman's death the result of "idiocy" and suggesting he was a man who "got what was coming to him." That article, in turn, attracted a good deal of criticism from around the country including that of the University's president who called the column an "intellectually immature attack on a human being who died in service to his country." The student author eventually apologized for his remarks (frankly, as a political science doctoral candidate, he should have known what he was saying was impolitic at best, and that it would cause a firestorm), but that hasn't erased the debates begun after the article was first published.
The University president is saying he spoke out so that everyone would understand that the article didn't represent the opinion of most of the students at the university (it's to be hoped that even those who don't attend a university are smart enough to already understand that). The school newspaper is defending its decision to publish the article saying it doesn't agree either, but that free speech and the publication of opinions on both sides of an issue are an obligation (it's not always attractive or politically correct, but the paper is right). And plenty of other people are polarized into believing either that Tillman was heroic in giving his life for his country, or that he was duped into dying for an unjust cause. Their thoughts on Tillman's death are largely aligned with their viewpoint on the overseas component of the War on Terrorism.
But it seems to me that it doesn't matter what you think of the military actions in Iraq or Afghanistan where Pat Tillman's life and death are concerned. It's immaterial whether you consider Tillman to have been right or wrong in his decision to join the Army. And it certainly isn't germane that he attained a kind of career and level of fame most high school athletes can only wistfully dream of, nor even that he had the personal conviction to walk away from that career. What makes Pat Tillman heroic is, instead, the fact that he himself believed so much in the American dream he had achieved, and so deeply in liberty, that he was willing to give up both personally to help preserve those things for the rest of us.
Pat Tillman would doubtless not appreciate the publicity that has attended his death. He'd likely be embarrassed by the virtual shrine that's sprung up outside Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona and by the idea of the "Tillman Freedom Plaza" being named for him in Glendale, Arizona. And I suspect he'd turn down every interview request just to get back to the work he was engaged in when he died. But there is one thing aside from the fact he died living for his principles in which Pat Tillman might take some small amount of pride, and that is this:
Every day, I see the headlines announcing the latest American deaths in fighting in the Middle East. I watch the counts tick upward, and while the accompanying photographs of bombed buildings or burning vehicles are horrible, they don't really make me feel what it means that another two or eight or eleven Americans have died. Pat Tillman has loaned every one of those soldiers, if only for a moment, his face and his fame.
Every military family feels the loss of their loved one on an equal and exquisitely painful basis. But now, while the rest of us feel sorrow for a man we didn't know, it's also been made a little more poignant and meaningful for us to consider the loss of other men and women we didn't know. If Pat Tillman's fame has given that much to all of those brave men and women who have died for the sake of their own principles and a love for liberty, then for the first time, I think Mr. Tillman would embrace his fame fully and be appreciative that he had it.
Speaking for myself, I regret Pat Tillman's passing. But I am deeply grateful to be reminded yet again that freedom isn't free, and that there are still a few heroes Tillman among them willing to pay for it. And whatever we may think of the appropriateness of one battle theatre or another, we still owe a debt of thanks to each and every one of those soldiers who agreed to go whenever and wherever they were called in defense of freedom.
Help Support TLE by patronizing our advertisers and affiliates.