The Insanity of War: Lesson’s from Pat Tillman’s Senseless Death

If you knew the following, would you really want you or one of your loved ones to enlist in the armed forces and potentially go off to war:

  • First, that the war you were sent off to fight was primarily the result of someone’s or some group’s personal agenda, or the result of your government meddling in something they had no business meddling in.
  • Second, that you would be directed in battle by incompetent, misinformed superior officers who were more interested in things like meeting deadlines than the safety of the troops.
  • Third, that soldiers regularly ignore combat protocol as it relates to things like PIDing (positively identifying your target) before firing their weapons.
  • Fourth, that there was an extremely high chance that you would be killed by friendly fire (your own guys), known in army circles as fraticide.
  • Fifth, if you were in fact killed by friendly fire, that high ranking army brass and government officials would go to great lengths to hide information, and mislead and deceive your family and the general public around the circumstances of your death.
  • Sixth, that nobody would be held accountable for your ‘accidental’ death.
  • Seventh, that your family would experience immense (and unnecessary) emotional suffering over your death.

All of the above. according the Jon Krakauer in his best selling book, Where Men Win Glory, evidently applies to Pat Tillman, the former NFLer who left the Arizona Cardinals in order to join the army and fight the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001.

Tillman was tragically killed by friendly fire during his very first fire fight in Afghanistan. Then army brass and high ranking government officials tried to cover up the circumstances surrounding his death for fear of losing support for the war.

I grew up fascinated by war. My favourite subject in school was History, and I was particularly drawn to that part of history involving war. Moreover, my favourite movie from early childhood was The Great Escape, the WWII true story of a prison break involving 76 men, 50 of whom were murdered by the German Gestapo. More lately, I have been awed by Steven Spielberg’s epic, Saving Private Ryan, perhaps the most realistic war movie of all time. From Stalag 17 to Black Hawk Down, I have seen pretty much every war movie ever made and I have read countless books on the War of 1812, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam war and many other wars.

But now I find myself no longer fascinated by war. War is horrific, heartbreaking, and for the most part, unnecessary.

I am a Canadian and despite that fact that Canada’s identity as a Nation was born as a result of the heroic efforts of Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge during WWI, I thought I would never see Canadians fighting and dying in combat in my lifetime. Sadly, as a fallout from 9/11, that is no longer the case.

People will argue that war is necessary, and perhaps in some cases, it is. Like a school yard bully, ruthless dictators and warmongering states have to be dealt with. But the reality is, you don’t end darkness with more darkness. You end it with light. And you don’t end war with more war. You end it with peace.

Some people will also say that friendly fire deaths go with the territory…that it is part of the cost of going to war. I’m guessing the people who make such statements have never lost a loved one under such senseless circumstances.

Many Western governments will argue that we are currently fighting a war on terror, but the truth is, biotech companies (like Monsanto), drug companies and even hospitals are far more of a threat to Western welfare than are terrorists.

I believe the way to end war is to focus on what will bring all wars to an end and that is, creating a society that feels good about itself. When people feel good about themselves, they don’t mistreat others. They don’t go to war. That is a truth.

Go back in history and closely examine every man who started a war and you will find someone who invariably felt powerless and inadequate…someone who, on a certain level, felt inferior and unloved. We can end war by eliminating this destructive human condition.

It also behoves us to stop creating movies, video games and the like that glorify war and encourage young adults to think that fighting in combat is a glorious pursuit. Last year, I watched Pacific, the WWII mini-series produced by Spielberg and Tom Hanks. As fascinated as I was by the reality of the filming and the unbelievable sacrifices of the soldiers, I couldn’t help but think creating movies and television shows about war simply helps make us think it’s okay.

Men and women enlist for honourable reasons: they want to serve their country; they want to help people. More often than not however, they die for less than honourable reasons: somebody messed up; somebody failed to PID their target; somebody wanted to achieve a dubious objective; they became cannon fodder; they were simply, expendable.

Pat Tillman felt a sense of duty, and so he joined the army. Perhaps if he had taken into consideration the possibility of all the points listed above, he might never have done so. Perhaps he did, but his call to duty and integrity were more important.

In the last chapter of Where Men Win Glory, Krakauer sites some alarming statics from various wars on the percentages of friendly fire casualties…21% in WWII, 39% in Vietnam, a whopping 52% in the first Gulf War, 41% in Iraq and 13% in Afghanistan. Krakauer says that these numbers are likely understated. What is more, they don’t include those killed because of inept leadership, nor do they include innocent civilians.

This is insanity!

Perhaps if everyone knew the truth about the people and circumstances that draw countries into war, and if they knew just how many soldiers and civilians die unnecessarily, they would work harder to create peace.

Have a thoughtfully peaceful day!

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