Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
Pat Tillman Family Attacked for Pursuing the Truth... and Not Being Christians
Pat Tillman was a former NFL football player who joined the U.S. Army Rangers in 2002. When he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, the Pentagon and the Bush regime seized on his death to build patriotic support for the war, and military and political officials appeared with the Tillman family at the funeral. But the official story released to the press and told to the Tillman family—that Pat had been killed by “enemy fire”—was a lie. In fact he had been killed by “friendly fire” from Rangers in his own unit. (See Revolution, November 5, 2006, “Kevin Tillman and the Killing Lies of the U.S. Army.”)
After the Tillman family continued to press for the truth the Army finally released thousands of pages of heavily censored documents on their investigations, which have allowed the family and reporters to piece together some of what occurred.
In July of 2006, ESPN.com ran a 3-part series about the death of Pat Tillman which revealed how military officials have attacked the Tillman family —not only for pursuing the truth about what happened, but because they are not Christians.
Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, the Army Ranger officer who commanded Pat Tillman’s regiment in Afghanistan, conducted the second Army investigation into his death. He told ESPN, referring to the Tillman family, “I don’t know, these people have a hard time letting it (their son’s death) go. It may be because of their religious beliefs.”
Kauzlarich said during his investigation into Tillman’s death he learned that Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother’s body was returned to the United States. Referring to this, Kauzlarich said, “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don’t know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough.”
Then when asked about what he thought might placate the family, Kauzlarich said, ‘You know what? I don’t think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don’t know. Maybe they want to see somebody’s head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can’t bring their son back.’”
ESPN quotes Mary Tillman, Pat’s mother, responding to Kauzlarich’s comments, saying: “Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we’re not Christians, and the reason that we can’t put Pat to rest is because we’re not Christians… Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady. But it is because we are not Christians… Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn’t lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble. I mean, he had an ego, but it was a healthy ego. It is like, everything those [people] are, he wasn’t.”
As executive officer for the Ranger regiment in Afghanistan, Kauzlarich was ultimately responsible for command decisions in the area at the time of Pat’s death. He is also the officer who conducted the second Army investigation into the killing. According to Army documents obtained by ESPN, the Army officer who conducted the first investigation believed that some of the shooters who killed Tillman “could be charged for criminal intent” and several had demonstrated “gross negligence. In Kauzlarich’s investigation, Rangers were allowed to change their stories and only minor punishments were handed out.
Kauzlarich, who was supposed to be investigating and finding out what happened and the circumstances around the death, told ESPN.com that he thought the Army had found out who actually had killed Tillman but that he had never found out! And he said, “You know what? I don’t think it really matters… I had no issue on not finding a specific person responsible for doing it.”
ESPN said Kauzlarich told them he was confident that the investigation would not result in criminal charges—and that investigators would not still be examining the incident at all if it were not for Tillman’s NFL celebrity. This is a particularly twisted comment, given how the Bush administration and the U.S. Army exploited Pat Tillman’s celebrity to portray him as a war hero and to build support for the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Pat’s younger brother Richard Tillman told ESPN about hearing politicians and military men talking at the memorial in front of nationwide TV cameras about Pat’s death, “I remember not believing the story of him running up a mountain, screaming his head off. ..But at the same time, nothing made sense because you just are told that your brother is dead. At the time, you are not going to piece anything together. And I think that is what the military actually plans on because they have seen the way people are when they lose a loved one, and they can basically tell them anything and they are not going to pick up on it.”
And after listening to officials talk about Pat being with God, Richard spoke at the memorial and said, “Pat isn’t with God. He’s fucking dead. He wasn’t religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead.”
These kind of virulent attacks on the Tillman family are not surprising given the presence of Christian fascist forces in the U.S. military, including among high ranking officers.
People may remember how in 2003 U.S. Lt. General Jerry Boykin went around the country delivering a talk where he showed slides of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and North Korea’s Kim Jung Il and then said: “Why do they hate us?” The answer to that is because we’re a Christian nation. We are hated because we are a nation of believers.” Boykin then went on to say that “the enemy” was not any one of these individuals but that “The enemy is a guy named Satan. Satan wants to destroy this nation. He wants to destroy us as a nation and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army. I’m here on a recruiting trip. I’m asking you to join this army.” Boykin also said that George Bush was “in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this.” And it was after this that Donald Rumsfeld promoted Boykin to deputy undersecretary of defense.
In an article posted on truthdig.com titled “Playing the Atheism Card Against Pat Tillman’s Family,” Stan Goff says that Mary Tillman, Pat’s mother, showed him a page from Pat’s journal when he was 16 years old. Goff says: “It was Pat’s reflection on why he had decided, once and for all, that he didn’t need organized religion. The entry was motivated by Pat’s grief at the death of an old family cat. Pat wasn’t comfortable with the idea that one could love another creature that was being excluded from the bargain in the afterlife. He and his brothers grew up between a river and the mountains, where they roamed countless miles and delighted in the ceaseless interplay of geography, climate, flora and fauna. In his journal entry, Pat speculated about this singular universality, and made up his mind that one didn’t need some anti-material monarchy buzzing with angels to accommodate himself to mortality.”
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