Article Shared with approval.  Original Post by Megan Mobbs on Kinetic Syndicate

There is an inherent connection between war fighting and politics.  Even how and why we honor our Nation’s war dead is complicated by this dynamic.  

From the American Revolution, service member memorialization has been convoluted by the political nature of declaring and waging war. Warfare and the result of warfare – those killed in action – has been used throughout our history to advance political agendas.  In order to unify the Nation and generate support for his message, Abraham Lincoln capitalized on the catastrophic loss of human life at Gettysburg to deliver one of his most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address. Following WWI, General Pershing argued that fallen American service members should remain in battlefield graves as a political message to our European allies to remind them of our sacrifice. The political appropriation of the fallen in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan received similar treatment, though in different and varied capacities.   

So while the politicization of the war dead by our government is not a recent phenomenon, the appropriation of the fallen by our veterans and active duty service members is. Enabled by social media, veterans and service members rampantly misuse memories of the fallen to communicate their own beliefs and feelings about service and sacrifice. With a large portion of post-9/11 veterans feeling at odds with the society they are expected to reintegrate back into, much of the frustration appears to be the result of an all-volunteer force who shouldered the burden of the past 17 years of warfare.  In its wake, a substantial civilian-military divide has emerged.  Characterized as those who have served in uniform and those who have not, there exists a widening demographic, social, culture, and moral gap between the two.  Resultantly, there at times seems to be an inability on both sides to appreciate the full experience and contributions of the other. 

Problematic for a variety of reasons, this division frequently bears itself out in an unproductive and caustic manner during times of heightened National tension or frustration.  Nike’s recent unveiling of Colin Kaepernick as the face of their 30-year anniversary campaign and the subsequent response from many in the military and veteran community is one more data point in the construction of the ugly nature of this divide. 

In a misguided effort to communicate feelings of distance and differentness, a lack of societal appreciation, and conflicting beliefs about the nature of sacrifice, many military and law enforcement social media pages used images of Pat Tillman overlaid with Nike’s Kaepernick tagline: “Believe in something.  Even if it means sacrificing everything.”    

Pat Tillman, the NFL star who turned down millions and enlisted after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was killed in action by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.  This is not the first nor will it be the last time Pat Tillman is exploited.  While this current use seems largely apolitical, it does not make it any less damaging or irresponsible. Sadly, it seems to matter little to the population it should matter to most that his widow, Marie, has asked people to not use her husband to suppress the views and beliefs of others.

“The very act of self-expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart—no matter the views—is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for.” –Marie Tillman

The juxtaposition of Kaepernick and Tillman is the type of ‘us versus them’ behavior that leads to prejudicial attitudes, silencing of opposing viewpoints, and privileging military service as the sole-definition of sacrifice. Regardless of feelings towards Kaepernick, by reducing Pat Tillman to two sentences we fail to honor him and the legacy he left behind.  The continued, unsanctioned use of his image is a misappropriation of the memory of a man who was as multifaceted as he was heroic.  It may yet be that the greater tragedy is not the death of his body, but the assassination of his spirit and the use of his sacrifice in the widening of the civilian-military divide.

As he sat in his tent outside Iraq, Pat prophetically wrote in his journal, “My heart goes out to those who will suffer.  Whatever your politics, whatever your believe is right or wrong, the fact is most of those who will feel the wrath of this ordeal want nothing more than to live peacefully.”  A complex, introspective man, Pat believed there were no “true answers” to much of life and that dialogue, questioning, and critical thought were essential to understanding life and another’s perspective.  It is hard to say how Tillman might personally feel towards Kaepernick, but what’s not difficult to say, because Pat said it himself, is that “to err on the side of passion is human and right.”   


  • Joe

    Did Tillman have a trademark on that saying? No Kaepernick didn’t give his life for his country. He gave everything he had, including his livelihood and millions of dollars for what he believes in. Tillman made the ultimate sacrifice. And if you want to discuss disgrace, talk about the military trying to cover up the cause of Tillman’s death. But don’t mistake giving up everything, with making the ultimate sacrifice.

  • Donovan Jacobs

    I’ve bought two pair so far. Great product. Flag add ons a great idea. How about the “Don’t Tread on me flag” Gadsen flag?

  • Mark Garrigan

    I live in Reno, am a retired public servant and watched Kaepernick play football at the University of Nevada Reno. He had a good arm and heart when he was in college.

    To compare Collin Kaepernick to Pat Tillman is morally reprehensible! To say that Kaepernick sacrificed everything boils my blood.

    Pat Tillman gave up everything serving his country. Kaepernick gave up everything disrespecting the memory of a man that allowed him to do disrespect his country.

    Thank you to Pat Tillman and Combat Flip Flops for what you have done and what you do. Respectfully submitted.


  • Vic

    Man… I love the concept of this company… But I have some constructive criticism FWIW. Here are some points I contend with:

    “Tillman is being exploited, it is irresponsible” – Wow, just wow. Tillman sacrificed his life serving us. Kaepernick got pissed off that he had to backup to Blaine Gabbert, so he threw a hissy-fit. The talking heads on cable sports shows were the first ones who manufactured the social justice narrative. Kaep realized that was a better narrative than the disillusioned backup quarterback narrative so he ran with it. Kaepernick is and always has been an opportunist. I’m sorry you can’t see that. Tillman is a hero. Calling BS on the mainstream’s misguided hero-worship of Kaep by invoking Tillman is not “exploitation”.

    “Tillman believed there were no ‘true answers’ to much of life” – Ugh, so are you saying Tillman was a nihilist? I don’t think he was. I never met him, but I can’t imagine how a man who was so driven by his convictions and values that he achieved the highest level at basically everything he set out to do, didn’t really believe in objectives truths to “much of life”.

    This blog is weak sauce and mealy-mouthed. Here are a few things that are unequivocally true: #1 everything has an objective truth otherwise we should all just be nihilists. #2 USA is the best country on earth #3 the “oppressed” in this country are not actually oppressed #4 social media and political correctness are weakening our ability to call BS when conflicts to #1 arise.

    I know I’m critical here. But I hope you’ll allow my perspective. Wouldn’t it be ironic if you censored this? Considering your point about open dialogue.

  • Ben Parker

    Thank you for a thoughtful and well reasoned op-ed. I wish more people could have your expansive perspective.

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