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SECOND DEATH: THE MISAPPROPRIATION OF PAT TILLMAN’S LEGACY

September 07, 2018 4 Comments

SECOND DEATH: THE MISAPPROPRIATION OF PAT TILLMAN’S LEGACY

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.”   




4 Responses

Ben Parker
Ben Parker

September 19, 2018

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

John atteberry
John atteberry

September 19, 2018

Tillman American hero

Kaepernick spoiled brat who is a disgrace to the NFL

Lisa
Lisa

September 19, 2018

Excellent, well-written piece. Thank you for sharing.

Todd Bennett
Todd Bennett

September 19, 2018

There is many ways to express yourself about certain matters, but choosing not to stand to the American flag is not one of them. You can twist and tweek the ammendments to get them to mean just about everything and anything except what they were truly meant for. It is sad that one cannot stand on the two legs that God gave them to always no matter what honor our flag and the blood that it was spilled to make the freedom we all share as Americans when others who have fought fore it cannot because the no longer have legs defending it.
But that’s my opinion.
Thanks, Cabinetmanbennet@aol.com

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