Open this book to page 152 and grasp it firmly. Rip. In your right hand, you will have every bit of this story that you need to read — a couple of hundred pages examining the shooting of former National Football League standout Pat Tillman by his own troops in Afghanistan. It’s an exploration of how “friendly fire” incidents are covered up by the military, how they’re manipulated by cynical politicians, and how investigation into “the truth” is only desultorily pursued after much prodding.
In your left hand, you will have what amounts to luff on the Early Years of Pat Tillman. Throw it away. It is largely banal: “Pat started walking at eight-and-a-half months,” (p. 16); Pat “ran the ball into the end zone for another 14 touchdowns,” (p. 33).
In earlier works, such as Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s reporting is so thorough that he leaves the impression of writing a compelling tale from the inside out. Here, in the end-notes, readers learn that not all members of the Tillman family were willing to speak with Krakauer. He leans heavily on a book by Tillman’s mother, Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman. These factors may well have crimped Krakauer’s deeper insights and understanding. He’s reduced to recasting sports play-by-plays from Tillman’s college and NFL football games. Meaningless.
But when Tillman famously walks away from the Arizona Cardinals in mid-career and enlists in the military after 9/11, the book changes. And it’s a book that doesn’t really need Pat Tillman to be at its center. Krakauer’s exploration of several friendly-ire incidents are recounted in chilling detail. Offending soldiers or fighter pilots act as if in some sort of fugue state, remorselessly killing fellow Americans despite seemingly clear evidence that they had the wrong targets.
Cover-ups begin immediately.
Tillman’s clothing, for instance, was incinerated in violation of protocols that they be examined during the autopsy to glean forensic evidence.
Lies are told to families and media. Krakauer is strong here, angrily shaming the military for such disgraceful conduct.
Read this half of the book.