October 25, 2013 by carlywont
So, as you can probably guess by my hiatus of nearly three weeks, Where Men Win Glory was a bit of a struggle for me. While I read Under the Banner of Heavenwith my signature moderately paced lackluster voracity, I had to force myself to make it through Where Men Win Glory and in fact, cheated on it with a few other books along the way. But I finished! Man, the length I will go for you, O Two Blog Readers! The arduous wait is over!
Where Men Win Glory is billed as a biography of the “odyssey of Pat Tillman.” In case you didn’t go to journalism school and weren’t therefore obsessed with this story, Pat Tillman was an NFL player who abandoned his glamorous (and lucrative) career to serve in the Army after September 11. The government ate up his selfless sacrifice for the nation and Tillman quickly became their patriotic poster boy, used as a sort of living, breathing rallying cry for enlistment and war. All this despite the fact that in reality Tillman was vocally dubious of the war, and was truly an atheist and free spirit. While in Afghanistan, he was killed (horribly, senselessly) by friendly fire. The military/government then went to great lengths to cover up the cause of his death, causing much anguish/betrayal to the Tillman family (and US citizens).
The first half of Krakauer’s book was the roughest for me. Krakauer describes Tillman’s high school and college football careers with excruciating detail. The reader can feel Krakauer’s boyish excitement over writing about specific games and plays. “Look Ma, I’m getting paid to write about football! Wee!!”
The first 200 pages of the book are essentially gratuitous.
And yes, Krakauer is known to love his characters but this was a little extreme for me. Krakauer is majorly ebullient when it comes to exploring Tillman’s gifts (granted, there are many), but incredibly gracious and magnanimous when it does his faults.
For instance, in describing a brutal beating Tillman gave to a fellow (innocent) high schooler, Krakauer writes:
“Much of Pat’s brilliance on the football field derived from his uncanny ability to anticipate the moves of opposing players, react without hesitation, and tackle the ballcarrier with a tooth-rattling hit. But Pat had just turned seventeen, and like that of other kids that age, his dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex—the region of the brain that weighs consequences—was far from fully developed.”
For me, the book became much more interesting once we finally moved out of the realm of football and into the military world. As the NYT review of the book pointed out, Tillman doesn’t arrive in Afghanistan until page 230 of Where Men Win Glory. This is the book’s huge problem. (At least for non-football freaks and non-Pat Tillman fan club members.)
Once it did arrive, the second half of the book went quickly. As someone with no familial history of military service, that world is completely foreign to me. When I worked for a military seminar series at MIT, I became fascinated with the reality of those who serve and humbled by the incredibly real sacrifices those who do make. I also love reading and learning about the roots of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Krakauer touched on briefly. (For a more in depth look on that subject, I highly recommend Dexter Filkins’s The Forever War.) For these reasons, I did enjoy the latter part of Where Men Win Glory to a certain extent. Well, no teeth had to be pulled for me to finish it at least.
I suppose most of my disappointment in the book comes from my erroneous expectation that the crux of the piece would be the examination of the government’s control of public perception through the national media. UnlikeUnder the Banner of Heaven, which explored one particular story by setting it in the history of its larger context (that is, the history of Mormonism in America),Where Men Win Glory is truly a biography of Pat Tillman—not an in-depth look at the way the government interacts with the media to stoke fervor for war.
Krakauer certainly could have made the book much more complex, nuanced, and, well, interesting. Still, the way Pat Tillman chose to lead his life is inspiring and quite incredible…and certainly worthy of a book.
In the end, the book is only good because of Pat Tillman’s incredible moral fortitude, independence of mind and spirit, and selfless virtue (all of which were demonstrated in his many journal entries excerpted liberally by Krakauer throughout the book)—not because of Krakauer’s writing (or research) skills by any means.
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Krakauer was selling us yet another version of Tillman—this time his own.
So, I realize that I forgot to take a photo of Where Men Win Glory in the tub. You’re going to just have to use your imagination.
+ My tub in all its glory:
= Where Men Win Glory in a tub
K, I’ll leave you with this quote from Kevin Tillman, Pat’s younger brother:
“Revealing that Pat’s death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster during a month already swollen with political disasters, and a brutal truth that the American public would undoubtedly find unacceptable. So the facts needed to be suppressed. An alternative narrative needed to be constructed…
“After the truth of Pat’s death was partially revealed, Pat was no longer of use as a sales asset, and became strictly the Army’s problem. They were now left with the task of briefing our family and answering our questions. With any luck, our family would sink quietly into our grief, and the whole unsavory episode would be swept under the rug. However, they miscalculated our family’s reaction…
“But the fact that the Army, and what appears to be others, attempted to hijack his virtue and his legacy is simply horrific. The least this country can do for him in return is to uncover who is responsible for his death, who lied and who covered it up, and who investigated those lies and benefited from them….Pat and these other soldiers volunteered to put their lives on the line for this country. Anything less than the truth is a betrayal of those values that all soldiers who have fought for this nation have sought to uphold.”
[This is an archival post. It originally appeared on booksinatub.tumblr.com before Three Books migrated here.]