Patriots And Pawns:
Carolyn Baker Reviews Mary Tillman's
"Boots On The Ground By Dusk"
By Carolyn Baker
I was taken aback to receive a package from New Almaden, California nearly a month ago. I didn't know where the town was nor at that time, anyone there. Even more astounding was the discovery that the package contained Mary Tillman's book "Boots On The Ground By Dusk", her personal account of her son Pat's death and its impact on the Tillman family. As I opened the book and read Mary's inscription and her enclosed card, I was flooded with memories of working closely, in 2006, with Mike Ruppert and Stan Goff as they completed their heroic and herculean investigative report "The Tillman Files" for From The Wilderness.
Not only had I closely followed "The Tillman Files" but many interviews of Mary earlier in the past year, most notably in my opinion, the ones by Emily Wilson of Alternet and last year, Keith Olbermann's spectacular interview which I had watched on March 28, 2007. Now holding Mary's book in my hand, I thought there might not be much more to say about it, so I contacted her to see if I might interview her not specifically about the book but about how she's coping these days and the awarenesses she's come to.
True to the mother's loyalty that exudes from every paragraph of her book, Mary Tillman does not want the focus to be on her. She's tired of being in the media limelight and simply wants the world to know Pat's story-who he was and how he and his family were betrayed. So after completing Mary's book, I was drawn to focus on her process of discovering the truth about Pat's death and the meaning of her discovery for all of us.
Mary Tillman was a school teacher at the time of Pat's death, and like most working Americans, she was very busy and had little time to research the dark side of the United States government. Nor was she inclined to do so with two sons enlisting in the Army shortly after 9/11. As is the case with many individuals who begin digging deeper, it wasn't until a tragedy erupted in her life that she embarked on her personal mission to examine the innumerable layers of the system in which she grew up and in which she previously took pride.
Boots On The Ground By Dusk is the saga of Mary's journey to the truth-an account of the glaring inconsistencies presented to the Tillman family about Pat's death in tandem with the endless changing of stories and cover-your-ass behavior exhibited by the Army. No intelligent human being could blithely accept such discrepancies, and Mary Tillman is nothing if not intelligent. She has refined the process of researching, questioning, fact-checking, and cross-referencing to an art form. She had to-for her own sanity and to honor her two soldier sons. All of the facts are there in her book, as they are in detail in "The Tillman Files." A litany of "why" questions occupies Pages 227-229 of the book and reveals Mary's thought process as she grapples with glaring government contradictions. As I read it I kept mentally shouting, "Keep digging Mary, keep digging!" And so she did.
At one point she has a conversation with Dr. Justin Frank, author of Bush On The Couch, a brilliant psychological analysis of George Bush, Jr.:
"Hello, Dr. Frank. I'm Mary Tillman. I don't want to waste your time. I'm calling to ask you a question. Do you think it's possible that this administration orchestrated my son's death?"
"Sad to say, yes."
Mary states, "I'm positively stunned by his response. I thought he would gently tell me that he doesn't believe the administration is very honorable, but it would never do something so heinous as to have a soldier killed."
"You believe they killed him?" Mary numbly asks.
"I think it's possible. Mrs. Tillman, I'm a psychiatrist. It would be unethical and irresponsible of me to tell a grieving mother to pursue such a thing if I didn't think it was possible."
Mary has come to believe that Pat's death was orchestrated as a public relations strategy to gain support for the Iraq War in 2004 around the time of the Fallujah carnage and as the war was becoming increasingly unpopular in the United States. Shortly after Pat had enlisted, he received a letter from Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld, thanking him for enlisting and leaving the NFL to serve his country. Moreover, Mary cites a memo from Rumsfeld, to then-Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, "indicating that Pat was a very special young man. The language Rumsfeld used was that Pat was ‘world class' and that they should keep an eye on him." Mary states, "I'm not sure what that meant, but writing something like that, writing a letter to Pat, obviously he's going to be concerned when he's killed. He's going to want to know what happened." Thus Rumsfeld's denial of a coverup of Pat's death is, to say the least, extremely suspicious.
Dazzling headlines like "Football superstar makes the supreme sacrifice for his country" could only bolster the Pentagon's cause. Might it not make the war more palatable? Might it not inspire more young people to enlist?
At the time of her conversation with Justin Frank, Mary's focus is entirely on the death of her son, but not being Mary and not having lost a son to a government public relations campaign myself, I'm well aware that as heinous as it is to "have a soldier killed", it is even more heinous to have 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001, and that is exactly what happened, a New Pearl Harbor, that motivated Pat Tillman, his brother, and thousands more men and women to commit themselves to military service to "defend" their country. "I'm saddened," Mary says, "by how the government has betrayed not only Pat, but also the American public." (328)
As is always the case when people begin digging more deeply for the truth, Mary discovered an epidemic of anomalies among other military families who related their stories to her-stories of lies, coverups, and ghastly betrayal. Standing beside the Tillman family was Stan Goff, co-author of "The Tillman Files", not merely motivated by the desire to complete his investigative report, but by his own history as a Vietnam warrior and long-time outspoken critic of American imperialism. Stan, whose son is serving in Iraq, has worked tirelessly to support other military families and resist the war machine. The Tillman family desperately needed the support they got from Stan and many others because as Mary writes, "It's consuming and emotionally draining but very revealing. It takes weeks. There are days I become very angry that my family and I have to do this, just to get the truth that should have been forthcoming from the moment Pat died." (307)
Earlier this month (July 15), the Associated Press released "Probe Of Tillman Misinformation Goes Nowhere" which stated that "A ‘striking lack of recollection' by White House and military officials has prevented congressional investigators from determining who was responsible for misinformation spread after the friendly-fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in 2004, a House committee said Monday." In her book, Mary Tillman recounts in detail Congressman Henry Waxman's probe of Pat's death, but this most recent AP story relates that "The panel has failed....It received a flurry of White House e-mails but no documents about friendly fire. It interviewed several top White House officials: ‘Not a single one could recall when he learned about the fratricide or what he did in response'."
The silence remains unbroken.
Mary Tillman isn't following the sales of her book on a regular basis. That isn't why she wrote it. She simply wanted to get her message out into the world-the message of a grief-stricken mother whose pain and rage drove her to relentlessly pursue the truth about her son's death. Most reviews of the book have been positive. That the New York Times review of Boots On The Ground called it "clumsily written" reveals nothing in my opinion but the reviewer's inability to grapple with the deeply disturbing realities Mary Tillman and "The Tillman Files" have uncovered.
Boots On The Ground By Dusk and the investigative reporting of Stan Goff and Mike Ruppert are the only in-depth accounts we are likely to have for a very long time, if ever, regarding the murder of Pat Tillman which was one of myriad tragic facets of the U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both Mike and Stan in their individual writings have comprehensively documented the motivation behind these wars and the reality that both of them will be prolonged, pointless projects that will grind on for many years. Stan has written extensively about the use of asymmetric warfare by insurgents against traditional military giants like the United States, and Mike's exhaustive research regarding Peak Oil and 9/11 at From The Wilderness have illuminated the devious and demented political and economic system that has killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of human beings in the Middle East since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Unflinchingly, Mary, Mike, and Stan have revealed to the world a war machine without conscience that has devastated individuals, cultures, nations, and land with no regard for anything except the profits of war and America's insatiable thirst for oil. After reading their exposes, the mind reels with imagining how many more lies have been told to military families about the deaths of their sons and daughters. It is axiomatic that empires, without exception, decline and fall, and it is equally true that as they do so, courageous individuals who refuse to be pawned or conned come forth to expose the empire's nakedness. Mary Tillman has proven that one need not be a professional journalist or a decorated warrior in order to do so but merely a mother who will settle for nothing less than total transparency about the death of her son.
It is precisely the lack of conscience, mentioned above, which makes incidents like the Tillman murder and coverup not only possible but routine. Truth To Power has published numerous stories and articles on political ponerology, that is, rule by sociopathic individuals who possess no moral compass. It is worse than naïve to believe they can or will change. Moreover, we tragically delude ourselves if we believe that mainstream political candidates, purchased and promoted by corporations as the preferred "brand", can or will divest themselves from the sociopathic power milieu. The fate of America as empire was sealed when it became impossible for a common person of conscience to be elected president. That means that this empire cannot be "treated", "cleansed," "turned around", "reformed", or even "improved." It has already careened off the precipice. Where it will land, I know not. My work and yours, if you care about yourself, your loved ones, your land, your descendants is to prepare for where the long--or short, descent is taking us. In the meantime, the world is waiting for many more Mary Tillmans.