Correction to This Article
This review of Jon Krakauer's book, "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman," should have disclosed that the reviewer, Andrew Exum, had served as an unpaid adviser to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, whose role in the aftermath of Tillman's death is described in the book.

Andrew Exum Reviews Jon Krakauer's Book on Pat Tillman, 'Where Men Win Glory'

By Andrew Exum
Sunday, September 13, 2009


The Odyssey of Pat Tillman

By Jon Krakauer

Doubleday. 383 pp. $27.95

On April 22, 2004, I was standing in an operations center in Bagram, Afghanistan, watching two firefights on the monitors and screens in front of me. A platoon of U.S. Army Rangers and a special operations reconnaissance force were both under fire and in possible need of assistance. As the leader of a 40-man quick-reaction force of Rangers, I asked my squad leaders to gather our men while I awaited orders.

My platoon was dropped onto a 12,000-foot mountain at night to reinforce the small reconnaissance team that had been battling men they believed to be al-Qaeda fighters, killing two combatants. On the way south from Bagram, I listened on the radio to the U.S. casualty report from the other firefight: One killed in action, two wounded.

After a truly miserable night spent at high altitude near the Pakistan border, I arrived back in Bagram to learn the name of that Ranger killed in action: Spec. Patrick Daniel Tillman.

By now, the story of Pat Tillman is widely known: how he turned down a lucrative contract in the National Football League to join the U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; how he fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; how he died; and how the cause of his death -- friendly fire -- was kept from his family and the public for weeks in what, depending on your point of view, was either a gross error of judgment or a conspiracy engineered by the U.S. military and the Bush administration.

A full-length book on Tillman's life -- as opposed to shorter pieces, such as Gary Smith's excellent profile in Sports Illustrated -- has been needed for some time. Jon Krakauer would seem the perfect person to write it. A world-class alpinist turned author -- Krakauer was once a climbing partner of the late, great Alex Lowe -- he shares Tillman's sense of adventure and has excelled at telling other romantic, if ultimately tragic, tales in "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air."

If Krakauer had committed himself to telling Tillman's story, "Where Men Win Glory" might have been the latest in an unbroken string of superb books. But his book falls flat -- not least because he is more eager to launch an inquisition into the crimes of the Bush administration than to explore this single extraordinary life.

War takes place at four levels -- the political, the strategic, the operational and the tactical. The Bush administration deserves the lion's share of the blame for the political and strategic blunders of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For too many years, U.S. troops were spread too thin to accomplish mission-essential tasks in either country. But the errors that led to Tillman's death were all operational and tactical -- and the responsibility for these mistakes must be placed on the men making decisions under stress. Why or how an army was sent into combat is often irrelevant to the men on the ground. Their lives are, for the most part, in the hands of the enemy and their fellow warriors.

I am no fan of many of the Bush administration's decisions. I did not vote for the former president in either 2000 or 2004 and was so cynical about the U.S. invasion of Iraq that my platoon went so far as to engrave my judgment of the war -- "This is (expletive, gerund) ( expletive, noun)" -- on my going-away plaque. All of this would surprise Krakauer, who, among other things, labors under the misimpression that U.S. military officers are mainly political conservatives better at following orders than thinking critically. In reality, the men and women who serve in the U.S. military are as diverse as the people they defend.

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