Friday, February 4, 2011

DVD Review: The Tillman Story

The Tillman Story *** ½
Directed By:
Amir Bar-Lev.

Pat Tillman was a NFL player who gave up a multi million dollar contract in the months after September 11th to enlist in the army. He refused to talk his decision publicly, but that didn’t stop him from becoming the most famous enlisted man in the army - and to the powers that be, and useful symbol of American selflessness and heroism. After his first tour of duty in Iraq, he became disillusioned with the war and the reason for it, but when he was home on leave, he had an opportunity to get out of the army, and return to the NFL - but he refused. He made a commitment, and he was going to see it through. On his second tour, this time in Afghanistan, he wasn’t as lucky, and was killed. His story quickly circulated, and once again, he was trotted out as a useful marketing tool for the war. But it wasn’t long before questions about Tillman’s death were raised. It turned out he was killed by friendly fire - and not only that, his unit may not have even been in a firefight at the time. It seems that there is a real chance that is death was caused by his fellow soldiers who got excited, and started firing for no reason. The army knew this, but instructed people not to go public with the information, or even tell Tillman’s family. As more of the truth leaked out, it appeared like there could be a cover up involved. If the army expected The Tillman family to simply go away and accept the accolades, they were mistaken. The Tillman family wanted the truth, and would not stop until they got it. That was more than 6 years ago now, and The Tillman family is still waiting.

Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary allows the Tillman family to tell their side of the story, without all the hoopla that normally surrounds talk of his military service and his death. Every side wants to use Tillman to support their own agenda - whether it’s the pro-war side, who wants to make him into a selfless hero who willingly sacrificed himself for his country, or the anti war side, who wants to paint him as a man who was betrayed by his country by sending him to a war they shouldn’t have been involved in in the first place. By Pat Tillman is not a symbol of anything - neither the pro or anti war. He was a person, and The Tillman Story allows him to be that for perhaps the first time.

Watching The Tillman Story, it is impossible not to get angry, not just at the way Tillman was killed, which was a waste, but also at the way his image was used at every turn. Yet watching the film, I also could not help but think of all the other soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years since the wars have started. How many other families have been lied to by the government in an effort to protect themselves? Would any one know who Pat Tillman was if he was just another nameless, faceless soldier who was killed and not the most famous enlisted man in the army? Would the media have cared or paid any attention to his death?

The Tillman Story is a sad documentary - it is a documentary about a family who lost a son, a brother, a husband and wants to know how and why, and cannot get the answers that they deserve. But underneath that sadness, there is anger - at the way the government handled itself, the way they shift the blame to people who had already retired, and made no changes to the way things were done. Anger at the way the media made this into a huge story, and then simply left it behind when another story came about. Whether you are for or against the war isn’t the point of The Tillman Story. What is the point that the soldiers who put their lives on the line to fight in our name deserve respect from the government who sent them into harms way in the first place - and Pat Tillman didn’t get that respect, and it makes you wonder how many other young men who sacrificed their lives were treated similarly?

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