What the military did to the memory of Pat Tillman, the football player who gave up a lucrative career in the NFL to join the Army and eventually die in Afghanistan, was wrong. The fact that Tillman was felled by friendly fire in 2004 and the military then covered up all traces of that information is a colossal betrayal of trust, if not a criminal act. The government campaign which followed attempted to valorize the memory of Tillman as a heroic figure and symbol of national pride, but it was based on specious and manipulative information, indicative of the war-planners’ desperate need to invent heroes and good news at that point in the war. Tillman was awarded a Silver Star and a story was spun about his heroic conduct, sacrificing his life to spare those of his buddies. None of this was true, although what the facts actually are is still open to question. That we have learned this much about the Bush administration’s culpability in the cover-up is due to the tenacity of Tillman’s family, in particular his mother, Dannie, who pored over 3,000 pages of heavily redacted documents, piecing together portions of the truth. Though the story played out in the national media, this documentary makes effective use of commentary by Tillman’s survivors, who resent the way the military lied to them and exploited the memory of their loved one to serve an ulterior purpose. By extension, the nation was deceived and this movie recounts all the details. Of course, there’s a certain degree to which it can be said that director Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That
) also exploits Pat Tillman for his own purposes of making a movie that exposes deceptions occurring at the highest levels of the military and government. (Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who recently resigned his command in light of the Rolling Stone
scandal, is also implicated in the Tillman mess, along with indications that knowledge of the cover-up extended all the way to the White House.) Still, The Tillman Story
is an illustrative, cautionary tale, a fact-finding mission that was ultimately stonewalled by Congress, as we witness in heartbreaking footage of the cover-up hearings. The government may choose to stick its collective fingers in its ears, but we, the people, can do otherwise.