For Veterans Day in 2017, the Koch Brothers funded Bill of Rights Institute released a lesson for schools called, “Pat Tillman and Self Sacrifice: A Different Direction.” The lesson exploits the memory of NFL player Tillman, much as the U.S. government did soon after he was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.
The Bill of Rights Institute does not provide students any reference to Tillman’s own critique of the war, nor of his family’s campaign to learn the truth about his death. This information has been well documented, such as in this article by sports columnist Dave Zirin in The Nation,
After several missions into Iraq, in a war Tillman believed was “fucking illegal,” he started to read the work of people like Noam Chomsky and other critics of the war. Upon his return to the United States, Tillman even expressed a desire to meet Chomsky.
On April 22, Pat Tillman was killed. The first story, repeated at his nationally televised funeral, was that he was shot down by the Taliban in a ferocious firefight. He was posthumously given a Silver Star, which is awarded when a soldier falls at the hands of enemy combatants. The Bush Pentagon public relations machine was in overdrive, using Pat Tillman in death in a manner he refused when still alive. As his mother Mary Tillman said to me in 2008, “What’s so disturbing about after Pat’s death is the way the media ran with the perception they had of him, some kind of caricature of who they thought he was. It was so off that it was like he died twice.”
As if exploiting his death to aid the Iraqi war drive wasn’t obscene enough, the truth then emerged—Tillman actually died at the hands of fellow Army Rangers, killed in an incident described as “friendly fire.” His military journal and his uniform were burned on site. His death report was falsified.
Tillman’s family has undergone a decade-long quest to find out what actually happened and why they were lied to about his death.
The Bill of Rights Institute lesson invites students to “analyze Pat Tillman’s character as a gifted athlete and patriotic American” and to “examine Tillman’s demonstrations of self-sacrifice.”
Yet Tillman’s voice, and that of his family, are silenced. The Bill of Rights Institute lesson handout about Tillman ends with this flag-waving paragraph,
Although all Americans who were deployed to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sacrificed being away from their families, and many made the ultimate sacrifice, Tillman is an exemplar of self-sacrifice. He consistently sacrificed the allure of wealth for doing what was right. Because of his gratitude for the liberties America affords, he was committed to sacrificing for the ideal of loyalty and then patriotically serving his country after it had been brutally attacked. He gave his life in a tragic event fighting for his fellow Americans.
Kevin Tillman, who enlisted with Pat to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote an essay in Truthdig on the anniverary of Pat’s birthday in 2006. His words would provide students a more critical analysis of war. Here is an excerpt,
Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started. Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.
Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.
Somehow faking character, virtue, and strength is tolerated.
Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.
On Veterans Day and all year long, students deserve to learn the truth about war, including from the veterans themselves.