The networks and other custodians of consensus sicced the dogs of war on anyone who dared question Pat Tillman’s post-Sept. 11 epiphany. Tillman, may he rest in peace, abandoned his NFL career and a $3.6-million contract to become an Army Ranger. As Len Pasquarelli of ESPN put it, "His conscience would not allow him to tackle opposition fullbacks where there is still a bigger enemy that needs to be stopped in its tracks." Tillman was killed last month in a skirmish in Afghanistan.
Syndicated political cartoonist Ted Rall, very much outside the consensus, caught hell for his ridicule of Tillman’s apotheosis. MSNBC.com pulled Rall’s strip, and the cartoonist endured an avalanche of death threats. Rall’s cartoon was indeed unkind. He referred to Tillman as "a sap" and an "idiot" for naively buying into the administration’s rationale for war.
In one caption, the cartoonist scribbled that Tillman was a "cog in a low-rent occupation army that shot more innocent civilians than terrorists to prop up puppet rulers and exploit gas and oil resources." Like so many justly discredited conspiracy theorists on the far left (and right), Rall managed to fudge the issues. One can certainly argue in favor of the first part of Rall’s characterization of the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Although our government refuses to clutter its databases with information about collateral damage, the number of innocents killed in Iraq has passed 10,000; in Afghanistan, the figures are fast approaching that.
Conversely, Rall’s gas-and-oil conspiracy is evidence of no more than an erosion of reason. This absurdity is of a piece with the claim that the casus belli for war was Israel. Be it in their allegation of a war for a "greater Zion" or a war for oil, too many execrable editorialists like Rall have not hesitated to substitute inference and innuendo for facts.
In another caption, Rall accused Tillman of "falsely believing that Bush’s war against Iraq and Afghanistan had something to do with 9-11." Again, Rall’s self-serving ideological occlusions distort the truth. He conflates the legitimate cause for action in Afghanistan Sept. 11 with the misbegotten motives for war in Iraq, an error I took care to avoid in my recently published book: "While I don’t condone the lingering American presence in Afghanistan, and while I doubt the abilities of the U.S. military to contain al-Qaida there," there can be no question that "The Taliban openly gave succor to [al-Qaida] … and its masterminding leadership."
Rall’s comic strip was without a doubt in poor taste. Tillman admirably rejected the narcissistic pathology, and its attendant TV tell-all, the world has come to associate with America. Despite his celebrity, Tillman embarked on his lonely mission with not a camera in sight. Who can dispute that he was brave and motivated by a sense of duty that he harbored a deep conviction about the nobility of his actions?
That Tillman was the antitype to the Ugly American that has emerged from the Abu Ghraib jail does not mean that his death was not a horrible and futile waste. To believe otherwise, one has to buy lock, stock and barrel our government’s claim that American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are defending Americans on U.S. soil. This is at best a stretch; at worst, an obscenity.
To believe that Tillman and the 900-plus other soldier victims did not die in vain one must have internalized the abstractions our politicians have force-fed to a torpid public. No one’s "freedoms" are more secure now that Pat Tillman is dead; good is no closer to obliterating bad, nor will it, certainly not by conquest and coercion. As for democracy, it is the tyranny of a slim majority that has brought us this far.
Peggy Noonan and Andrew Sullivan lauded Tillman for making the ultimate sacrifice for the alleged (and ever-illusive) common good, waffling in wonderment about the "pay cut of roughly $3.54 million dollars over three years" that he took.
Philosopher Adam Smith’s wisdom runs contrary to the neoconservative nonsense espoused by these Beltway lap dogs. Smith would have advised Tillman to act in enlightened self-interest, and reject the state’s definition of the common good, especially in the era of ideological wars. "By pursuing his own interest," wrote Smith in "The Wealth of Nations," "[man] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good."
Had he been guided by Adam Smith’s "Invisible Hand," Tillman would have truly benefited himself and many others, not least his wife. Instead of his ashes, she would still have his love, companionship and, quite possibly, his gorgeous offspring (Pat Tillman was a glorious specimen of a man). Tillman’s immense earning power, scorned by our collectivists, would truly have redounded to the public good. Instead of once-off work for the undertaker, Tillman would have generated jobs for years to come.
A nation that values human life is obliged to reject the culture of death propagated by the neoconservative dogs of war. To be genuinely pro-life demands that we worry much more than we do about the pagan and promiscuous sacrifice of fabulous men like Pat Tillman.