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After Pat’s Birthday

Posted on Sep 15, 2016
Pat and Kevin Tillman
Courtesy of the Tillman family

Pat Tillman (left) and his brother Kevin stand in front of a Chinook helicopter in Saudi Arabia before their tour of duty as Army Rangers in Iraq in 2003.

By Kevin Tillman

Editor’s note: Each week, we will reprint an article from the Truthdig archives. The following essay was first published on Oct. 19, 2006.


Kevin Tillman joined the Army with his brother Pat in 2002, and they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Kevin, who was discharged in 2005, has written a powerful, must-read document.

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after.  It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military.  He spoke about the risks with signing the papers.  How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people.  How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition.  How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out. 

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is.  Something like that.


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Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them.  Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet.  It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes. 


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 those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated. 

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense. 

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people.  So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity.  Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites. 

Luckily this country is still a democracy.  People still have a voice.  People still can take action.  It can start after Pat’s birthday. 

Brother and Friend of Pat Tillman,

Kevin Tillman


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By Jim Bailey aka fartsinsleep, October 20, 2006 at 3:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your missive is the best memorial for your brother I’ve seen so far, indeed for all of our brothers in arms.
Thank you.
Jim Bailey
Viet Nam 68-69

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By GordonR, October 20, 2006 at 2:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Very well written. Thanks Kevin for expressing it so effectively.
I now know that I have been naive, as lifewriter so eloquently put it. No one wants to believe the worst of their country. It may be a case of ‘too little, too late’ but now I know not to trust anything that these guys tell us. The blinders are off.
I now know what a ‘Damascus road conversion’ is, because I was a republican, and I’ve had my political party hijacked by neo-cons, my country stolen, everything that we called good has now been dragged through the mud, and my world has been turned upside down from where I thought it was. We should all be ashamed.
God have mercy on us all, though we don’t deserve it.

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By Heidi Patterson, October 20, 2006 at 2:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for your beautiful piece. You are a powerful writer, and I hope your words change more than a few minds. I fear for the United States, and suspect all our hopes may be in vain, at least for a decade or two more. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

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By alyce larkin, October 20, 2006 at 2:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

absolutely beautiful.  i was so touched.  this should be required reading for all those who pay lip service only to ‘support the troops.’

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By MalcomR, October 20, 2006 at 1:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks you so much for saying what we we all feel.

Thank you very much to show how a real American who fought for his country should talk.

I pray for the day when I can keep my heads high and proudly say that I was one of the generation who took down the most dangerous, the most arrogance and the most criminal gang of leaders out of the White House, until then, I keep my head down in shame, looking at the crime commited in our name in places far, far away from home and my eyes are full of tears for our brothers and sisters who are dying out there for a lie and for those countles number of innocent people who are dying every day in the hell we have created for them.


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By Stan Russell, October 20, 2006 at 1:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks Kevin. Let’s hope we’re all not in internment camps come election day. I wouldn’t put anything past this lying, disgusting, white trash that has stolen control of the government right from under our noses.

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By ash, October 20, 2006 at 1:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Very powerful and very sad to see what has happened to a family and to a country.
This brings home the evil of war and the evil of a government that only cares for money.A deep moral emptyness has spread like a virus through the entire land.To hate and kill in the name of Jesus is insane and a lie.There is something deeply deeply wrong with the people that are running the United States.

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By indePundit, October 19, 2006 at 10:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I believe that brother Kevin has now joined the ranks of the bonafide Patriots. My definition of patriot is based in an unwavering commitiment to TRUTH, JUSTICE and HONOR, along with the COURAGE to protect the US Constitution from enemies BOTH external AND internal. 

I’d love to see a national memorial service for Pat Tillman on his birthday.

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By Kat, October 19, 2006 at 10:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kevin, I’m so sorry about Pat. I can’t imagine how you and your parents feel. I just can’t. Nor, I think, can anyone else who has not experienced such an utterly profound loss.

Your writing is superb ... and your “somehow” points are so on the mark, I try not to dispair over the starkness of their truth. While I am confident November will bring better changes for America and her fine, brave soldiers, we must all vote (and dogwatch Diebold) to ensure this country gets back on track. Thanks, Kevin. Keep writing! God bless you and your family.

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By Mark D', October 19, 2006 at 9:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Powerful and poetic.

The truth just has a certain ring to it. Thanks for taking the time to articulate these truths so well.

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By Marcella Perry, October 19, 2006 at 9:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Kevin,

I can’t sotp from crying by reading this.  Everything you say is so true.  It breaks my heart to see our Country fall into such shame.

Your last paragraph is but a fantasy to us now.  I pray for better.

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By lifewriter, October 19, 2006 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The chain reaction of evil—wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Noble as it might seem, Mr. Tillman and his brother may have set off on their careers in the military with the intentions of bringing justice to those responsible for 9/11/01, but like many before them, those intentions were misguided, and in my opinion, naive.  To claim that America’s changed suddenly from a friend of the Earth to humanity’s very mortal enemy is to disregard decades of covert actions that supported and funded regimes that made a living of torturing and disappearing dissidents.  From Pinochet to Pol Pot, our brothers in arms, albeit covertly, and the US walked in lockstep with some of last century’s most notorious and celebrated murderers.

Well, apparently, the dress rehearsals and war games of the 80’s and 90’s are over.  The giant is awake and breathing fire…and here we sit mystified, wondering where the hell all of this rage came from.  The hatred that murdered the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans 250 years ago is a cancer that is still alive, malignant and now nuclear in her capabilities.  She goes where she pleases, with all three branches of governance in her grasp, covert no more, the festering growth is finally seen in all it’s terrorizing might.  We knew it was there, there’s no denying the Navy Seals, the Covert Ops, that toppled governments and finance ministries of the past were child’s play compared to the wide open secrets of today’s military affairs.  Bush et al brazenly state that the only way to preserve our democracy is to burn the Bill of Rights, kidnap Habeas Corpus, extraordinarily rendering it to a place where it will never be found.  Perhaps the mandate won’t stand up in the light of the Supreme Court, but by the time it takes this filing to be processed, Mr. Bush will be back in the geothermal air conditioned comfort of his Crawford Ranch home, with only Cindy Sheehan looking on from her crow’s nest some 300 yard outside his own private green zone.  Singularly shouting slogans through a bullhorn, her cumulative noise nothing but another annoyance; a gadfly.

That Mr. Tillman is upset, seems reasonable.  But I’ve got to wonder what was truly going through his mind during boot camp, when he learned the difference between his dick and his gun, one for killing, one for fun…did any of the conditioning he underwent make him see through the eyes of the beast into which he’d been ingested?

I’m left to ask the question posited by one of the last real diggers of truth that the world has the ever known: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?”
- Mahatma Gandhi

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By Kate, October 19, 2006 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have been hearing a lot about the anti-war movement. I am not really sure how to contribute, it seems like things have gotten way out of hand. What do we do? One of the members of the ChangeEverything community reccomended an interesting article on this…subject read it, here

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By John E. Smith, October 19, 2006 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Right up there with Keith Olberman’s scathing criticism of how our country, under Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzalez, Rice, & Rove, is losing its way in the sands of Iraq. As a soldier and a brother Kevin has credibility that is lacking in our administration’s echo of “stay the course.” Uh, what course is that?

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By kellina, October 19, 2006 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you so much for writing this.

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By Dick Myers, October 19, 2006 at 7:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hope this powerful message receives wide distribution.  I will pass it on to as many people as I can.  I urge others to do the same.

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