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April 26, 2007--

Flash:  Further Analysis into Inspector-General Report and Congressional Hearings Show Pat Tillman DID Die a Hero After All.  

It's undisputed that Pat Tillman was killed during a mission on which he and all members of  his platoon and the battalion of which it was a part expected a high risk of ambush.  It's a risk that troops heroically accept so routinely that virtually none of them would characterize such action as "heroic."  Back to this in a moment.

An unrelated event also sheds light on this issue.  Almost immediately after the fall of Baghdad, a field officer sent a company of troops on foot-patrol through Baghdad to perform combat reconnaissance.  Most civilians probably know (or at least could correctly guess) that the goal of "combat reconnaissance" is to discover whether enemy forces are in the vicinity and, if so, where, in what numbers, and with what weapons.

I remember listening to a live audio account of that patrol by Rick Leventhal, a Fox News reporter embedded with that unit.  During such live account Leventhal explained what those of us who've had military training already knew but few, if any, civilians without such training would have known absent such live-account explanation by Leventhal:  that each person performing such mission knew one of its intended functions to be to "draw fire" from any enemy in the vicinity-- i.e., for each participant to risk being the first casualty of such encounter.  To not recognize that their willingness to perform this mission (including, by the way, Leventhal's willingness to accompany them) requires heroism is to lack an understanding of what "heroism" is.  That military personnel routinely undertake such risks without deeming or claiming themselves to be "heroes" proves their professionalism and modesty but doesn't negate the intrinsically heroic nature of the undertaking.

In that particular patrol, no one was killed or wounded.  Suppose, however, that one of our troops were to have been killed by a member of another American patrol mistakenly believing he was firing upon enemy personnel.  Would such mistake by the member of the other patrol in any way negate the heroism of the one killed?  Of course not.  Suppose the person killed were to have been Leventhal.  Would there have been be anyone who would have disputed a characterization of such event as the death of a journalist while heroically performing his job?   Of course not.

In a different context recently, one SWAT team member mistakenly killed a fellow SWAT team member in the course of attempting to capture armed robbers.  Would anyone seriously claim that the killed member didn't die while heroically performing his duty?  Just as the "felony-murder" rule imputes criminal liability to the criminals (the armed robbers) for such death as "murder," there's a tacit understanding by all sensible people that there's a morally equivalent "mission-heroism" equation between the death of the SWAT team member and his heroic undertaking of the intrinsic risks of such duties.  Ceremonies at funerals of law-enforcement officers mistakenly slain by fellow officers in similar circumstances virtually always (and correctly) characterize the deceased as officers who died while heroically performing their duties-- regardless of whether ultimate investigation might be found to justify treating actions by fellow officers firing the fatal shots as "criminal negligence" or as un-blameworthy mistakes.

The point is that the mistaken killing of a person performing a duty intrinsically requiring heroism for its performance does not negate the heroism.  It's irrelevant to the issue of such heroism.  It's relevant only to a determination of whether such mistaken killing manifested un-blameworthy conduct, negligent conduct or criminal conduct.

Troops mistakenly killed by "friendly" fire while storming the beaches at Normandy were no less heroic that those killed by enemy fire.  No one would seriously dispute this.

Back to Pat Tillman's death.  He died while heroically serving his country on what he, and all his fellow troops, knew to be a very dangerous mission.  That the person whose weapon-fire caused his death was a fellow soldier is irrelevant to that issue.  Whether such person's conduct was un-blameworthy, negligent or criminal is likewise irrelevant to that issue.  It demeans Tillman's death and courage to even imply that it's somehow wrong for anyone (including the Army) to state the obvious:  that he died heroically serving his country.

For sake of accuracy, this is the point that Lt. Col., Bailey ought to have understood as a reason for telling the truth to Pat Tillman's brother, Kevin, who was serving in a platoon further behind on the same mission, rather than misguidedly thinking that "shielding" Kevin Tillman (and his family) from such information would prevent needless exacerbation of his (and their) grief.  Regarding Bailey's likely motivations on this issue, see "Respectful Questions for Kevin Tillman and Pat Tillman's Parents Regarding 'Cover-up' Allegations" (here).  Did Col. Bailey's action in attempting to shield Tillman's family in such manner violate military law?  Almost certainly.  Was it the kind of violation that may be excusable as a manifestation of a misguided sense of compassion?  Probably, in my opinion, but perhaps not.  But even if military law were to deem it inexcusable, a sense of fairness would not, in my opinion, warrant heaping calumny on Bailey for such grievous error in judgment.  Nor is it justified to heap calumny (rather than mere blame) on others who took too long to correct the record-- especially since virtually no one would want to do so without first having determined such correction to be both accurate and complete.

The ultimate point is that Pat Tillman died while heroically serving his country (here) after having turned-down a multi-million-dollar professional-football contract to do so.  The current obsession with the motives of those whose initial actions created an inertia that became partially responsible for inexcusable delays in furnishing the facts to Tillman's family serves to obscure Pat Tillman's heroism, which his surviving brother, Kevin, had likewise exhibited in having foregone a professional career to heroically serve his country as did Pat.

Jim Wrenn, Editor at WrennCom.Com; Editor at PoliSat.Com.

Permanent Link to this Commentary:  http://WrennCom.Com/CommentaryArchives/2007/20y07m04d26-01.asp.