In the 2010 documentary film, The Tillman Story, the story of Pat Tillman and his tragic death at the hands of “friendly fire” is retold. Tillman was the NFL star who gave it all up to join the military cause in Afghanistan after being inspired by 9/11 to do something for his country. He did not do it for the glory or publicity, and gave up a lucrative football career for what he perceived to be a worthy cause. After his death the U.S. government implemented a publicity campaign to use Tillman’s death as a tool to promote the war as a cause so worthy that even a highly-paid NFL star believed it to be worth the sacrifice. What the government failed to mention is that Tillman was killed at the hands of his fellow soldiers during a “fog of war” incident in a steep and narrow slot canyon in which there was much confusion about where enemy fire was originating. It’s a very disturbing film to watch—infuriating in fact—and Jon Krakauer’s book, Where Men Win Glory, presents the story in excruciating detail in a compelling narrative.
Pat Tillman was an atheist. At his funeral his younger brother Richard got up to speak, visibly upset, noticeably inebriated, and with beer in hand proceeded to thank everyone for their warm sentiments, but upbraided those like Maria Shriver and Senator John McCain who made religious overtones in their sentiments, noting about his brother Pat: “He’s not with God, he’s fucking dead. He’s not religious. Thanks for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead.”
Later in the film there is a radio interview presented with Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, who was the Regimental Executive Officer at Forward Operating Base Salerno on Khost, Afghanistan, under which Tillman was serving at the time of his death, and who led the military investigation into Pat’s death. I found the following exchange to be among the most disturbing things in the entire film that was missed by most reviewers, starting in reference to the grieving Tillman family who were at the time vigorously pursuing an investigation into Pat’s death and the government cover up of it:
Kauzlarich: “These people are having a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs. I don’t know how an atheist thinks, but I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough. If you’re an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die what is there to go to? Nothing. You’re worm dirt. It’s pretty hard to get your head around that.”
Host: “So you suspect that’s probably the reason this thing [the family’s persistence in getting to the bottom of Pat’s death] is running on.”
Kauzlarich: “I think so. There’s not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system.”
So…if you’re an atheist it means that you’re not going to buy into the belief that death—even a tragic, unnecessary, and friendly-fire death—will somehow be made acceptable by the belief that all will be made right in heaven where all the good Conservative Christian soldiers will meet up once again. This is very disturbing. What this knucklehead nincompoop is saying is that if the Tillman family were good Christians they would have gone along with the patriotic platitudes of the military in assuaging everyone’s grief by pretending that it was all done in the name of god and country. But since the Tillmans are atheists it means that they actually want truth and justice now! How inconvenient. How pathetic. And this is yet another point against religious belief: it leads you to blur your focus on the here-and-now and let slip your grip on reality, and allow yourself to be manipulated by those who have neither the conscience nor the courage to stand up for what is right and true.