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Pat Tillman’s Atheism

by Michael Shermer, Sep 13 2011
The Tillman Story (DVD cover)

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.

111 Responses to “Pat Tillman’s Atheism”

  1. Max says:

    “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…”

    “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…”

    Are you saying the colonel was right or not?

    • David H. says:

      I took it that Dr. Shermer believes the Colonel to have “accused” the family of stirring things up probably because they are atheists (“It may be because of their religious beliefs”); if they were good Christians, they would have let things go and not raised questions. I concur with his analysis, based on the quoted passage.

      • Umm... says:

        I think what the Colonel was saying is that ‘good Christians’ would have been somewhat consoled by the knowledge that Pat was in heaven, whereas atheists (not having the benefit of such consolation) are channeling more of their grief into blaming the government, etc.

        I took the Colonel’s statement – “There’s not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system.” – not as a slam on an atheist’s lack of faith per se, but rather on why “the system” was the target.

        But I haven’t seen the movie, so…

      • TimR says:

        Those darn atheists, why do they keep targeting “the system” that lied to them over and over and insisting it is flawed?

        If they had religion, the truth about his death wouldn’t matter. It’s not like there’s a commandment against lying.

        I’m thinking the Colonel knows nothing of the Tilmans or even religion ;)

      • Agitant says:

        “My anger’s not misdirected, unless it somehow misses you!” Point of my quote here being, if their atheism causes them to have less peace than a religious view, and they apply it to questioning the system, then it’s a good thing. It’s a horrible thing to have someone you love die, but if you can turn your negative emotions into resolve, you can do something powerful, as the Tillmans did.

  2. Jes says:

    Another thing that’s glossed over by these nonthinkers is the fact that for those who believe in an afterlife, the “utimate sacrifice” really isn’t so ultimate; they believe they’re headed to a better place. Only an atheist can truly “give all”, since he’s risking everything he believes he is.

    • tmac57 says:

      Yes! I was having that exact thought after reading the article.

      Contrast that with a Christian’s belief that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” wait,didn’t God promptly resurrect him? So what was the sacrifice? Now if he were to have left him dead for all time…now there’s a sacrifice!

      • Phea says:

        A lot of people would also, (perhaps regretfully), offer to burn in hell for eternity if it would “save” every other human on the planet.

    • bopfan says:

      “Another thing that’s glossed over by these nonthinkers is the fact that for those who believe in an afterlife, the “utimate sacrifice” really isn’t so ultimate; they believe they’re headed to a better place.”

      Could this not also have been the thinking of Mohammad Atta and the others who commandeered the jets on 9/11?

      BTW, read the book and saw the movie. Was angry at the spineless behavior of Waxman and others who allowed the military to offer weak excuses for their behaviors.

    • Agitant says:

      As I saw in another article: “There are only atheists in foxholes” If you have absolute faith in a protecting loving God, who will reward your sacrifice, then you need not fear knives, bullets or Bombs, you need only stride towards your enemy and watch them flee. Or die, and be rewarded in heaven. Of course, since everyone realises it is folly to do such a thing, it raises the question of how powerful is the faith of the faithful?

  3. Trimegistus says:

    So we’re supposed to agree with a drunken asshole who insults people at a funeral, but be mad at a colonel whose opinion seems quite reasonable? (I make no guesses about how true it is.)

    And skeptics wonder why we don’t get more traction among the general public. Here’s a clue: most people don’t like assholes, especially assholes who think they are enlightened.

    • Mark says:

      Yep. I’m with the brother on this one. The colonel is a bit more into the “indoctrination and rules and beliefs” side of things. The brother was, in my opinion, very, very entitled to express his opinion in the face of lies and propoganda.

      And, it is also my opinion your last line does apply here; primarily to yourself.

    • Smorg says:

      You wrote:
      “So we’re supposed to agree with a drunken asshole who insults people at a funeral, but be mad at a colonel whose opinion seems quite reasonable? (I make no guesses about how true it is.)”

      But you should have written:
      “So we’re supposed to agree with a drunken asshole who insults people who were trying to impose their own ideological matyrdom onto his now defenseless brother at the brother’s funeral, but be mad at a colonel whose opinion seems quite reasonable only to those who think that Atheists have no valid viewpoint and should get to rest in peace after they die without being made into a religious boy hero for a religious group’s or a government cause? (I make no guesses about how true it is even though I could have found out by a little googling before shooting my mouth off at someone whose brother had just died and who wasn’t allowed to properly grieve for him because of all the lies and innuendos the people who sought to use this funeral as their propaganda tool were indulging in.)”

    • Rich says:

      Using a funeral as an opportunity to push beliefs that the deceased explicitly rejected is the height of callous arrogance and is rightly greeted with vehement vocal rejection, whether those beliefs are religious, political, personal, or what have you.
      I would like to thank in advance any “drunken asshole” who has the self-confidence to mourn in his own way, and the courage to stand up at my funeral and tell someone spouting religious platitudes to STFU.

      • [gold star of approval]

      • Agitant says:

        Better yet, kick the politicians out. If some bastard more concerned with religious agendas and his election uses the death of an atheist as his religious pulpit, he should be hounded from the funeral. The only thing that that “Drunken Asshole” wrong, in my humble opinion, is he didn’t go far enough. I know if someone decided to insult my relatives at their funeral, I would be taking it outside.

    • badrescher says:

      The brother is an asshole because he spoke out against his brother’s memory and selfish act being USED to promote someone else’s religious beliefs and political agenda?

      I’d say more, but I think Smorg covered it.

      • Amy (T) says:

        (tried to post this the other day from my iPad, but didn’t work)
        the “drunken” brother says he was not drunk. In an interview with Bill Maher, he said that was his first (maybe 2nd, my memory is not that good) beer. That his comment was just him being his “feisty self” (or something along those lines).

    • Joey H. says:

      I see no reason to bemoan the fate of the maligned skeptic here. Complain about atheists if you want, as that’s the subject of the post, and as one does not equal the other.

    • Beelzebud says:

      You should investigate your own clue some time…

    • John Nielsen says:

      At my father’s memorial, I had to upbraid my older, alcoholic brother for deciding my father worked as a defense contractor instead of the NASA engineer he actually was for 40 years. My brother wasn’t drunk yet since it was before noon. I must point out that Tillman’s brother being drunk may have been a reaction borne of grief; my lying brother’s is due to lifestyle. And I certainly agree with Mark about your final sentence.

      McCain and Shriver were there to get their mugs on television. When my friend was blown in half by the Mosul mess tent bomber, no celebrities/politicians were at his funeral. Why? He was a career SeaBee, and therefore a nobody.

      • tmac57 says:

        Sorry for the loss of your friend John. Of course as you and his other friends and family know he WAS somebody.

    • aqk says:

      So we’re soupposed to believe….?
      Well, yes. We are! Got a problem with that?

      Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into skyscrapers.

      • Phea says:

        “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into skyscrapers.”

        I think you have a bumper sticker/Tee-shirt there….

    • Agitant says:

      You’re an asshole, Trimegistus. You didn’t actually read the article did you? The person who you called a drunken asshole? That’s the dead man’s BROTHER. At a funeral, you respect the family. A funeral is a family comiseration of loss. To have your relatives boss get irritated at your questioning of the system is not only offensive, but an attack on your right to question the system. Not only that, but if someone tries to overlay a religious overtone on the funeral of an atheist, and in the case of McCain etc, for a political motivation, then that person should not be welcome at the funeral. This isn’t some random skeptical “Drunken Asshole”. This is a person who refuses to allow the memory of their loved ones to be tarnished by others.

      Yeah, your bit on being an asshole and enlightened? Projecting so hard you could be a powerpoint presentation.

  4. Ted says:

    “assholes who think they are enlightened”… was that a joke….because that’s every evangelist, preacher, priest, Jehovah witness, christian, jew, and muslim, I have ever met. Give me a break!

  5. Kenneth Polit says:

    If they were Good Christians(TM) they would go along because they would be used to being lied to and bullshitted.

  6. Sheila says:

    Isn’t the real story that your government lied to you and continues to do that on a daily basis?

  7. Mark says:

    Sheila sums it up nicely. US citizens are very, very patriotic, and thus great swallowers of doctrine. This poor family was just expected to play their part in a national pantomime.

    While I have the greatest respect for soldiers who serve their country, I have no respect for those who spin up the tales and hype to start the wars, or those who do so to maintain them.

    And I have little respect for a public who allow it all to happen, glorifying pointless deaths such as that of Tillman, and swallowing the emotive concept of “we are a nation at war!”

    I suspect there is a lot of self interest in maintaining these wars, by connected politicians, by a bloated military hierarchy which needs wars for promotions and expansion, by a myriad of war connected industries and businesses, and by regional politicians whose wards benefit from a missile factory or a military base.

    • tmac57 says:

      You make some fine points Mark. Eisenhower’s caution against the “Military Industrial Complex” has many layers,one of which is the motivated reasoning that governs voters and politicians to make the choices that they do. It has taken on a life of it’s own.

  8. JBlilie says:

    Interestingly, Kauzlarich shows up in Craig Mullaney’s memoir The Unforgiving Minute, which is pretty good, though I sum it up as: The soldier’s memoir as written as a Havard admissions essay. Just a little too perfect. And he’s a bit of a self-righteous so-and-so as well.

  9. Max says:

    I don’t know how a Christian colonel thinks, but I can only imagine that to him the Tillman family was grasping at straws sort of like 9/11 truthers. Shermer blames “agenticity” for both religious and conspiracy thinking, and the colonel links a lack of faith in a higher power to a lack of faith in the system. Zeitgeist the film is a good example of that.

  10. Dr. Dim says:

    Pointless deaths? I don’t suppose Pat Tillman would think his death was pointless. If he would have thought that way, he wouldn’t have left the NFL to enlist.

    • Mark says:

      I absolutely agree with you there. I have the greatest respect for men who fight for their country, for they risk all for the sake of others. No doubt Tillman very seriously thought it was a matter of of great national importance.

      However, in my opinion, it was more about a president cynically judging the mood of a people, (and succumbing to that of a baying military, straining at the leash) and instead of making calming, rational decisions which would have been obvious to all, he chose to take the knee-jerk popular path, pointlessly boosting his own opinion poll ratings for a short time, but committing these brave young men to absolutely meaningless campaigns.

      And the structures of government and military institutions in the USA mean the bad decision making tends to be self-perpetuating. It would take a very strong, clear thinking leader to pull back from that mess, and for the sake of the poor citizens of those foreign nations who found themselves embroiled in a meat grinder, I’m not sure it could all be wound down more quickly that it is.

      At least it is not so bad as the Vietnam war, where various administrations were just happy to let it tick over, between bouts of enthusiastic activity, calmly disposing of their nations’ young soldiers lives with casual carelessness, and with no “end game” plan at all.

      • Mark says:

        Although… having read a little further, I now fully believe Pat Tillman had already reached reached the conclusion the whole thing was pointless.
        (See the extract below from a statement by his bother, Kevin Tillman, who also passed up a professional sports career and and who enlisted at the same time, and served in the same elite unit as his brother).

    • hmm... says:

      I can’t speak for someone I never knew, but I know some people who’ve served in the military. They don’t necessarily serve or sign up to fight for a specific cause. They often do it to do their part for their country, and fight for their brother soldiers. When the country exploits that decision, to send good people off to fight immoral conflicts for unclear goals, that’s when the question of what everything was for comes about.

  11. David S says:

    As an Evangelical Christian, I can see the colonel’s point: it’s quite possible that the finality of Tillman’s death in his family’s belief system might drive them to pursue the investigation more than a believer’s family might. I don’t think this makes the colonel a “knucklehead nincompoop”, I think it makes him a pragmatist who understands human behavior. However, he probably shouldn’t have made the statement since it’s easy to interpret it as prescriptive rather than descriptive, i.e. he essentially said “they’re probably doing this because they’re atheists” which sounds like “they shouldn’t be doing this, and they wouldn’t be if they were good Christians” to Shermer and many commenters here.

    On the other hand, as a libertarian and skeptic, I am horrified that the government used this man’s unfortunate accidental death as propaganda, then attempted to cover it up to sustain their narrative. The brother’s grief-stricken reaction was inappropriate but understandable; adding religious overtones to Tillman’s sacrifice was just inappropriate. Many people volunteer for service out of a sense of religious duty, but that narrative shouldn’t have been imposed on Tillman’s when his genuine motivations are inspirational enough. Without having seen the documentary, I’d have to say that the whole incident sounds like a government debacle of the unfortunately typical kind, made worse by those who would link criticism of his family to criticism of their religious views.

    • Mark says:

      Nicely said David. But I see an amount of cynical logic in the Colonel’s words, for whatever his religious beliefs, one would think he might be intelligent enough to separate the calming platitudes of religious prose (so well shaped over centuries is to help people cope with the “meaninglessness” of death) from the realities which are right before his eyes.

      However, I may be wrong in that, the Colonel may truly believe his own words. It is frightening how well men can be programmed, (by religion, by tribal or national associations, by focussed military indoctrination) but, that is truly the predominant nature of man.

    • Dave says:

      I honestly have to comment that, to me, saying you’re an Evangelical Christian and a skeptic is something of an oxymoronic concept.

      Additionally, I can’t concur with the colonel’s (or your) assessment. I suspect their tenacity in persuing an investigation has more to do with their lack of willingness to just accept the military’s story. That very well may be tied to their atheism in that they probably don’t feel a tribal kinsmanship that they would otherwise feel toward the great Christian Military machine were they Christians.

    • Jymbo says:

      Wait.. you said a sceptic and an evangelical chritian? You are not a sceptic. You are a delusional fool. We atheists do not want your filth anymore. If you choose to believe in magic and zombies, you should expect to be properly ridiculed. Keep your fairie tales out of our soldier’s funerals. They have no business in Christian state funerals, let alone for an atheist.

      • Agitant. says:

        I wouldn’t put in so harsh a way, but, yeah, what the fuck? An Evangelical Christian is by nature of the Evangelist aspect, a Christian in the business of spreading his beliefs. The spreading of religious dogma is something that Skeptics are against. If you can’t prove it, then you shouldn’t be evangelical about it. Christians, and in fact, all religious people, can be skeptics, although, naturally foregoing some skepticism with regards to personal faith. But no Skeptic can be evangelical about a religion, without being himself the enemy that he fights against.

  12. BillG says:

    It should be prefaced to say Tillman’s brother has a justified right to be tossing F-bombs – there’s no rule book on how one grieves. War is beyond hell than most can comprehend and propaganda is a powerful weapon (and should be used), though on Tillman’s case it’s not.

    Not unlike many cases we look for blame where it’s not warranted. Kauzlarich may be an ignorant asshole but he didn’t gun Tillman down. Many want life to be black and white and certainly war is never tidy, nor lucid. I can only imagine what the brothers in arm that were involved – preventing madness is perhaps a daily task.

    • Agitant. says:

      Propaganda should Never be used. Unless something is true, and unless it is relevant, you shouldn’t say it. The propaganda dropped on Iraq made civilians flee the death squads to surrender to a moblie American invasion. The Americans couldn’t handle the refugees, so they were turned back. That’s not a good thing. The agitation of people in a hateful fervour led them to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq, and relinquish freedoms to a criminal government. Propaganda is not OK. If it’s entirely true, then possibly, but when you say that propaganda should be used, then you also are saying that deliberate biasing of people to a certain view, based on a political (As is the case with propaganda) view, is ok, rather than Skeptical thought.

  13. Josh says:

    It pains me to think that “Christians” somehow believe his death was justified. Unfucking believable. So if I’m Athiest, that’s why I’m angry? Fuck you. I’d be angry because my family member was accidentally murdered.

    • jay says:

      He wasn’t “accidentally murdered” He was killed. Unfortunately he was accidentally killed by his own comrades in arms. Happens sometimes, war is a confusing dangerous thing and people don’t always perform flawlessly.

  14. Acleron says:

    Trying to blame atheism for an interest in the truth is pretty awful. It would become totally reprehensible if this idiot knew there was a cover up.

  15. Hank says:

    Preventing madness in war is indeed a daily task. I spent four years in Vietnam and worked very hard at it. Regarding the slams above on religion, many people find comfort and stability in religion. That doesn’t make them stupid. Also, many people choose not to embrace any religion and that is fine. Nobody really knows who is right because there is no proof either way. Why can’t we all just get along?

    • Agitant. says:

      That’s not what the anger is about. It’s about respect, and the lack of it shown by the establishment in Shiver and McCain’s tribute’s, to an atheist soldier, which were religious in nature. They’d be pissed off if I turned up at a funeral for one of their children and said an Islamic prayer, this is NO different. The Colonel also makes it clear that he thinks that their Atheism makes them question the military, and lays the blame at them for that.

      Of course you can find comfort in religion. I did once. But the question is, can you find comfort in something that not only comforts, but guides you, not necessarily to an end you designed.

  16. Beelzebud says:

    Great post, Shermer. The Tillman story is par for the course, in our “war on terror” propaganda. Let’s not forget Jessica Lynch. Remember the lies they told about her ordeal? The moment she was well enough to speak for herself, it was quite clear that she had been used for propaganda. I’m grateful that she was brave enough to tell the truth.

    As to the Colonel’s comments… It’s what I expect to hear, from someone who helped spread the lies about Tillman’s death, and kept the truth from his family.

  17. Pierre says:

    I doubt that Christians, or Jews or Muslims have the ultimate truth.
    The reason?
    The fact that these 3 disparate viewpoints even exist in the world at the same time. Could they each have a very small part of the truth?
    I could say the same about the 100,000 religions of India, or Buddhism, or those who believe in Tengri, or any religion.
    There has simply been too much distortion through the ages of each original insight. Since none is provable, or totally disprovable, all are equal in probability. And who is to say the Greeks and Romans were wrong, either?
    We must simply continue searching.
    In the meantime, we must allow each group their right to believe as they choose, so long as they do not affect the rest of us therefrom.

    • George Stearns says:

      Poor logic. Simply because people believe in different things does not mean that the beliefs are equal. Believing the world was flat in ancient Greece and believing the world was round based on observations of angles were not equally valid.

      • Agitant. says:

        Also, considering we know the roots of many of these religions, and can disprove most of them, we shouldn’t look for MORE religion. We should cut it out. If it reveals itself, if a n dimensional window in the sky opens, and the heavens proclaim, “I am the Lord your God.”, then yes, we have found the answer. But until then the ONLY thing a skeptic can do, is accept the NULL hypothesis. To operate on the assumption that a statement is true, before you have proven that it is not untrue, is a sure route to pseudoscience.

  18. Bjornfree says:

    Amidst all these interesting, reactive, intelligent, ridiculous, provocative comments, I want to emphasize what a courageous and wonderful film this is. The documentarians took a big risk, I believe, in being true to Pat Tillman’s and his family’s beliefs. And as charismatic and significant as Tillman was/is, I think the real hero here is his mother who was unflagging in her defiance and persistence in getting at the truth and having her son be portrayed in a faithful(!) manner. And I admire both parents for their freethinking way of raising their children to be individuals, capable of standing out from the crowd–even when the crowd was at a funeral. The Pat Tillman Story is the most inspiring movie I’ve seen in a long time.

  19. David says:

    David S says:
    September 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    As an Evangelical Christian….
    On the other hand, as a libertarian and skeptic….

    HUH? How on earth can you be an evangelical christian skeptic? Laughable buffoonery to say the least.

  20. David says:

    That’s like saying a “Christian philosopher”. How can one be a philosopher when you have already settled on some dogma with a worldview?

  21. Jim H says:

    Even drunks can speak the truth.

  22. Bill Dietrich says:

    The Tillman autopsy showed 3 small caliber bullet holes in his forehead within 2” to 3” of each other. Army doctors told the investigators that Tillman’s wounds suggested murder because the medical evidence did not match-up with the scenario as described. There were special forces snipers in the group immediately behind Tillman’s platoon.

    Tillman spoke to friends about his opposition to President Bush and the Iraq war, and he had made an appointment with notable government critic Noam Chomsky after his return from the military. The destruction of evidence linked to Tillman’s death, including his personal journal, led his mother to speculate that he was murdered. General Wesley Clark agreed that it was very possible that Tillman was murdered.

    On July 14, 2008, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a proposed report titled “Misleading Information from the Battlefield: The Tillman and Lynch Episodes.” The committee stated that its “investigation was frustrated by a near universal lack of recall among senior officials at the White House and the military.

    If it walks like a government cover-up, quacks like a government cover-up and looks like a government cover-up, it probably is. But if you believe there are government cover-ups, then we know you are just a conspiracy theorist.

    • Mark says:

      Amazing information.
      If this is all true (nature of death, and Tillman’s political views) it casts the administration in an even worse light. And, whatever other claims are made, it does seem clear his notebooks were burned by members of his unit, in violation of all protocol.

      Tillmans’s brother also passed up a professional sports career for military service and has stated the following:

      …Kevin Tillman testified at …hearing ..: “The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family: but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation. We say these things with disappointment and sadness for our country. Once again, we have been used as props in a Pentagon public relations exercise.”

    • jaky says:

      Please remove your tinfoil hat….

      “The proximity of bullet wounds is not sufficient to determine the distance from which a round is fired. Two of the best gunshot wound pathologists in the country, at Dannie Tillman’s request, accompanied me to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland earlier this year to examine the autopsy findings and autopsy photographs for Pat Tillman. Both agreed that the trajectories, exit wounds, and proximity of rounds are most consistent with a burst fired from the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, like the one fired from around 40 meters away by Specialist Trevor Alders outside Manah on April 22, 2004.”

  23. Mark says:

    Researched a little more. It does seem clear that Tillman was hit 3 times in the forehead by small calibre (ie 5.56, ie US) fire with all bullets within 2 or 3 inches of each other.

    Some here may not know that an average shooter would be very lucky to group three shots within a three inch circle at a range 100 metres, even those three shots were fired as carefully placed, individual shots.

    The M16 rifle can be set to fire 3 shot bursts, but shots fired in that manner would be very, very unlikely to be grouped within 3 inches, even from a range of 25 metres.

    • Mark says:

      Sorry, that first line should read … “within a 2 or 3 inch area..”

      I apologise for getting a little off topic here pursuing the nature of his death, but it is a far more incredible matter than I had realised.

      From a firearms forum come these 4 separate comments on the use of M16 (or M4 now) in burst mode (the discussion was not related to the Tillman case) :

      ….a 3 round burst from an M16 at about 50 yards from a supported position would give you about an 18 inch group.
      ….snap shooting or instinctive, if you will, and the dispersion at jungle range with that type of fire was twelve inches, approximately.
      …..I can easily keep 3 round bursts on a paper plate offhand at 20 yards.
      ….burst on an M-4 at the 25M …range. I was able to keep all the shots on paper but, well, they didn’t stay on the silhouettes.

      One military source reached the conclusion Tillman was shot form less than 10 yards range.

    • Max says:

      Was he wearing a helmet?

    • jaky says:

      “The proximity of bullet wounds is not sufficient to determine the distance from which a round is fired. Two of the best gunshot wound pathologists in the country, at Dannie Tillman’s request, accompanied me to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland earlier this year to examine the autopsy findings and autopsy photographs for Pat Tillman. Both agreed that the trajectories, exit wounds, and proximity of rounds are most consistent with a burst fired from the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, like the one fired from around 40 meters away by Specialist Trevor Alders outside Manah on April 22, 2004.”

  24. Mark says:

    Helluva statement here by Kevin Tillman: (and extract below)

    “…..fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we get 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.

    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….”

    • Bill Dietrich says:

      Mark, Thanks for adding all this information. There have been so many government cover-ups it’s hard to keep track of all of them. But we all know people who believe in government cover-ups are just conspiracy theorists as some well known skeptics keep telling us. Bill

      • Mark says:

        Thing is, Bill, I don’t think “the system” needs any conspiracy to do these things any more.

        Once a system is in place and so well structured, men are sufficiently ‘programmed’ and immersed in layers of authority they can’t penetrate, and the desired results are known, every layer and level will simply tend to ensure matters are dealt with in a way to deliver that result.

        Pat Tillman’s case is indeed an excellent example of how well it all works even in the face of a pretty major onslaught.

      • Mark says:

        Getting way off topic here: but these “systems” are very effective and at work in business too.

        Eg: A local (nice, neat profitable) company here was taken over by an international outfit, new overlords heavily into forecasting, growth, locked in margins, etc.

        Focused target was to grow the company by 4 times in 5 years. End result: overpriced quotes on everything, lost their major contracts, now putting off 25% of workforce (who, I predict, will go straight to one major competitor which took over the the majority of those contracts).

        Point is, all layers of management at the pointy end knew where this was going, those who spoke up were kicked out, those who remained silent are sitting in a maimed company.

        But, like big government, big business just trundles on and on, with none of the real culprits ever copping the blame.

  25. jim willmot says:

    Maybe the reason that the Tillman’s had a hard time “letting go” of their son’s/brother’s death is that they wanted to know (and wanted others to know) the exact truth about what happened. Christians (and soldiers) are taught and trained to ignore the truth if it contradicts their belief system (e.g. evolution, or that the US has ever done anything immoral). Had Tillman been killed in a fire-fight with the Taliban, as opposed to friendly fire with a cover-up heeped on, I suspect his parents and brother would have buried their son/brother without protest. The officer that said those things should be discharged or asked to resign. I read Kraukauer’s book and as soon as Tillman was killed, the army spin doctors went to work. Shameful. If we had only listened to Eisenhower, a man who knew war better than anyone of the greatest generation.

  26. willy wonka says:

    all humans do things for self-interest be it heaven or hell, universalness or aninimity. what is discerning about the discussion is the idea that after this known life there is ‘nowhere to go’! matter is neither created or destroyed, so our chemical linage has the possibility of perpetuity.

    willy wonka

  27. Craig says:

    The fact that everyone has the opportunity to express their opinion here only emphasises what this Country stands for “Freedom”
    The Military right or wrong has learned one lesson we all should understand “Freedom isn’t Free”
    From the days of the Revolution to present day Men and Women have sood proud to protect and honor this country with their service and in doing so some have sacrificed their lives for the cause, just or unjust, because when it is all said and done the freedoms we all enjoy do not come cheap. No one else in the world enjoys the life of a U.S Citizen so be skeptical but remember “Freedom isn’t Free”!

    • Sheila says:

      Well Craig, if it was truly free, you wouldn’t be making your country’s poor young people join up for duty just so they can receive a “good education”. There is no such thing as “voluntary” in your country. In my country only the crazy effers who like to blow shit up join the military.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Sounds like jingoism to me… Neither Iraq or Afghanistan was, or is, a threat to our freedom.

      • Sheila says:

        Neither Iraq or Afghanistan instigated 9/11. That was your own secret services at work – the good ole’ harbour launch done on your own people. You should be so proud!

      • Skeptic says:

        Prove it. If you have a statement like that, you need to be able to substantiate it. Otherwise, it’s at best slander, at worst a conspiracy theory AND slander. Moreover, it was Al-Qaida who instigated 9/11. A bunch of evil little men attacking innocents. Not Afghanistan, just Al-Qaida. In response, a bunch of evil little men, known as the United States government, invaded a sovereign nation, and killed thousands of innocents. More innocent Afghans have been killed by US and Coalition forces than were killed in 9/11. There’s no need to look for a conspiracy.

    • Agitant. says:

      Of course Freedom isn’t free. But that wasn’t shown here. Here we see the lack of freedom of information. Neither war was legal, righteous, or even fighting for freedom. Instead, the US repressed the freedoms of others, and their own country, and as part of the idiotic military system, forced good people to fight an evil war.

      To fight for freedom in this case, would be to attack the government. In fact, if the military was championing the freedom of America, then it would attack itself.

  28. Calpurnpiso says:

    The insanity in America today is mind boggling.

    What people do not understand, specially the religious, is that we humans are evolved mutated primates that create the MIND ( thoughts, belief etc) with our BRAINS, product of evolution over 4.5 B years. IOW, we are our brains. We are born lacking belief iow atheist.
    As many mentally healthy aka atheists cosmologists say, we are STAR DUST. An Universe, that by a series of lucky ACCIDENTS would get to know itself by creating a BRAIN. A brain is our own private universe inside the skull that we CREATE thoughts with, using the 5 senses to navigate the planet.
    We create GOD belief & other mumbo-Jumbo crazy nonsense with our brains due to the fact we are crazy mutated apes afraid of death. Only the ignorant have an excuse not to understand this fact.

    Bizarre metamagical beliefs ( see Dr Sapolsky’s lecture on religion) created by the BRAIN are at the ROOT of ALL religions ( including irrational dumb conspiracy theories & other crazy beliefs void of reason) & MENTAL disorders like schizophrenia. A malfunctioning brain WILL make a person affected by those bizarre metamagical beliefs to accept them as factual truth.
    People of FAITH are people having an innate idiopathic Schizoaffective defect IMHO, and as those people suffering from paranoia schizophrenia that can NOT be convince that 2+2 equals to not other number but 4 one can not convince a Bible thumper that there is no god and that their false belief can be replicated in a neurology lab. An schizophrenia-like response no doubt will emerged from their malfunctioning brains.

    Not until this science proving fact is addressed in strong scientific terminology by mentally healthy aka atheist neuroscientists, our species run the risk of becoming extinct by corrupting the mind of children teaching them, during the imprinting period onwards, those irrational brain corrupting false beliefs as a truth. A lobotomy WILL cure ChristPsychosis, the mental cancer in America that causes the intellectual stagnation today that nobody sees.

    Let’s tell it like it is & define RELIGIOUS beliefs for the mental disorder it is, Please. A Belief a Resurrected Zombie named Jesus the Christ that saves with blood for a SIN committed by a mud-man & rib-woman when they accepted a fruit from a talking snake is a mental disease. This bizarre belief was normal during the Middle Ages but not today in the 21st C.


  29. Dajake says:

    If death is the state of not existing, then we were all dead before being born and we are all proof of life after death.

  30. Troythulu says:


    “If you’re an atheist and you don’t believe in anything…”

    Kauzlarich states he doesn’t know how atheists think, and then went on to make silly assumptions about how atheists think via self-projection, thus demonstrating the truth of his first statement.

    A common fallacy of presumption, showing an unwillingness or even inability to deal with ideological positions without stereotyping.

    • Mark says:

      We may be giving the Colonel too much credit if we think he is simply a good Christian man puzzled by the beliefs (or lack thereof) of atheists, and thinks the family is simply hurt by the loss of a loved one.

      It is blindingly obvious the frustrations, hurt and anger of the family stem from the suspicious nature of the death, and from the blatant military cover-up of the circumstances of the death (“…there was no evidence of enemy activity in the area…”).

      Worse still, the “system” then tried to use the death in a cold-blooded, cynical marketing exercise to promote and support what the deceased had apparently come to believe was an unjustified war and a what he apparently believed was a morally bankrupt system.

      Thus here we have the “good”, “moral” “believer” deliberately and skilfully distracting and diverting the media and public from the real issue.

      It has worked pretty well, I knew (here on the other side of the world) there was some controversy about it perhaps being a”friendly fire” incident, but knew nothing out the all the important circumstances which raise huge questions. I suspect many others are in the same situation.

  31. JTM says:

    If people thought through the reality of death, without the superstition of religion we wouldn’t have any more wars. Not enough recruits would be willing to go. That Tillman still went to war without the delusion of religion shows his character was exceptional. Hardly surprising that the military establishment tried to use his death to market the wars.

  32. Tommy says:

    Three points; 1) friendly fire = oxymoron for screw-up by your own side, 2) colonel’s comments equivalent of military intelligence, also an oxymoron, 3) drunk brother spouting off, completely understandable.
    I’m skeptical of a cover up but not a bunch of lame excuses.

    Oh, and to Mark — your analysis of the M-4 three shot burst mode is very on target, no pun intended.

    • Skeptic says:

      Actually, the US military terms incidents involving “Friendly Fire” as Blue on Blue. Getting even further from an accurate description of events.

    • jaky says:

      “The proximity of bullet wounds is not sufficient to determine the distance from which a round is fired. Two of the best gunshot wound pathologists in the country, at Dannie Tillman’s request, accompanied me to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland earlier this year to examine the autopsy findings and autopsy photographs for Pat Tillman. Both agreed that the trajectories, exit wounds, and proximity of rounds are most consistent with a burst fired from the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, like the one fired from around 40 meters away by Specialist Trevor Alders outside Manah on April 22, 2004.”

  33. Mark says:

    Neat summing up here:
    No conspiracy theory, no murder – situation is well explained by someone who (apparently) viewed the autopsy photos and the scene. Makes some good case that the weapon likely to have been a SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) firing on full auto perhaps from a range of 30 metres/yards.

    However, it does sound like some of those ‘elite’ Rangers behaved somewhat wildly, shooting up a village that posed no threat, and mowing down their own men (from another squad) in the process.

    • Mark says:

      However, there were a lot of cover ups, starting at a squad level, mainly because multiple violations of operational procedures, not the least which being that the ‘guilty’ squad had expended almost all of their primary ammunition supply on shooting up a village which had not fired on them.

    • Mark says:

      Mind you, whilst dismissing the assassination conspiracy theory, the writer on that site carries no love for ‘the system”;

      “… Rumsfeld can’t remember when, where, or how he learned of Pat Tillman’s death,….
      Since I’m not bearing that ridiculous pretense of objectivity that “journalists” so audaciously lay claim to…I can only say what seems to be apparent to me from this testimony….

      They pissed on our legs and told us it was raining. Liars, every goddamn one of them. Liars, con-men, and criminals. Based on the evidence, this is what I believe. Someone has to say this out loud. Dannie Tillman has been trying to tell us this for three years….”

  34. Joe says:

    So no Christian (or other religionist) has ever questioned the stories put out by the military, concerning the deaths of soldiers or other people? I find that hard to believe.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Oh, I’m sure the Colonel would tell you that those people aren’t True Scottsmen.

    • Sheila says:

      It’s easier to fool religious people because they already have a belief system that their country is good and honest. That no one would ever tell them lies. It’s easy for them to believe this since they’ve been hearing it from their church for decades.

  35. Kenn says:


    That’s why I enjoy reading Shermer’s work. He has a knack for bringing cerebral concepts into practical focus; much better than ‘non compos mentis’.

  36. Phea says:

    The most disturbing aspect of the film, (for me personally), were all the top brass sitting before Congress who, to a man, “couldn’t remember”. They all apparently also forgot one of the first things they learned, and swore to at the Academy. A bothersome trifle called the Cadet Honor Code, “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do”. Make sure anyone you know, (and care about), who’s considering joining the military, see this film first.

  37. Jeff Johnson says:

    Another interesting point I noticed in the film is the testimony of Bryan O’Neal, who claimed that Tillman ordered him to stop praying and pay attention to what was happening. O’Neal credits this advice from Tillman with saving his life.

    Pretty much discredits the whole “no atheists in foxholes” idea.

  38. Davb Beckett says:

    Pat Tillman had intelligence, he was a free thinker and he was honorable. His superiors, actually they weren’t superior they were chickshits with no ball for the truth, will be dealt with in time by The Brotherhood. There will be justice in our time.

  39. Davb Beckett says:

    Where is the chicken shit media to weed out these assholes in our government and military? Power to the media…oh I forgot they are part of the problem too. Fuck them..Tillman will live on justice will be served

  40. Michael says:

    Well, as all atheists should’ve figured out by now if they’ve really thought about the philosophy, is that all means nothing in the end. Love, hate, these posts… Ultimately, it’s all meaningless.

  41. Michael says:

    “…Tillman will live on justice will be served…”

    No, he will not live on and he will not get whatever your concept of justice is. He’s gone into non-existence. That’s the whole point of accepting the atheistic belief concept. Maybe, I’ve misunderstood… Maybe you’re not an atheistic, in which case, I at least understand your ‘feelings’ about this.

  42. Former jarhead says:

    First off…Hand Salute to you Pat Tillman for feeling the need to protect what you held dear. The selflessness to leave behind what you cherished and the fortitude to become the best and meet the enemy.

    Secondly…Hand Salute to the Tillman family for having two brave sons go off to war and have only one come home.You do not need to explain yourself to anyone from here on out. You needed to ask as many questions as you felt necessary until you were comfortable with an explaination. It was the least our government could have done for you and they failed miserably. You deserved better.

    Thirdly…Atheist,Christian or Jew we are Americans. Any soldier whoever served in combat will tell you when the rounds start flying we may be praying to our individual God but our true faith is in the brother next to us because neither Jesus nor Yahweh nor Buddah are carrying the M60 ammo!!!

  43. Bill Davis says:

    Richard Tillman was probably 100% correct that Pat wasnt with God. Of course, they have ever right to be atheist, just like everyone on this board has a right to say there is no God nor did he have a son that died on a cross then reserected on the 3rd day. Jesus was sinless but yet he made the supreme sacrafice by dying for a bunch of worthless turds. Don’t worry I’m a worthless turd too but I have enough faith to know that I’m headed to a better place than to just a grave. Matthew 7:6

  44. Gary says:

    If you are interested in Pat Tillman’s story you should check this out.

  45. Dalai Alpacca says:

    Another filthy atheist that did not feel it was OK for people to have FREEDOM OF RELIGION. Enjoy the worms. Atheists are not guaranteed FREEDOM FROM RELIGION. That’s where they are so sadly mistaken. So they get angry with people who happen to believe in God. Why? Why the restentment? Because believers supposedly “shove religion” at them? But I guess it was perfectly fine then for Tillman’s brother to say the nasty and hateful and demeaning things he did towareds those who did not know any other words to try to reach out and try to console.

  46. Embroidery Digitizing says:

    It is too much informative and i did not know about it before reading it. I liked it very much.