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Tillman: To What End?
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In today’s installment at www.dickstaub.com, --which along with Fred Clark's Slactivist (www.slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/) is one of the very few websites that I check daily--author, former radio talk show host and friend Dick Staub recounts the more than just a little sad eulogy given by Rich Tillman for his brother Pat, the former pro-football player who quit the NFL to become an Army Ranger, who was killed in Afghanistan last month.
Tillman's death has led me to two thoughts.
First, people have been declaring Tillman a hero, and in many ways he was. Unlike at least 95% of the enlisted men and women in either the US or Canadian Forces, Tillman joined the army solely out of a sense of noblesse oblige. He was not looking for college grants or job training. He was looking to serve. And God bless him for it.
But what if he was wrong? What if, caught up in the chaos and rhetorical grandstanding (along with the on-going lies about Iraq) that emerged post-9/11 from the Whitehouse, he was deceived into believing that the military was a good (and certainly macho) way for him to serve? While Afghanistan is far easier a conflict to justify than Iraq will ever be, what if Tillman’s patriotism and his self-consciously "manly" self-image were exploited to further, not freedom, but something nefarious?
God help us all.
Second, at Monday’s memorial service, Tillman’s baby brother Rich told the audience that Pat was not religious, concluding that he’s “not with God, he’s just fucking dead.”
Other friends at the memorial service recounted Tillman’s irreligiosity with more elegance, quoting Emerson’s humanist hymn, “Self-Reliance.”
Oddly enough, the day that Tillman died I had pulled out for the first time in several years Songs of Romance, my favorite collection of poems by Chilean poet, politician, activist and lady’s man Pablo Neruda. That day I immediately turned to “So Is My Life,” a poem that solidified Neruda’s place as my second-favorite poet (next to Canadian Al Purdy).
The sentiment of this poem could not be more different than Emerson’s.
My duty moves along with my song:
I am I am not: that is my destiny.
I exist not if I do not attend to the pain
Of those who suffer: they are my pains.
For I cannot be without existing for all,
For all who are silent and oppressed,
I come from the people and I sing for them:
My poetry is song and punishment.
I am told: you belong to darkness.
Perhaps, perhaps, but I walk toward the light.
I am the man of bread and fish
And you will not find me among books,
But with women and men:
They have taught me the infinite.