During Pat Tillman's stint in the Army he intermittently kept a diary. In an entry dated July 28, 2002--three weeks after he arrived at boot camp--he wrote, "It is amazing the turns one's life can take. Major events or decisions that completely change a life. In my life there have been a number." He then cataloged several. Foremost on his mind at the time, predictably, was his decision to join the military. But the incident he put at the top of the list, which occurred when he was eleven years old, comes as a surprise. "As odd as this sounds," the journal revealed, "a diving catch I made in the 11-12 all-stars was a take-off point. I excelled the rest of the tournament and gained incredible confidence. It sounds tacky but it was big."
As a child growing up in Almaden, California (an upscale suburb of San Jose), Pat had started playing baseball at the age of seven. It quickly became apparent to the adults who watched him throw a ball and swing a bat that he possessed extraordinary talent, but Pat seems not to have been particularly cognizant of his own athletic gifts until he was selected for the aforementioned all-star team in the summer of 1988. As the tournament against teams of other standout middle-school athletes got under way, he mostly sat on the bench. When the coach eventually put Pat into a game, however, he clobbered a home run and made a spectacular catch of a long fly ball hit into the outfield. Fourteen years later, as he contemplated life from the perspective of an Army barracks, he regarded that catch as a pivotal moment--a confidence booster that contributed significantly to one of his defining traits: unwavering self-assurance.
In 1990, Pat matriculated at Almaden's Leland High School, one of the top public schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, both academically and athletically. Before entering Leland he had resolved to become the catcher on the varsity baseball team, but the head coach, Paul Ugenti, informed Pat that he wasn't ready to play varsity baseball and would have to settle for a position on the freshman-sophomore team. Irked and perhaps insulted by Ugenti's failure to recognize his potential, Pat resolved to quit baseball and focus on football instead, even though he'd taken up the latter sport barely a year earlier and had badly fractured his right tibia in his initial season when a much larger teammate fell on his leg during practice.
With a November birthday, Pat was among the youngest kids in Leland's freshman class, and when he started high school, he was only thirteen years old. He also happened to be small for his age, standing five feet five inches tall and weighing just 120 pounds. When he let it be known that he was going to abandon baseball for football, an assistant coach named Terry Hardtke explained to Pat that he wasn't "built like a football player" and strongly urged him to stick with baseball. Once Tillman set his sights on a goal, however, he wasn't easily diverted. He told the coach he intended to start lifting weights to build up his muscles. Then he assured Hardtke that not only would he make the Leland football team but he intended to play college football after graduating from high school. Hardtke replied that Pat was making a huge mistake--that his size would make it difficult for him ever to win a starting position on the Leland team, and that he stood virtually no chance of ever playing college ball.
Pat, however, trusted his own sense of his abilities over the coach's bleak predictions, and tried out for the Leland football team regardless. Six years later he would be a star linebacker playing in the Rose Bowl for a national collegiate championship. Twenty months after that he began a distinguished career in the National Football League.
Midway between San Jose and Oakland, the municipality of Fremont rises above the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, a city of 240,000 that's always existed in the shadow of its flashier neighbors. This is where Patrick Daniel Tillman was born on November 6, 1976. Not far from the hospital where Pat entered the world is a commercial district of pharmacies, chiropractic clinics, and fast-food restaurants bisected by a four-lane thoroughfare. Along three or four blocks of this otherwise unremarkable stretch of Fremont Boulevard, one finds a concentration of incongruously exotic establishments: the Salang Pass Restaurant, an Afghan carpet store, a South Asian cinema, a shop selling Afghan clothing, the De Afghanan Kabob House, the Maiwand Market. Inside the latter, the shelves are stocked with hummus, olives, pomegranate seeds, turmeric, bags of rice, and tins of grapeseed oil. A striking woman wearing a head scarf and an elaborately embroidered vest inlaid with dozens of tiny mirrors stands at a counter near the back of the store, waiting to buy slabs of freshly baked naan. Little Kabul, as this neighborhood is known, happens to be the nexus of what is purportedly the highest concentration of Afghans in the United States, a community made famous by the best-selling novel The Kite Runner.
By loose estimate, some ten thousand Afghans reside in Fremont proper, with another fifty thousand scattered across the rest of the Bay Area. They started showing up in 1978, when their homeland erupted into violence that has yet to abate three decades later. The chaos was sparked by accelerating friction between political groups within Afghanistan, but fuel for the conflagration was supplied in abundance and with great enthusiasm by the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union as each maneuvered to gain advantage in the Cold War.
The Soviets had been lavishing billions of rubles in military and economic aid on Afghanistan since the 1950s, and had cultivated close ties with the nation's leaders. Despite this injection of outside capital, by the 1970s Afghanistan remained a tribal society, essentially medieval in character. Ninety percent of its seventeen million residents were illiterate. Eighty-five percent of the population lived in the mountainous, largely roadless countryside, subsisting as farmers, herders, or nomadic traders. The overwhelming majority of these impoverished, uneducated country dwellers answered not to the central government in Kabul, with which they had little contact and from which they received almost no tangible assistance, but rather to local mullahs and tribal elders. Thanks to Moscow's creeping influence, however, a distinctly Marxist brand of modernization had begun to establish a toehold in a few of the nation's largest cities.
Afghanistan's cozy relationship with the Soviets originated under the leadership of Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan, a Pashtun with fleshy jowls and a shaved head who was appointed in 1953 by his cousin and brother-in-law, King Mohammed Zahir Shah. Ten years later Daoud was forced to resign from the government after launching a brief but disastrous war against Pakistan. But in 1973 he reclaimed power by means of a nonviolent coup d'etat, deposing King Zahir and declaring himself the first president of the Republic of Afghanistan.
A fervent subculture of Marxist intellectuals, professionals, and students had by this time taken root in Kabul, intent on bringing their country into the twentieth century, kicking and screaming if need be, and President Daoud--who dressed in hand-tailored Italian suits--supported this shift toward secular modernity as long as it didn't threaten his hold on power. Under Daoud, females were given opportunities to be educated and join the professional workforce. In cities, women started appearing in public without burqas or even head scarves. Many urban men exchanged their traditional shalwar kameezes for Western business attire. These secular city dwellers swelled the ranks of a Marxist political organization known as the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, or PDPA.
The Soviets were Daoud's allies in the push to modernize Afghanistan, at least initially. Aid from Moscow continued to prop up the economy and the military, and under an agreement signed by Daoud, every officer in the Afghan Army went to the Soviet Union to receive military training. But he was walking a perilous political tight rope. While welcoming Soviet rubles, Daoud was an impassioned Afghan nationalist who had no desire to become a puppet of the Soviet president, Leonid Brezhnev. And although Daoud was committed to modernizing his nation, he wanted to move at a pace slow enough to avoid provoking the Islamist mullahs who controlled the hinterlands. In the end, alas, his policies placated few and managed to antagonize almost everyone else--most significantly the Soviets, the urban leftists, and the bearded fundamentalists in the countryside.
At the beginning of his presidency, Daoud had pledged to reform the government and promote civil liberties. Very soon after taking office, however, he started cracking down hard on anyone who resisted his edicts. Hundreds of rivals from all sides of the political divide were arrested and executed, ranging from antimodernist tribal elders in far-flung provinces to urban communists in the PDPA who had originally supported Daoud's rise to power.
For millennia in Afghanistan, political expression has all too often been synonymous with mayhem. On April 19, 1978, a funeral for a popular communist leader who was thought to have been murdered on Daoud's orders turned into a seething protest march. Organized by the PDPA, as many as thirty thousand Afghans took to the streets of Kabul to show their contempt for President Daoud. In typical fashion, Daoud reacted to the demonstration with excessive force, which only further incited the protesters. Sensing a momentous shift in the political tide, most units in the Afghan Army broke with Daoud and allied themselves with the PDPA. On April 27, 1978, MiG-21 jets from the Afghan Air Force strafed the Presidential Palace, where Daoud was ensconced with eighteen hundred members of his personal guard. That night, opposition forces overran the palace amid a rain of bullets. When the sun came up and the gunfire petered out, Daoud and h...
Revue de presse
"Krakauer -- whose forenseic studies of the Emrsonian Man in books such as Into Thin Air and Into the Wild yield so much insight -- has turned in a beautiful bit of reporting, documenting Tillman's life with journals and interviews with those close to him...Must be counted as the definitive version of events surrounding Tillman's death." --The Los Angeles Times
"In this wrenching account of the life and eath of NFL star Pat Tillman, killed in friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004, Krakauer brilliants turns investigative reporter...Krakauer will break your heart recounting how the military lied about Pat's death to his parents and fellow soldier Kevin." -- People
"In this masterful work, bestselling adventure writer Jon Krakauer renders an intimate portrait of Tillman and brilliantly captures the sadness, madness, and heroism of the post-9/11 world...Drawing on interviews with family, fellow soldiers and correspondence, Krakauer's page-turning account captures every detail -- Tillman's extraordinary character, including the "tragic vitures" that led him to give up a comfortable life and athletic stardom for the army; the harshness of military training and life; the rugged terrain of remote Afghanistan -- and, of course, the ravages of war. Most critically, by telling Tillman's personal story and blowing apart the "cynical cover-up" that followed his killing, Krakauer lays bare the best -- and worst -- of America's War on Terror." -- Publisher's Weekly
"Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer's narrative of pro football player Pat Tillman's "odyssey," as he calls it, from the playing field to the battlefield, is nuanced, thorough, and chilling...[He] is up to the task of telling this brave man's story...Krakauer's tone is somber and judicious as he reports this ludicrous hijacking of the truth and its shameful cover-up, but the anger behind it charges every word. [He] has made sure that this shameful episode will not fade into obscurity and that Pat Tillman will be remembered for the man he truly was -- and not as the faux symbol of a failed policy." -- Portland Oregonian
"Tillman indeed was a fallen hero who, while alive, shunned all efforts to make him the poster boy of a global war against terrorism. And Krakauer's gripping book about this extraordinary man who lived passionately and died unnecessarily sets the record straight." --USA Today
"On one level, Jon Krakauer's Where Men Win Glory represents a detailed look at the tragic tale of Pat Tillman, the football star who quit the NFL to enlist in the Army and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. But Krakauer's book is also an exhaustive examination of America's political and military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Krakauer documents an unsettling history of miscalculation and mismanagement, of tactical blunders, deliberate deceit, and stunning incompetence at the highest levels of leadership...It all makes for painful, infuriating, and required reading." --Boston Globe
"Where Men Win Glory will stand as one of the signal books of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a grunt's-eye view to complement the macroscopic work of Dexter Filkins, Thomas E. Ricks, and George Packer." --Outside Magazine
"Krakauer's much anticipated, deeply reported, fascinating account of Tillman's lief, death, and afterlife as a political pawn in a failed government propaganda effort...is a page-turner worth any reader's time." --Boulder Daily Camera