Cover-up Surrounding Tillman’s Death Doesn’t Sway Rall Critics

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By: Dave Astor

Pat Tillman’s mother and father are furious at the U.S. Army for the way it investigated and covered up their son’s friendly-fire death. Has this parental anger affected the way people view a Spring 2004 Ted Rall cartoon about the late Tillman? Apparently not.

The May 3, 2004, cartoon questioned the wisdom of Tillman — the pro football player-turned-soldier — fighting in what Rall considered problematic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rall subsequently received nearly 9,000 e-mails — with about 40% critical of the cartoon. E&P, in the two days after writing about the Tillman drawing last year, received 464 e-mails — with 317 criticizing Rall’s cartoon.

This Tuesday, E&P wrote 25 of the 317 e-mailers to ask whether they might be less upset with the 2004 cartoon now that they know how the U.S. Army dealt with Tillman’s death. (Pasted into the e-mail was a Washington Post story about the Tillmans’ anger and Army cover-up.)

Of the 25 queried, six replied — and all are still not pleased with Rall’s cartoon about Tillman. Here are excerpts from their e-mailed comments, followed by a response from Rall. Three of the six were willing to have their full names used, while the other three requested first names only.

“The ‘cover-up’ story does not change my feelings about the Rall cartoon,” wrote Jeffrey of California. “Rall is calling Tillman — and by insinuation all members of the armed forces — an idiot for enlisting. And the timing of the cartoon upon Tillman’s death is insulting. The Army cover-up is despicable and reminiscent of the Jessica Lynch ‘heroine’ story, but Rall is still way out of bounds.”

Dave of Wisconsin said: “I’m not sure why this latest [Washington Post] report about the acrimony from Pat Tillman’s parents should change how I feel about Mr. Rall and his cartoon. I’m assuming that the cartoon expressed Rall’s views on the war — and he’s certainly entitled to them. But I don’t think anyone can dispute the sacrifice Pat Tillman made in order to make the world a better and safer place. … Whether you agree with the war effort or not, Tillman — and others like him — deserve much better than to be thought of as an ‘idiot’ or ‘sap.’ …

“As for the Tillman family, my heart and prayers go out to them. But I don’t believe there was a conspiracy by the Army to misrepresent the facts. I think Mr. and Mrs. Tillman’s comments are largely driven by grief. In light of recent fiascos from Newsweek magazine, The New York Times, and CBS News, I have some deep misgivings about the media’s ability to accurately report news. Therefore I take this story, like many others, with a large grain of salt.”

Sharon Langworthy of Chicago also said the Post story didn’t change her mind about the cartoon. “Rall was making an ad hominem attack on Pat Tillman, as well as the patriotism that inspired him to enlist. He was also attacking newspaper editors who were, in his opinion, too quick to publish the Army’s version of Tillman’s death. Editors didn’t do this because they were in the administration’s pocket. Whether they did so in an effort to appeal to readers, sell more newspapers, or because they too were moved by Tillman’s death is or was of no concern to Rall. …

“That we know more now about Tillman’s death doesn’t change the fact that Rall clearly wanted to smear Tillman and those that share his values. I also continue to think Pat Tillman is a hero. … War is chaos. He knew this and chose to go nonetheless. … I still admire his family even if I think that, in their grief, they are striking back against anyone who may have been connected to their son’s death. … [T]heir criticism of the circumstances surrounding their son’s death — while based in some clearly unrealistic ideas about the nature of combat — are understandable and to be expected.”

Retired Marine Maj. Chris Gillette of Georgia wrote that he’s “even more upset now at the incredible insensitivity and … hostility [Rall’s 2004 cartoon] displays toward the service and sacrifice of our military community. … After a full year of seeing the wonderful progress and freedoms that the sacrifices of such brave soldiers as Pat have achieved, and the growing level of respect and appreciation that our country has for them, it only makes Rall’s viciousness all the more unacceptable. … [W]ar is the most chaotic and confusing of human endeavors. …

“[I]n the hundred hours of Desert Storm ground combat we lost more folks due to ‘friendly fire’ than have been lost in a year in Iraq. But no mother or father can easily accept the death of their child, no matter under what circumstances. And to exploit parents’ grief, as they naturally tend to lash out in anger as they try to deal with their loss, and to find someone or something to ‘blame,’ is reprehensible. The Tillmans’ son lived and died as a hero, and his example of self-sacrifice and devotion to his duty and country is one that will endure for as long as we have a society that values patriotism and a love for our country and the wonderful liberties it provides.”

Another retired Marine, Col. Hal Clark of North Carolina, told E&P: “This whole can of worms has been nurtured by cartoonists, reporters, lawyers, investigators, and several others seeking everything from 15 minutes of fame to blatant attempts to discredit the patriotic dedication of these young Americans to the country they loved and served so honorably and bravely.” Clark went on to quote John Stuart Mill as saying: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”

Mark of Wisconsin said he’s now less upset about the Rall cartoon “because of the passage of time.” But the former Air Force pilot added that “Rall had neither the right nor the military experience to comment on Tillman’s death. … Regarding the Tillmans, I feel sad for them that they lost their son and equally sad that they are being exploited by people with an anti-war or anti-Bush agenda. Unlike those who have never served in the military — including most elected politicians and nearly the entire press corps — I do not differentiate between casualties suffered at the hands of the enemy and by ‘friendly fire’….

“Patrick Tillman’s life and death are in no way demeaned in my eyes by the fact that he died at the hands of his comrades. The truth is, he was willing to place himself in harm’s way for a cause, something fewer and fewer Americans are willing to do as we evolve toward a risk-averse society, where no life is worth sacrificing for any cause. That the circumstances surrounding his death were covered up is more an indictment of our society’s unwillingness to handle the truth — with apologies to ‘A Few Good Men’ and Jack Nicholson — than with any malicious intent on the part of the U.S. military.”

When asked to respond to the comments of the six e-mailers, Rall said: “It’s hardly an original observation that most people treasure their myths and hate to see them shattered by hard, cold truth. … When I drew the cartoon, I had no idea that Tillman had been shot by his fellow Americans or that the orgiastic memorial service attended by Sen. John McCain and others resulted from a government cover-up.

“What I did know at the time was that Tillman had bought the Bush Administration’s tall tale tying Saddam Hussein to 9/11. Although he ultimately died in Afghanistan, Tillman’s first tour of duty was in Iraq. He’d been duped. And the war in Afghanistan, as demonstrated by the widespread belief among experts that Osama bin Laden had fled to Pakistan well before the October 2001 invasion, had nothing to do with fighting terrorists or finding those who attacked us on 9/11. Tillman’s second tour of duty, then, was also the result of misplaced trust in a lying government. At the time the government was using Tillman’s death as a recruitment tool, and the media was playing along. Not only was it fair to criticize Bush’s Hamas-style death cult, it was my duty as an editorial cartoonist to puncture the myth. We’re supposed to gut sacred cows.”

Rall, who is with Universal Press Syndicate, added: “I wonder what it would take for some of Bush’s supporters to change their minds. At this point the man could be convicted of child molestation and some of them would continue to make excuses for him. Also, a lot of people like war. The thought of U.S. weapons incinerating foreigners makes them feel less impotent as their wages stagnate.”

And Rall concluded that Tillman’s story “should be held up as a cautionary tale to young men and women who are considering signing over a blank check on their life to an evil, illegitimate president who doesn’t give a damn about them. Because that’s what an enlistment form is: a blank check. They can send you anywhere, to fight any war, and force you to kill people who have never harmed you or the United States.”

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