The Gazette newspaper is based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Military officials got a much-deserved scolding on Capitol Hill recently for their dishonest efforts to spin some tragic events in Afghanistan and Iraq into heroic military endeavors, as a means to gin up public support for the wars.
The congressional testimony from relatives of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals defensive back, was particularly disturbing. In 2004, Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, but military officials initially portrayed the event in public and to Tillman's family dishonestly. They suggested he was a hero, killed while facing enemy fire, and awarded him the Silver Star posthumously.
It was a moving narrative: NFL star gives up a lucrative contract to serve his country, inspired to action after the 9/11 attacks, then dies from enemy fire during a necessary mission in Afghanistan. But only the first part of the story is true.
As the New York Times reported, "The investigations found that even though soldiers and commanders suspected almost immediately after the death that it was accidental fratricide, Tillman's family was not notified about the true circumstances until more than a month later, a violation of Army rules."
Specialist Bryan O'Neal testified under oath that he was forbidden by his battalion commander to tell Pat Tillman's brother, Kevin, what had actually happened. O'Neal also testified, according to the Times, that someone up the chain of command had tampered with statements he had written about the incident to suggest that Tillman died "engaging the enemy." The Pentagon's acting inspector general admitted that the statements somehow "got edited."
Also testifying was Pfc. Jessica Lynch, whose ordeal and rescue became a TV movie. As the official storyline went, Lynch fought off Iraqi soldiers, Rambo-like, after her convoy broke down. This, too, was fiction. Lynch said she never fired a shot. "The American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes, and they don't need to be told elaborate lies," she told the committee.
Clearly, the Pentagon looked for PR stories that would help the American people embrace wars that have not always gone as planned. But by spinning a web of deception, instead of just telling the truth, they dishonored themselves, undermined their credibility and contributed to public distrust of this administration, and the government in general. Little wonder that they say truth is the first casualty of war.