"Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let me label you as they may." ~ Mark Twain
Pat Tillman, Meet Max and Lutz
Pat Tillman died for our sins. Like Custer and Jesus, Tillman, the former National Football League star who volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, went to his death for failed, fraudulent government policies. In case you missed the last few days of tributes, Tillman, 27, was the best and brightest, a man with everything to live for, sent to die by the worst and most cynical of men, for cruel and self-serving purposes masquerading as principles.
Killed in action in Afghanistan, Tillman received a nationally televised eulogy on every major US television network this past weekend, the type of eulogy usually reserved for fallen American icons. Unlike the nearly thousand other US deaths from our ill-fated actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Pat's death became a public event and added to his already considerable luster as a passionate, hardworking, former football player in the NFL. To those families with servicemen killed in action whose sacrifice remains hidden, suppressed or censored, the public iconification of Pat Tillman must have seemed both gratifying yet bewildering. Grieving parents could identify with Tillman, personify the sacrifice of their own beloved child with that of this idealistic young warrior. Yet too, they must have wondered, why hadn't their own son or daughter been given a public eulogy on ESPN or Fox or on the front pages of major newspapers?
Certainly most of the all-volunteer, US military men and women who have been killed in action were once as dedicated to a patriotic ideal as Tillman. Most of them were as competitive in high school sports or academics. Most of them also had to "overcome incredible odds or were undersized"--two accolades most often heard when Tillman was mentioned.
Looking at a picture of Pat Tillman, most American men recognized an ideal of manliness lacking in ourselves and especially in our elected leaders. Does anyone see even a remote resemblance between Pat Tillman and say, Dick Cheney, George Bush or former President Bill Clinton? If Pat Tillman typified the best and brightest that America had to offer, his example was a vision of America usually found in high school history books, not the sinister vision offered by the White House.
But Pat was not the first idealistic athlete victimized by the State for its own purposes. In life--and now death--Pat resembled two similar athletes little known to most Americans. Olympic athlete Lutz Long and heavyweight boxing champion Max Schmeling both underwent glorious, much propagandized ascents and tragic falls similar to that of Tillman. Both men were German, and both opposed an evil, fascist regime that used them as poster boys--like our own jingoist media and Machiavellian State--for self-serving propaganda purposes.
Lutz Long--like Pat Tillman--resembled the high cheekboned, Teutonic ideal. A sprinter and long jumper for the German Olympic team, Long was favored to medal in the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin. According to biographies of Jesse Owens (who won four gold medals in that historic Olympic event personally hosted by Adolf Hitler), Long and Owens became fast friends despite the massive propaganda and pageantry heralding Hitler's triumph of the invincible Master Race. Jesse Owens was black, and Lutz Long as white as the sheets of the KKK. Between the two stood racial separation like a fortress wall, official Nazi policy in Germany but almost a religion in America.
Despite Nazi propaganda, the German spectators gave Jesse Owens the warmest ovation of his life. Just before he entered the stadium, Owen's track coach Larry Snyder cautioned the youngster from Ohio State about a possible hostile reception that never came: "Don't let anything you hear from the stands upset you. Ignore the results and you'll be alright." But German admiration for athletic achievement--like that of all true sports enthusiasts--transcended racial prejudice. Lutz Long looked on in admiration and envy.
According to an account by Arthur Daley of The New York Times, Owens later told and retold the story of his struggle to qualify in the long jump and of Lutz Long offering consolation and advice. An inch or two taller than Owens, Long was "blond, lean, and blue-eyed, a walking advertisement for Hitler's Aryan ideal." According to Owens's reminiscences--and now popular legend--Long reportedly suggested that Jesse make a mark six inches back or place a towel six inches back of the board in order to avoid fouling. As Jesse told it later, after his final jump, Long took Owens's hand, held it high, and shouted to the crowd, "Jesse Owens! Jesse Owens!", and the entire stadium thundered with a chanting of "Jaz-ee-ooh-wenz." According to those who actually saw it, the actual moment of sportsmanship was much quieter but no less powerful: The two athletes walked off together, arm-in-arm to the dressing rooms. In truth, Owens and Long became good friends during their time in Berlin. Owens explained their friendship as "simply two uncertain young men in an uncertain world."
Lutz Long died in combat a few years later, dying like Tillman, far from the thunderous applause of stadium crowds, fighting for the Nazi regime on the occupied island of Sicily. It is doubtful that Adolf Hitler had personally sent Long to the front, as some stories suggest. Possibly Long volunteered, much like Pat Tillman. But Hitler's imperial policies killed Lutz Long, just as the thinly-disguised, expansionist policy of the Neocons killed patriotic Pat Tillman, plus a thousand other American soldiers like him. The Germans grieved upon hearing of the death of their fallen hero in battle, as we Americans now grieve for Tillman.
To oppose the State, however, carries as much--or more--physical risk, than to support it. Max Schmeling, heavyweight champion of the world, fought many formidable foes, and like Tillman, emerged larger than life when the largest and most sinister foe of all--the State--crumbled around him. Matched against the legendary Joe Louis, the "Brown Bomber" fought Schmeling in an atmosphere of race hate and propaganda--much like the poisoned sandstorm swirling in the world now. Schmeling lost his title to Louis, but the two legends remained friends, despite the virulent hatred spewing from the German and American governments, fomented by the state-supported media of both countries.
According to Louis Bulow, "During the 1936 Olympics Max Schmeling exacted a promise from Hitler that all U.S. athletes would be protected. On several occasions Hitler tried to cajole the respected boxer into joining the Nazi Party, but Schmeling vigorously refused ever to join the Nazi party or to publicize the Nazi propaganda line. Over Goebbels' personal protest, he refused to stop associating with German Jews or to fire his American Jewish manager, Joe Jacobs. Hitler never forgave Schmeling for refusing to join the Nazi party, so he had him drafted into the Paratroops and sent him on suicide missions."
As Bulow also notes: "Schmeling treasured camaraderie and friendship and somehow, each of his ring opponents became his friend. He regularly and quietly gave the down-and-out Joe Louis gifts of money, and the friendship continued after death: Schmeling paid for the funeral."
This weekend Pat Tillman was eulogized as a great American hero who made the "ultimate sacrifice." But do not allow his memory to serve as a recruitment poster for further nationalistic designs or brutal abuses of the State. If Pat Tillman is greeted at heaven's gate by Lutz Long, Jesse Owens and Max Schmeling, it will be because he served an ideal that cost him his life--in spite, not because, of State sponsored oppression.