Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pointless Lies

The Tillman family and Jessica Lynch appeared before a congressional committee today. You recall that Pat Tillman was a a pro football player who passed on a million-dollar NFL contract in order to join the Army. He died in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan that the Army initially portrayed as a heroic death on the battlefield at the hands of the enemy. Jessica Lynch was captured in Iraq after the truck she was riding in came under attack. The Army portrayed her as a fierce female warrior who went down shooting. The truth is, she did not go down shooting.

Lynch wondered before the committee why she was depicted as a lady-Rambo. Tillman's brother, a vet himself, claimed that the military tried to cash in on his brother's good name. I'm sure he's right. As far as Lynch the Lynch story goes, presenting her as a hero in the press just makes for a better tale, so the Army told it. They saw no apparent harm in crediting her with courage and grit that she wouldn't claim for herself.

The Tillman family rage seems aimed at a perceived cynicysm of the government. It's not misplaced. More importantly, the government's enthusiasm for heroic exaggerations indicates desperation for anything like good news to tell. Or at least news that inspires people rather than depresses them. Everyone loves courage. When we hear of courage and sacrifice we ask ourselves if we have courage, if we would sacrifice. We tell ourselves that we would. When we hear of useless friendly fire accidents on a barren Afghan mountain-side, we just want to curl up and weep.

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