The Pentagon’s Public Relations Disasterby Doug Mataconis
Every war has it’s heroes, and in the case of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the two heroes that received the most accolades from the Pentagon were Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. Tillman, you will recall was the NFL star who left his football career behind to join the NBA where he died a hero under fire from the Taliban. Lynch, of course, was a supply clerk with a Maintenance Company who was captured in an ambush after her convoy made a wrong turn. Lynch was held prisoner for a week before being released in a raid by American forces.
In the official stories released by the Pentagon, they were lauded as heroes. Now, it turns out the Pentagon was lying through its teeth:
Military and other administration officials created a heroic story about the death of Cpl. Pat Tillman to distract attention from setbacks in Iraq and the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the slain manâ€™s younger brother, Kevin Tillman, said today.
Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Mr. Tillman said the military knew almost immediately that Corporal Tillman, an Army Ranger who left a career as a pro football player to enlist, had been killed accidentally in Afghanistan in April 2004 by fire from his own unit. But officials chose to put a â€œpatriotic glowâ€ on his death, he said.
Mr. Tillman said the decision to award his brother a Silver Star and to say that he died heroically fighting the enemy was â€œutter fictionâ€ that was intended to â€œexploit Patâ€™s death.â€
In addition to exploiting Tillman’s death, it’s pretty clear that Pentagon officials were lying about it as well. For more than a year after the incident, they stuck to the story that Tillman was killed by the Taliban when it was known fairly quickly that it was in fact friendly fire that resulted in his death. The fact that they withheld the truth from the American public and, more importantly, Tillman’s family in order to preserve the elaborate tale of heroism woven by some PR Officer somewhere is, quite frankly both cynical and deceitful.
And Lynch’s story similarly turned out to be much less than initially thought:
Former Pvt. Jessica Lynch leveled similar criticism today at the hearing about the initial accounts given by the Army of her capture in Iraq. Ms. Lynch was rescued from an Iraqi hospital in dramatic fashion by American troops after she suffered serious injuries and was captured in an ambush of her truck convoy in March 2003.
In her testimony this morning, she said she did not understand why the Army put out a story that she went down firing at the enemy.
â€œIâ€™m confused why they lied,â€ she said.
Ms. Lynch said she could not know why she was depicted as a â€œRambo from West Virginia,â€ when in fact she was riding in a truck, not fighting, when she was injured.
For her part, Ms. Lynch said in her testimony that other members of her unit had acted with genuine heroism that deserved the attention she received. â€œThe bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideas of heroes, and they donâ€™t need to be told elaborate tales,â€ she said.
Yes, but when you are fighting a war that seems to depend more on public relations than on strategy, creating a fake hero every now and then makes perfect sense.