A Warped View of Patriotism on Pat Tillman

by | Apr 25, 2024

A recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times demonstrates what is a warped interpretation of the term “patriotism.” The op-ed is about former football player Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan twenty years ago. It’s written by Bill Dwyre, a former sports editor for the Times.

Dwyre reminds us that Tillman was motivated to join the military after the 9/11 attacks. He gave up a $3.6 million football contract to join the U.S. military and was hoping to be sent to Afghanistan to fight the terrorists.

Dwyre writes, “It was a can’t-miss story of patriotism. Americans applauded from the safety and comfort of our homes and communities.” (Since he uses the pronoun “our,” presumably Dwyre fell into the “safety and comfort” group rather than the “patriot” group.)

Unfortunately, however, Dwyre doesn’t explain why Tillman’s act was one of “can’t miss” patriotism. Apparently for him it’s a self-evident truth.

No declaration of war

The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is the higher law that we the people impose on government officials. We are expected to obey their laws, and they punish us when we fail to do so. By the same token, they are supposed to obey our law, the Constitution.

The Constitution requires a congressional declaration of war as a prerequisite to a president’s waging war against any other nation-state. If a president and his army wage war without a congressional declaration of war, they are acting in violation of the law.

It is undisputed that President Bush did not secure a congressional declaration of war from Congress before he ordered his military to invade Afghanistan. That made their war illegal under our form of government.

How can participating in an illegal war be considered “patriotic”? Dwyre doesn’t explain that.

The U.S. was the aggressor under Nuremberg

Moreover, the common perception is that Bush invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban regime, which was governing the country, had been complicit in the 9/11 attacks by having knowingly harbored Osama bin Laden, who U.S. officials suspected had orchestrated the attacks.

Not so. Bush initiated his war because the Taliban regime refused to comply with his unconditional demand to deliver bin Laden into the hands of the Pentagon and the CIA. Yet, there was no extradition treaty between Afghanistan and the United States and, therefore, Afghanistan was operating within its rights under international law to refuse Bush’s unconditional extradition demand.

Nonetheless, knowing that the Pentagon and the CIA would torture bin Laden into confessing to the crime, Afghanistan offered to deliver him to an independent nation for a fair trial. In making the offer, Afghanistan sought the same amount of proof that would be required in a normal extradition hearing. The U.S. government refused the offer, perhaps because it was unable to provide such proof.

Therefore, given that Afghanistan had the authority under international law to refuse Bush’s extradition demand, that makes Bush’s invasion illegal under the war-of-aggression provision of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

How can participation in an unconstitutional and illegal war be considered “patriotic”? Unfortunately, Dwyre fails to explain.

If one assumes that the 9/11 attackers were the ones who did the attacking (as compared to the attacks being an “inside job,” as some believe), it’s worth pointing out that they were motivated by the death and destruction that the U.S. government’s foreign policy had wreaked in the Middle East. But of course, a real “patriot” does not bring up that discomforting fact and instead blindly supports the government’s claim that the terrorists attacked us out of hatred for our “freedom and values.”

Tillman’s opposition to the Iraq War

One of the fascinating aspects of Dwyre’s op-ed glorifying Tillman’s patriotism is what he leaves out of the op-ed. Tillman was an outspoken opponent of Bush’s invasion and war of aggression against Iraq. Dwyre doesn’t even mention that, which is revealing.

Keep in mind, after all, that Bush’s war on Iraq was also waged without a congressional declaration of war, making it illegal under our form of government. Bush’s claim that he was waging to war to enforce UN resolutions falls flat because only the UN can enforce its resolutions. The fact is that the U.S. war on Iraq was an even clearer case of a war of aggression under the Nuremberg principles than the U.S. war on Afghanistan.

Despite Tillman’s fierce objections to the U.S. war on Iraq, the U.S. military nonetheless ordered him to “serve” in Iraq, which he did. Keep in mind though that every U.S. soldier takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution and is under a legal and moral obligation to refuse to obey unlawful orders. Tillman chose to obey the unlawful order to deploy to Iraq.

U.S. government lies

After his “service” in Iraq, Tillman was deployed to Afghanistan, where he continued to speak out against the U.S. war on Iraq. It was there that he was killed. As Dwyre points out, the U.S. military initially lied about his death, claiming falsely that he was killed by enemy fire. In fact, what actually happened is that he was killed by his own men in what was described as “friendly fire.”

In 2006, Tillman’s brother, Kevin Tillman, wrote a scathing op-ed on truthdig.com, in which he echoed his brother Pat’s view of the Iraq war: “Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.”

Why would’t Dwyre mention Pat Tillman’s (and his brother’s) fierce opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq in his op-ed? My hunch is that it’s because he considers opposition to U.S. wars to be unpatriotic and, therefore, Tillman’s apparent lack of “patriotism” with respect to Iraq doesn’t fit conveniently within his patriotism narrative. Under Dwyre’s warped interpretation of patriotism, apparently it’s only those who blindly support the U.S. national-security state’s foreign wars and its interventionist foreign policy who should be considered “patriots.” Apparently, those who reject such wars and choose instead to remain in the “safety and comfort” of their homes instead of fighting them should be considered non-patriots.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.


  • Jacob G. Hornberger

    Jacob George Hornberger is an American attorney, author, and politician who was a Libertarian candidate for president in 2000 and 2020. He is the founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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