28 days, three books.
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman – Jon Krakauer. Most of you should know Tillman’s story: an NFL player looking at a lucrative, long-term contract turned his back on professional football and joined the Army Rangers in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. After he died in combat in Afghanistan, he became the face of the sacrifice to win the war on terror, despite his insistence while alive that he not fill such a role. Later, when word leaked that he had died in a friendly fire incident, he became the symbol of how the Bush administration manipulated the American public to maintain support for the war.
Krakauer approaches the story from several angles. It’s a straight biography, detailing Tillman’s life from childhood through his final days in Afghanistan. It’s an examination of friendly fire incidents in general, and how governments struggle to deal with them. And, mostly, it’s a study of how governments manage information in order to control what the public knows about military operations.
This is a fine book. I dig just about everything Krakauer has written, so that’s not a surprise. And while the anti-Bush element appeals to the liberal in me, the message is more about how all administrations, regardless of party or ideology, manipulate the news from the front and attempt to create heros to distract the public from the body bags.
Tillman is the star, naturally. If you’ve followed his story, you know that he was not the man that many in power wanted us to believe. He was far from an uber-patriotic alpha male looking to kick some terrorist ass. He was a deep thinker who questioned many of the things he was asked to do. He read voraciously, challenging himself to look deeply at his beliefs. He would talk to anyone who he found to be intelligent, even if he disagreed with them. Most importantly, he was a man of deep character. He was ferociously loyal to those he was close to. He believed in keeping his promises. Forget about his politics and his profession, he was a man that all of us should aspire to be like. And it’s a shame the government had to lie about his life to make him a hero, rather than just let his story stand for itself.
The Wild Things – Dave Eggers This is the companion piece to Eggers’ screenplay for Where the Wild Things are. I’ve not seen the movie yet, but Eggers says that while the two are similar, they are not mirror images of each other.
I love Eggers, I love Where the Wild Things Are, so I had high hopes. And while it is a quality piece of work, arguably something written more for young adults than adults, I have to say I came away a little disappointed. I guess I wanted it to answer all the mysteries that Maurice Sendak’s original children’s book raised. Things I’ve wondered about for nearly 40 years. But perhaps that’s the genius of Eggers’ work. He explores the territory that Sendak created, but he does not answer all the mysteries of the world that Max sailed away to. Sometimes it’s better not to know all the answers.
Chief of Station, Congo – Larry Devlin One of my classic “looking for something else at the library and found this” books. This is Devlin’s account of, well, being the CIA’s chief of station in Leopoldville, Congo in the years immediately after the country gained its independence from Belgium in the early 60s. Devlin shares tales of running around the country trying to prevent coups, counter the Soviets, and manage the maddening elements of Congolese politics. It’s pretty straight-forward and no-nonsense, but a lot of fun.
Devlin has been accused, in many quarters, for being responsible for the deaths of some Congolese politicians and the coup that put Mobutu Sese Seko into office. Mobutu became one of the most notorious African dictators during his 30-year reign. Devlin counters those accusations, but makes no apologies for the friends he kept. It was the Cold War, and getting into bed with a few undesirables was preferable to the Soviets gaining a toehold in Africa. The Cold War was awesome. Other than the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, of course.