Army Fiction

In congressional testimony this week, hard questions were asked about the way the Army represented details of the death of Army Ranger (and former pro football star) Pat Tillman and the capture of Army PFC Jessica Lynch.

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LYNN NEARY, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

A congressional panel last week began the process of separating fact from fiction. The House Oversight Committee wants to know what the White House knew about two Americans whose stories were held up as inspiration for a country at war. And that has NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr thinking about the realities of war.

DANIEL SCHORR: When an Iraqi wedding reception is attacked by American planes killing some 45 civilians that is called collateral damage, an accidental cause of war. When an American Army ranger is killed by another American soldier in a firefight in Afghanistan, that is called friendly fire. And friendly fire can be so embarrassing to the Army that it may have to be kept secret from his family and from the world. That's what happened in the case of Pat Tillman, disclosed three years later in an inspector general's report.

Now, we learn that accounts of the circumstances of Pat Tillman's death were altered as it went up the chain of command. On whose orders? By the time the job was finished, four generals and five other officers had had some hand in concocting the elaborate lie.

What the Pentagon knew and what the White House knew remains to be disclosed. But clearly, there was concern at higher levels about how Americans would react to the loss of a famous football star like Tillman to American guns. So on the basis of an invented story, Tillman was awarded a posthumous Silver Star for heroism and promoted to corporal. Maybe this is all a product of the time we live in, a time when one alters reality if reality is too unpleasant to contemplate.

Another concocted story, but with a happier ending, was about PFC Jessica Lynch, who is a subject of an Army fiction about fighting off Iraqi soldiers in an ambush. She said the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting was an entire invention. Jessica Lynch has already been the subject of a television movie. I'm so confused about why they chose to lie, she said in congressional testimony last week.

And Pat Tillman's brother, Kevin, spoke bitterly about how the Army - leaving the family in ignorance - shows Pat to fashion an inspirational message, inspirational but false.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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