It's an old story - Patrick Tillman is "f--king dead." Killed by "friendly fire." Over six years ago - and you know what that means. The media has dropped his memory as throughly as friendly bullets once dropped his body. Welcome to The Hunger Games. Last year's heroes and heroines are today's pixel ghosts.
Suzanne Collins' young adult novel, The Hunger Games is Tillman's story and it isn't. Young people are drafted to fight each other in war games. There can only be one winner. Two kids - for they are children - are chosen from each of twelve districts in Panem, a country ruled by a calculating and heartless elite. The Hunger Games are painstakingly orchestrated and televised, the contestants clothed and made-up to capture the sentimental adoration of the viewing public. The twenty-four children are then sent out in an arena - some years it is a scorching desert; some years a barren plain; some years an arctic wasteland - knowing only one of them will emerge the victor. One by one, they kill each other. Some kill strangers. Some kill friends. And the viewing public watches.
I don't own a television. I've read myself to sleep since I was seven. I usually go through a good novel in five nights. I read The Hunger Games in two. When I finally closed the book at 1:15 a.m. last night, I felt as though I was coming up from depths into which I had been irresistibly drawn. I fell into a restless sleep and dreamed I was with three comrades. We were prey and predator. We had no choice but to trust each other. I woke long past dawn. The first thought in my mind was Patrick Tillman.
My second thought was that America is becoming Panem. We send our children out to kill and be killed - not just in foreign invasions, but on our city streets, our football fields, in the tweak deal going down in some suburban cul de sac, in the training grounds that make them racist, homophobic and cruel. We put disconnection toys in their hands and then we are shocked when they seem to care for nothing but what they view on a glowing screen. We buy a book that tells us that our children need to go outdoors, need to walk and swim and explore wild places - and the book lies on top of the three other books on our nightstand while we watch reality t.v.
We view "real" people converted into on and off signals. Our children are in another room playing video games. They kill on and off signals created to be as close to possible to "real" people. We forget that video simulations originated in the military.
Our children no longer call friends on their cell phones. They text them to see if it would be okay to call. They meet somewhere, then wander not so much together, as side-by-side, lost in the tiny screens into which they stare.
And the media show us all of this - on television, the internet, on radio and in print. I log on my computer, read a New York Times article about a family lost in cyberspace at their supper table - mom, dad and each of three kids gazing down into their I-Pads as they eat. We view ourselves in mirrors within mirrors within mirrors.
I write this post and offer particles of my life to your view. Everything - Patrick Tillman's death; a gay student musician's unbearable shame and suicide; whatever heart-breaking or horrifying story you just saw on one of your screens - is fodder. Cannon fodder, voyeur fodder, fodder that feeds the bank accounts of a calculating and heartless elite.
And the real horror lies not so much in the black hole of the elite. The real horror lies in the insatiability of the viewing public. And the viewing public is us.
The Army Special Operations Command initially claimed that there was an exchange with hostile forces. After a lengthy investigation conducted by Brigadier General Gary M. Jones, the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that both the Afghan militia soldier's and Pat Tillman's deaths were due to friendly fire aggravated by the intensity of the firefight. ---Military Times .PDF Document copies Copy of US Army CID report; Pages 1-3
However, responding to religious overtones at the funeral, his younger brother Rich stated that "Pat isn't with God. He's f--king dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's f--king dead. ---Knapp, Gwen (May 4, 2004). "True hero athlete". San Francisco Chronicle.