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Military Moms and Families Speak out About Narcissists, Bad Leaders and Cover-ups

August 23, 2010

Updated August 17, 2011

I occasionally watch CNN and happened to tune into an interview last year with Larry King (now retired from CNN). His guests that evening were family members of American soldiers killed as a result of fratricides in Afghanistan and Iraq. What drew me to the program was that one of the guests was Mary Tillman, mother of Pat Tillman who was killed during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2004. The compelling Tillman story is one of the vignettes I use in my Becoming a Holistic Leader e-book.

Initially Tillman, a former star college football player who turned down a $3.5 million offer from the NFL because he believed in serving his country in Iraq, was made out to be a hero. The fratricide was not something that the U.S. government wanted made public. Disgraced General Stanley McChrystal, who was fired by President Obama, was accused of overseeing the cover-up of how Pat Tillman actually died.

The Larry King interview was painful to watch. Other mothers were also part of the program, speaking about their sons’ deaths in combat. These women asked the question, why won’t the U.S. government own up to its mistakes? Mary Tillman, a grim-faced mother with iron resolve to get at the truth and to have it made public, stated that those connected to her son’s death and to numerous other fratricides are “narcissists,” and that “…it was an orchestrated cover-up.” She wants the truth told. Her 2008 book Boots on the Ground by Dusk is a blunt account of her son, warts and all. In a 2008 interview with USA Today she states: “Pat was all about integrity. There is absolutely no integrity in any of this.”

I recently weatched The Tillman Story which was released in August 2010. It’s an incredible, but sad, movie. As the film’s director Amir Bar-Lev states on the Tillman family’s relentless struggle to expose the truth: “The government has a team of PR agents who are fantistically successful, and they get their spin across to the nightly news and are counting on this film to not have an impact.”

Karen Meredith, whose son was slain in a similar manner as Tillman, was very frustrated and confused: “Why not tell the truth now?” she asked King. She believed that junior officers were partly responsible for putting her son and other young soldiers in dangerous situations.

I’ve written posts on two topics that can be applied to the issue of military leadership. Just How Smart Are You? Teaching Smart People How to Learn looked at the incredibly dumb and foolish mistakes supposedly well-educated people make in positions of authority and influence. There are clear applications to the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences with respect to how leadership has been practiced–or abused. More to the point is the issue of leading with integrity, of which I wrote about 11 Elements of Courage.

What I fail to understand is why do people strive to be promoted or elected to positions of authority and public trust, only to deceive their followers and citizens? On the issue of military leadership, why did Stanley McChrystal apparently engage in a cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death? Why did he later show absolute stupidity in making outrageous comments about President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to Rolling Stone magazine (which led to his firing)?

These military moms and their families deserve to have the truth told to them about how their sons died halfway around the world, for a cause that was ostensibly about protecting America, while simultaneously bringing some form of democracy to their corrupt political systems.

If fear alters your behavior, you’re already defeated.

– Brenda Hammond

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