Monday, December 7, 2009

Jon Krakauer is one of us, and by “us” I mean a generation of outdoor adventurers.

As Vern Tejas once said, “Into Thin Air is a book about a mountain I climbed. Into the Wild is about me.” This isn’t to say that we are all McCandless-types, but that the motives of McCandless resonate with many people, from late Baby Boomers through Gen-X.

My old friend Mark Stoppel called me recently and said, “When I was a kid, I read a lot. Back then, Steinbeck and Mark Twain were my favorites. But now, it’s Krakauer. I bought his latest book and can’t put it down.”

Indeed, Jon Krakauer tells not only “our” stories in Eiger Dreams, Into The Wild, and Into Thin Air, but more recently he informs “us” – the somewhat self-indulgent outdoor adventurer community -- with his less commercially popular but deeper works, Under the Banner of Heaven and Where Men Win Glory. These books explore fundamental topics of humanity, religion and war.

As probably the most successful outdoor writer of our generation, Jon lives modestly in Boulder, CO with his wife and drives a Subaru. He shuns the spotlight and seeks no credit or recognition for the good he does in the mountain, Nepalese, and fundamentalist Mormon communities. He’s virtuous and talented, physically and intellectually, much like the main character of his latest book, Pat Tillman in Where Men Win Glory.

I got the book soon after it was published in September, and knowing my own greed for Krakauer lit, I tried to ration the book and stretched the first third out until Thanksgiving weekend, when I laid into it for real.

Its messages about government manipulation and the cruelest chaos of war, “friendly fire”, inform and sadden. I learned about pro-football and a really good kid who grew into a great man, cut down by too much fire power in inexperienced hands. The background and history of conflict in Afghanistan is something I would not have picked up elsewhere.

No, this isn’t Into the Wild, as the critics will point out. It’s more important than that.


  1. I'm listening to Where Men Win Glory on book tape and it is, like Krakauer's other books, well-written and full of suspense and emotion. I enjoy Krakauer's books and this one is no different, but I've never gotten the impression from his writing that he is a humble guy!

  2. “War is always about betrayal, betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics and of troops by politicians."
    -- Chris Hendges

    Three years ago Kevin Tillman published his eloquent letter, “After Pat’s Birthday," on

    Kevin wrote, “Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country. ... Somehow this is tolerated. Somehow nobody is accountable for this.”

    Kevin hoped a Democratic Congress would bring accountability. But, just as with warrantless wiretapping and torture, those responsible for the cover-up of his brother’s fratricide have not been held accountable by the Democratic Congress.

    In his book, “Where Men Win Glory,” Jon Krakauer blamed the Bush administration. However, the cover-up has been a thoroughly bipartisan affair. The Democratic Congress and the Obama Presidency have protected General McChrystal from punishment for his central role in orchestrating the cover-up.

    (see for more info. on Pat Tillman and the handling of his friendly-fire death)

    Sometime after his April 2007 hearing, Congressman Waxman got the word the “fix” was in, to lay off McChrystal. Shortly before the August 2007 Tillman hearing, McChrystal was dropped from the list of witnesses and never interviewed despite his central role in the cover-up.

    Senator James Webb conducted a secret “review” of McChrystal’s role. On May 15th 2008, the Senate Armed Services Committee (headed by Levin and McCain) held a secret “executive session” where McChrystal testified behind closed doors about his actions “in detail.” Shortly afterwards, the Senate promoted him to Director of the Joint Staff.

    Like Pat Tillman, James Webb has been a maverick and a fascinating character. If anyone in Congress should have cared, it would have been him. But, as an old man and politician, he’s turned into exactly what he once reviled as a young combat Marine!

    On May 12th 2009, despite McChrystal’s role, President Obama handpicked McChrystal to be his new commander of the Afghan War and for promotion to the Army’s highest rank. Ironically, on the following day Obama gave the commencement address at Arizona State University inside Sun Devil Stadium without once mentioning Pat Tillman! [Note: see Bob Young’s “Obama’s Big-Time Fumble” (Arizona Republic 5-17-09].
    After a pro forma June 2nd hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate (begged by Senator Reid) confirmed McChrystal’s promotion on June 10th.

    It’s not surprising that after the initial fratricide cover-up fell apart, Army officers and the Bush administration lied to protect their careers. Reprehensible, but understandable. But the Democratic Congress, after they took control of both Houses in 2006, could have gone after those responsible. Or at least not promoted them!

    The media's been complicit as well. The New York Time's Thom Shanker wrote a May 26th piece "clearing" McChrystal of all wrong-doing shortly before McChrystal's confirmation hearing. Thom's enjoyed favorable access to McChrystal since then (so much for the NYT's coverage "without fear or favor'!)

    And Andrew Exum's review of Krakauer's book for the Washington Post covered for McChrystal as well. Yet, Andrew never mentioned his extensive personal and professional conflicts of interests: he is a "fan" of McChrystal, worked with him closely during the past summer Afghan War assessement, and he works for Nate Fick's [“Generation Kill” LT] Center for a New American Security (CNAS)that meets with McChrystal weekly and is leading the push for the Afghan surge.

    Five years ago, Pat Tillman’s family were handed a tarnished Silver Star. It was a travesty of justice that McChrystal was promoted to the Army’s highest rank, and handed his fourth star.

  3. I haven't read this Krakauer but devoured all of the others. I've got to admit, though, that I read his early mentor David Roberts' "Alaska Crazies" piece a half dozen times a year and pass copies along to anyone with a hunger to see the the backside of beyond.

    Really enjoy the site. Keep the rubber side down and the foam side up.

  4. Marty, Thanks for the comment! That Roberts' piece is more than 15 years old now, but maybe a few of us are still crazy after all....Be sure to check out "Glory"

  5. I drank more than 3 cups of tea reading Glory. A Krakophile I am. Never have finished reading Banner although i've started it several times. Can't seem to read past the the dreary dysfunction in Banner....perhaps need to heal more of my own to go on with the story. I learned from Glory different perspectives. I appreciate Krakauer's desire to follow threads of existence. Reality is simple, complexity is beautiful. Krakauer writes both. I don't think or imagine the warring in Afghanistan is simple at all. The running of our US government, the breathing of our humanity, the writing of books, all is one, one is all. Apologies to Huxley, we all need to be a little nicer to each other. Bust the paradigm of sport and war and we'll all have a nicer go.


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