Sometimes there are great things about living in Boulder and sometimes there are terrible things about living in Boulder, and sometimes those things happen at the same time. Case in point was an appearance by author Jon Krakauer, reading from his new book Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, which was released this past Tuesday, 9/15. Clearly the great thing about this event that it was a reading by Boulder's own Jon Krakauer, an author whom I have great admiration for, but who doesn't do a ton of appearances anymore because he doesn't really have to if he doesn't want to.
The much much less great thing about this whole appearance was that the people that come out to something like this couldn't be more "Boulder." Denver and Fort Collins people know what I'm talking about already. An event like this really brings out the worst demographic in the city, at least in my estimation - the Boulder crazies, also known as your everyday Boulder resident. There's an excellent reason why there are no "Keep Boulder Weird" bumper stickers, and it is because the last normal people left a good 10 to 15 years ago. But I digress.
Krakauer's reading was good, although given that I had nearly finished the book by this time, the material wasn't new. However, recognizing many had already done this, he added a great deal of understanding to the context by providing pictures of the area in Afghanistan where Tillman was stationed, including the exact perch behind two long, but short boulders, where he was shot. Even with pictures, however, I'm convinced that a person cannot truly understand how undeveloped and tribal this part of the world really is. It's an area that exists completely absent of a national government, and I think that is something Westerners can't really comprehend by simply reading about it.
Following the reading, Krakauer was kind enough to spend a substantial amount of time answering questions, which ranged from ridiculous to actually pretty good. Through this Q&A, we were able to learn more about some the soldiers who were involved with Tillman in Afghanistan, as well as how Krakauer embedded with platoons there on more than one occasion to help him understand the situation. I think the crowd was most surprised that he had recently gone for a reading at West Point, especially given the fact that the book is quite critical of the handling of the U.S.'s two ongoing wars. However, Krakauer related that the cadets there are highly intelligent men who do not shy away from discussing difficult topics such as friendly fire and war policy. In his own words, he said (paraphrased) "West Point is truly an institution of higher learning; it's not like BYU." The most depressing part of the discussion was his assessment that, just like the Soviets in Afghanistan, there is truly no way to "win" this war, no matter what administration is in power.
The book signing session was really where the "Boulder" came out. It consisted of lots of people who considered themselves too white and upper class to wait in line, so they were the only ones who used the numbers on the backs of their tickets to cut in front of everyone else. Included among these people were those still wearing their bike shoes (yes, the ones that clip to the pedals), those whose clothes and hair are so trashy they couldn't be anything but Boulder rich, and those who were getting Krakauer to sign every single book of his they owned. I'm pretty sure some people may have even had him sign books that he didn't even write. Then there was the young hippie crowd, who mostly came through the line to have him sign their dog-eared paperback copies of Into the Wild. Did anyone else at this event get a death stare from the guy who had both arms in a sling? That was disturbing.
All in all, definitely a worthwhile event, but just unfortunate that so many normal Boulderites showed up. Having finished the book, I highly recommend it. Krakauer does not disappoint and thoroughly investigates every interesting direction that this story took. As clearly as he may have presented the story of Pat Tillman, he continues the fight to try to get the Army to release a number of details that they still have not answered for the Tillman family. While no more tragic than any other military death from these wars, the story of Tillman opens readers to a lot more information about the experience of the soldiers and the families that only a small percentage of Americans understand first hand. On a final note, Krakauer noted last night that he would match donations that night to Veterans Helping Veterans Now, a local organization that supports veterans as they return home and helps them with the various adjustments of returning to civilian life - an important thing for us to keep in mind. We unfortunately can't often affect the politics that surround war, but we can still support the people that suffer the worst consequences of those politics.