In “A Place to Stand” (Views, July), Wayne Allensworth asks, “How will our sons become men in the bureaucratized, risk-averse, feminist post-America our elites envision for us?” Certainly, this is a grave concern for anyone thinking clearly about our nation’s future. One can add a concern about how our daughters will become women, and how our children will become sound leaders.
Houston, Crockett, Bowie, and Travis became men and heroes at the Alamo, and we know about them because they were written about as such. Tom Brokaw wrote about unsung heroes of the “greatest generation.” My father, Neil G. McLane, was a part of that generation, a young 1st lieutenant who led his men onto the beaches of Normandy, through battles such as Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. He held many of the young men he led in his arms as they died, and he himself was injured three times and sent back to the front. I know unsung American heroes of the Korean War, and especially of the Vietnam War. They were not recognized for their valor, even though they were as patriotic and heroic as those at the Alamo. Their wars were not “good” wars.
Now we have American heroes being made every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, both men and women. We are not hearing the stories of these courageous, tough, patriotic Americans. Their stories could promote the ideals Mr. Allensworth ascribes to those American legends. Would Chronicles be willing to publish articles on a regular basis about individuals currently fighting our wars? Or do we not want to hear their stories because we do not condone the wars they are ordered to fight? Americans go to war risking their lives for their loved ones and their country because they believe in America, and they believe that people of other countries deserve a chance at some of what we enjoy. What a contrast with the narcissistic suicide bombers who do what they do so that they might attain instant gratification in their concept of heaven. We need to sing loudly the songs of the former to drown out the evil of the latter.
—Norma McLane Haan
Sioux Falls, SD
Mr. Allensworth Replies:
After reading Norma Haan’s letter, I was, for a time, at a loss about how to reply. I can hear the voice of many of my own friends and relatives in her words.
My article had as much to do with the character of frontier America’s men—idealized in the mythic stories of the Texas heroes I described—as the physical courage they showed in battle. It is very hard for me to imagine the independence of spirit of such men ever developing in the postmodern America we now live in, where what were once considered normal masculine traits are all but illegal and the masculine role in society and family is so denigrated. A decade in Washington’s bureaucracy showed me that there are still good men out there, but the common tendency to duck and run to save one’s pension is part of a prevalent culture of servility.
As far as America’s service personnel, there is no reason not to celebrate heroism, even in a bad cause. America is in such a state that wartime is one of the few opportunities normal people have to express their patriotism. We are simply not allowed to otherwise. That is dangerous, for normal patriotism can easily be transformed into aggressive nationalism.
The problem comes when we make the military the imaginary repository of all our values, merging the military and the state into a false vision of the country, replacing the real nation. For my own part, I see the military bureaucracy as part of the problem, not as part of any solution. That, along with my own conviction that the Iraq war is wrong—both morally and for American interests—has made it more difficult to focus on the courage of our troops.
The politicians have made all their unnecessary wars (including a number of “good” ones) acceptable to a large segment of the public by successfully manipulating what is itself a good thing—the normal habit of taking one’s own side in a fight—to accomplish goals that themselves are damaging to the nation, especially the sons and—God help us—daughters who are now in harm’s way. A really heroic thing would be for a patriotic official in good standing to risk his career by saying that the country is best served by ending the pointless war in Iraq.
I despise the killing of civilians, and each American death is a loss for all of us. But if we “drown out” what is happening in Iraq—as the architects of that illegal war would have us do—we will not look closely at the reasons the insurgency is growing and more Americans are dying. How many Iraqis have died in a war they did not provoke? Is it simply an act of narcissism to sacrifice one’s life to strike at foreign occupiers and at what are viewed (by the suicides themselves and their sympathizers) as collaborators? Was it any less evil to launch an invasion of a country that had not attacked us? Doesn’t the invasion and occupation of Iraq have as much to do with the attacks on U.S. troops as does militant Islam (which no one can accuse the editors of Chronicles of underestimating)? If we truly respect the military profession and care for our soldiers, we cannot allow them to be used as cannon fodder in a war that has nothing to do with America or American interests. If Israelis feel the need to invade an Arab state, let them. If the oil lobby wants Arab oil, let them buy it.
I feel a great deal of personal anguish over the war. A large number of the troops being lost over there are people like you and me—“Middle Americans,” for want of a better term. Middle America is losing young people we desperately need at home, having families and preserving the land we all love in a way that has nothing to do with heroism in the martial sense but with an everyday courage a lot of us, including yours truly, have not celebrated enough. Those are the kind of role models we really need to be promoting at this point in our history.