On November 14, 1965, while I was in the middle of my first semester in college, Major Bruce Crandall was performing feats of valor in Viet Nam. Forty-one years later, on February 26, 2007, the White House held a ceremony to award the Medal of Honor to Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall. You may read the citation of Crandall’s valor by clicking here. The New York Times ran its report on this ceremony on page 15, which prompted an interesting commentary by The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger. In some ways, Henninger gets it, in others he misses a point that is uncomfortable to the spirit of the age.
HENNINGER GETS IT
Henninger correctly sees the occasion of Crandall’s Medal of Honor to provide “a chance to understand not merely the risks of combat but what animates those who embrace those risks.” So far, so good. Henninger, then points to the remarks of two officials at the ceremony, remarks which express “values.”
First he mentions the remarks of Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, who spoke at the ceremony of what he called “the warrior ethos.” Gen. Schoomaker said this: “The words of the warrior ethos that we have today – I will always place the mission first; I will never accept defeat; I will never quit; and I will never leave a fallen comrade – were made real that day in the la Drang Valley.”
Next, Henninger cites the words of Secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey: “The courage and fortitude of America’s soldiers in combat exemplified by these individuals is, without question, the highest level of human behavior. It demonstrates the basic goodness of mankind as well as the inherent kindness and patriotism of American soldiers.”
So, Henninger holds up two things for us to discuss: (1) whether Schoomaker’s “warrior ethos” is worth the inevitable sacrifice that it entails; and (2) whether Harvey’s notion is true, that an American soldier in combat demonstrates the basic goodness of mankind. I’ve read Henninger carefully, and I can’t tell where his thoughts lie. His entire column seems to complain that these ideas are worthy of discussion and that they are not being discussed.
HENNINGER MISSES IT
So, why are such ideas not being discussed? Henninger seems to think it is because our doubtful culture hides from such a discussion, because it fears being charged with triumphalism or a martial spirit in the midst of a multi-lateral world (whatever that is). Yadda yadda yadda.
Maybe there’s a more basic reason these things don’t get much play in the media, why the New York Times buries the heroism of Major Crandall in a news round-up section, three lines from the bottom of page 15. Maybe modern folk are uneasy, or embarrassed, or scornful of an idea as old as mankind: men are saviors.
MEN ARE SAVIORS
In Western culture, men are saviors for a simple reason: a man is The Savior, and as such, Jesus is the template for all manhood. To be manly is to be like Jesus.
And, Jesus’ identity – like it or not – is defined by his being a savior, one who suffers sacrificially in a war against evil, to redeem, reclaim, and restore his Beloved. The history of Jesus is the template for all Western literature, which take all its plots from His. All stories are variations on His story, and His masculinity sets the boundaries of anything authentically masculine.
But, this notion of men being saviors did not erupt into history with Jesus’ birth. It was the pattern of masculinity within God’s people for the rolling centuries before Jesus’ birth. Israel always had a place for the grand and godly woman – Sarah, Deborah, Ruth, Hannah, Esther. But, none of them were saviors (yes, I know what others claim for Deborah, a claim she expressly repudiates; a matter for blogging another time). The ones to battle evil, sacrificially, to save a beloved – these were men, and it was to men that God’s people looked for such saviors.
Does this mean that all men actually functioned as saviors? Of course not. We live this side of the Fall. But the presence of the savior in the sexual DNA of men is exactly what allows us to account for the way sin generates the peculiarly masculine spiritual pathologies.
Cowardice has no meaning, indeed it does not even exist, apart from the premise that men are to be self-sacrificing saviors. Cowardice abandons a fundamental plank of masculine identity. Blood-lust has no meaning as a vice, indeed it does not exist as a vice, apart from the premise that men are to be warriors against evil for the sake of a beloved. Abusing this identity, fallen men love war for its own sake, or they lust for the heady thrill of destroying the enemies of one’s own self. Both cowardice and blood-lust are opposite sides of the same coin: a fallen savior.
And lying behind all these is God’s creation of man, the male, to be a savior. Christ’s sacrificial death for the sake of the Church was foreshadowed in the wound of Adam’s side, from which Eve emerged. But, the most explicit statement of the savior aspect of a man’s sexuality is the proto-evangelium, the first statement of the gospel, found in Genesis 3:15–
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
In retrospect, we find this promise fulfilled in the God-man Jesus Christ. From Eve’s perspective, however, she knew only that God is promising a savior to crush the Serpent’s head, that this savior will suffer a wound from Satan, and that this savior will be a human male.
And, why a male? Because, as already foreshadowed in Adam’s “death” which produced Eve, man is designed from the beginning to be a savior, that is, to be so constituted in his maleness as to play the part of the savior – to suffer sacrificially in a war against evil for the sake of a beloved.
FEMINISM HATES SAVIORS
And, for this reason, a culture imbued with feminist “values” is uneasy (at best) or hostile (at worst) toward men who are saviors. And, so Major Crandall’s long-delayed honor gets buried at the bottom of page 15 in The New York Times. If Henninger’s report is accurate, it failed to appear on the front page of any major daily newspaper.
I trust that nothing said here diminishes Major Crandall’s heroism. To say that men are saviors because they are created by God to act in various masculine ways cannot diminish their heroism when it is displayed. “They couldn’t help themselves” is patently false, as if heroism was a mindless impulse. Warfare does far more to expose men’s cowardice or blood-lust than their heroism.
On the other hand, war provides an arena in which manliness may shine. That is why Major Crandall’s heroism is so virtuous. Though a fallen son of Adam, he displayed virtue in the sense of its original Latin root: manliness. And, like all genuine manliness, it inspires and encourages all other men to conduct themselves as men ought, particularly in an age when manliness is mocked, scorned, and rejected by a culture that hates the notion that it needs saviors.