What a Man's Gotta Do
By: Duncan Anderson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 10, 2001
Men need a purpose, or they stop being men. The hairstyles we wore in the 1970s, when I was at Amherst, remind me of codpieces items of idle display for men who had no great purpose at the time.
In my freshman year at Amherst College, I remember an emergency, allcampus meeting in Johnson Chapel. It was exciting. President Nixon had just fired Archibald Cox, the Special Prosecutor for l’Affaire Watergate. We sat in the chapel and listened to the closest thing Amherst had to a celebrity, historian Henry Steele Commager, as he read from the Declaration of Independence, changing the name of King George to President Richard building the case for Nixon’s impeachment. I loved it. But I thought Commager was being way too soft. I wanted blood.
In retrospect, the exercise was appallingly stupid. I was appallingly stupid. Our chapel meeting had something in common with an incident the previous year, when Amherst’s president, President John William Ward, got himself arrested at a sitin at nearby Westover Air Force Base. It was display, a substitute for meaning where meaning was wanting.
Ward was notorious for sex scandals as president. After he left the position, one day we heard that he had committed suicide when his wife announced she was filing for divorce. The reports said he had been drinking heavily for some years.
At college, I recall brunch and dinner conversations with Bo, a friend and fraternity brother, wherein I was relentlessly looking for meaning. On one occasion, I proposed to find it by becoming an ecoterrorist. Bo dismissed this as a messy form of “treehugging” and I fortunately lost interest.
A century ago, it was easy to identify the meaning or purpose of the college and its students: training men for the Congregationalist ministry. Our fathers fought World War II and Korea, suffering little public confusion about their vocation as soldiers or fathers.
But the long childhood that came over college campuses in the 1960s continues at Amherst. Shortly after Sept. 11, students there rallied to protest any response America might be planning to make to the attacks, because they knew it would be wrong. Protest of this sort is not so much against the military or America as it is against the cult of patriotism and masculinity that makes adult life possible.
Since going coed in 1975, the Amherst administration has spent enormous energy to obliterate signs of its allmale past and reinvent itself as a feminist institution. An expensive display, it is also obsolete.
Feminism is a philosophy that holds that the leadership and physical strength of ordinary men are dangerous and potentially evil, and must wither away before a just society can exist. Some men like this idea: Let your girlfriend pay the bills if you’re, like, into monogamy. But feminized men and women can only survive in a protected world where male police officers or soldiers keep the threats far away. As of Sept. 11, we know that world is gone.
Thugs with boxcutters operating in a feminized culture know that they can hijack an airplane, because most polite male passengers don’t feel it’s their place to stop them.
I read that at a patriotism rally in the Amherst campus center, 10 outsiders from the area entered the assembly and burned an American flag. It is embarrassing that nobody punched them out. Amherst’s Dean of New Students, Francis Couvares, commented delicately that “Neither [flag] waving nor burning is my preferred way.”
The intellectual’s temptation is detachment from his country’s struggles. The Roman Empire had an abundance of clever, ironic people who were enlightened in many ways. They were overwhelmed by Vandals without graduate degrees who didn’t get their jokes.
At Amherst in the ’70s, I also saw the good side of the intellectual’s detachment cutting through cant and emotion to the truth. Reading Amherst’s student newspaper, the Student, today, you can see that warriors’ minds still take form amid the silliness, and won’t be stopped. They learn from some of the same masters who trained us; maybe they draw courage from the echoes in Johnson Chapel.
One day a few years ago, my father mentioned that he and his Amherst fraternity brothers applauded, not by clapping their hands, but by snapping their fingers. I was shocked because I had belonged to a different fraternity, and we applauded the same way I had thought it was our thing. Later, a good Amherst friend from yet another fraternity acknowledged that he and his brethren had the same custom. Finally, in an old yearbook, I found a story by one of the music professors about Amherst in the ’30s, explaining that “our manner of applauding in Chapel by snapping our fingers” was a peculiar custom of the whole college. I thought of the chapel resounding eerily with this restrained, subtle sound, born of men’s confidence in their purpose and strength.
The reality that is replacing feminism is already part of our lives as alumni. The ageold division of labor has gradually been putting us in our place a surprisingly elevated place. Men are the defenders of women. And women are the creators of civilization.
After Pearl Harbor, college men did not try to detach themselves from their country’s fate. Since September 11, American males have been awakening, quicker in some places than others, to the fact that they have a job to do as men. Between our friends, our families, and the effects of what we do, the future of the human race is passing through us. This task will demand heroism from us for the rest of our lives in great ways and small. There is where our true purpose begins.
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