Action movies are just as American as motherhood, apple pie, and capitalism. Movies like Unforgiven, Gladiator, Rooster Cogburn, Conan, Dirty Harry, Die Hard, The Dark Knight, High Noon, Man on Fire, Red Dawn, Tombstone, and True Grit speak to men in a primal language that transcends the story line on the screen. Men like these films because they capture qualities we’d like to think we have ourselves. We like the idea of being billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and fighting crime in our spare time, pointing a gun at a punk and asking him if he feels lucky, or responding to the question, “What is best in life?” with “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!“ While there are dozens of deserving action movies, there are seven that are particularly good at revealing parts of the male psyche.
1) First Blood
John Rambo is a damaged character. His fighting in Vietnam left him with mental problems, made him ill-equipped to fit into society, and led to him ultimately having a difficult and lonely existence. However, there are two things about him that make the character click with men. The first is this:
Teasle: Are you telling me that 200 men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?
Trautman: You send that many, don’t forget one thing.
Trautman: A good supply of body bags.
Rambo doesn’t pick the fight, but when he is backed up against a wall, he is a one-man army. This theme is repeated over and over in action movies because it’s something men aspire to all the way down in their souls.
The other, more subtle thing that makes Rambo appealing is that he shares a grievance that most men have on some level or another: his sacrifices are largely unappreciated. He went through hell to do what had to be done, paid a terrible price for it, saw his suffering shrugged off by men unfit to say his name, and was left holding the bag. There are millions of men who feel the exact same way. They’ve provided, they’ve struggled, they’ve done things they didn’t want to do for other people, and, ultimately, they found that it wasn’t valued. That makes it easy to relate to a character like Rambo, even if you’re not planning to shoot at anybody with a machine gun.
America’s muddle in Afghanistan is not merely an unwise policy. Two prominent American authors — one a serious analyst (and former badass warrior), the other a bestselling novelist (who created one of our biggest badass heroes) — worry that it is an affront to American manhood as well.
For years Bing West has argued that our carrot with no stick approach to counterinsurgency and nation building in Afghanistan is sapping the “martial spirit” of our armed forces. Recently, he even wrote a column titled “We’re Too Nice to Win in Afghanistan,” detailing how a wimpy approach to a truly savage enemy is making victory impossible.
West proposes we change from a counterinsurgency protocol (winning hearts and minds in order to recruit allies against the terrorists while building a civil society) to a counter-terror strategy (kill them whenever and wherever we can find them and let the Afghan government build its own society).
Vince Flynn, in his new book The Last Man, has his fictional alter ego, Mitch Rapp, take a very direct approach. Upon being introduced to a former Taliban official the CIA has recruited to be part of the Afghan security infrastructure as America prepares to leave the country, and who is certainly playing both sides, he sees only one incentive structure that can work:
Pistol-whip the sneaky bastard and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t cooperate.
So, based on West’s superb book on the war in Afghanistan, The Wrong War, and Flynn’s best thriller to date, here are 5 ways that Obama’s approach to Afghanistan is an affront to American manhood.
By Dakota Meyer and Bing West
Random House, $27, 239 pp.
Does this sound familiar?
1. A group of Americans on a diplomatic mission to reach out to Muslims are pinned down by al-Qaeda and come under overwhelming fire.
2. They repeatedly call for support fire missions, which are denied because they cannot absolutely guarantee no civilians are in the area.
3. A frustrated American warrior disobeys orders to go on what appears to be a suicide mission to try to save them.
4. The pinned down Americans are wiped out because supporting fire missions are denied them.
No, this is not a rush-to-press account of the recent disgrace in Benghazi, but if you think Libya was a unique screw-up during the Obama administration, Into the Fire — the story of the Battle of Ganjigal, by Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer and war correspondent extraordinaire Bing West — will change your perception.
As Benghazi and Ganjigal show, it’s the unwritten policy of the Obama administration that civilian lives come before the lives of American soldiers, even when there is only a slim chance bystanders will be killed.
I first learned of Meyer’s story while reading West’s masterful The Wrong War, a scathing critique of how the Afghan war has become more of an ill-conceived welfare plan than an anti-terrorism fight.
Among that book’s most gripping chapters is the story of the ill-conceived and ill-fated Operation Dancing Goat (which I’m sure is informally known as goat-something-else among those who participated). Here, the rules of engagement and brass with no respect for the enemy’s capabilities nearly led to a disaster that would have been much worse but for the unbelievable heroism of one Marine, Dakota Meyer.
But Into the Fire, despite its subtitle, is more than just an account of that fateful day. Meyer sets the stage by telling of his complete tour in Afghanistan, recounting the successes and failures of training Afghan troops to take over their own security, and of the incredible strictures placed on American combat forces by their own command.
Time and again, Meyer was constrained from engaging enemy forces by casualty-shy commanders who forgot the age-old maxim: force projection is force protection.
But even more frustrating were the rules of engagement that all but forbade contact with the enemy if civilians were part of the context, thus giving Taliban and al-Qaeda forces the incentive to surround themselves with innocents.
On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns of Europe fell silent. We in the US know of November 11th as Veterans’ Day, a holiday to honor those who have served in our military forces.
Sadly, the day isn’t thought of much outside the military. The President lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. As it is not usually a day off of work, most department stores don’t even bother with announcing a sale. A news story about Obama’s plans for Veterans’ Day 2011 sums up the lack of gravitas our culture gives to the day. After quoting the news release that Obama would attend the ceremonies at Arlington and then fly to San Diego to watch a football game with the crew of the USS Carl Vinson, the report concluded:
Will you be tuning in to watch the historic event? If nothing else it will be cool to watch a game on a war machine that can literally wipe out an entire city.
I didn’t know much about Veterans’ Day until we moved to London. From the beginning of November to the 11th or the second Sunday, Remberance Sunday, people wear commemorative poppies on their lapels. The British Legion sells the pins as a fund raiser for wounded veterans. (The American Legion does as well, but on a small scale.) On both days, people observe a moment of silence at 11 am. Why two days? During WWII, the moment of silence was moved to the closest Sunday so as not to interfere with wartime production. After WWII ended, the double observance remained, perhaps as a reminder as to why the ceremony had to move.
Last night, Obama supporters again proved that they will hear what they want to hear. As the “binders full of women” comment gave Democratic women a hook for their assumption that Romney is bad for women in government, Obama’s comment about horses and bayonets launched an instant meme in which his supporters see what they want to see. This time, however, they are making fools of themselves.
If you were watching football or anything enjoyable last night, Romney was talking about the importance of maintaining our forces and lamented that we now had the smallest navy since 1916. Obama countered that Romney didn’t know much about the military, that this wasn’t a game of Battleship, that we had more than horses and bayonets these days. The left saw this as a zinger. Tweets about the obsoleteness of bayonets and horses started to flow. The left relished the idea that they were more military savvy than Romney. Alas, they were mistaken.
We still use bayonets. And horses. Remember when it seemed to take forever before we went into Afghanistan after 9/11? Special Forces had already gone in—on horseback—to ID and paint the targets for our attack. There is a lovely memorial going in at Ground Zero to commemorate these heroes. Bayonets can be seen in stock photos of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and in the Few, The Proud, The Marines commercials. In Great Britain one can still earn medals for proper use of a bayonet. (h/t @tobyharnden) In contention for the best comment of the night started by a mother of 2 Marines to Mona Charen: “Ambassador Stevens would have loved a horse or a bayonet or a Marine with either one.”
Obama was probably trying to say that in the modern era the number of ships isn’t as important as the kind of ships. If Obama hadn’t been aiming for a petty zinger, he might have been able to articulate that point. He didn’t, and his supporters ran with the horses and bayonets meme which exposes them as not only ignorant, but willfully ignorant of the military.
It was 1977, and my senior year at Ohio State when my friend Mike invited me to see Queen perform on campus.
Mike and I were both cadets in the Ohio State Army ROTC program. Our friendship developed because we took the ROTC program slightly less seriously than some of our fellow cadets who we had identified as future Army “lifers.” (Mike and I were much “cooler” because as Reserve officers we would have a “real life” outside of the Army.)
As we were walking over to the concert, Mike casually mentioned that he had earned ten dollars that afternoon giving blood so he could afford our concert tickets.
Suddenly I remembered seeing signs posted all around campus advertising ten dollars for blood, but this was the first I had heard of anyone actually doing it.
My immediate thought was blood money to take me to a Queen concert?
Personally, I did not think I was worthy of Mike’s blood, but seeing Queen certainly was!
Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury now considered a rock legend, indeed gave a legendary performance, bouncing all around the stage wearing the same tight white shiny jumpsuit you see in the famous music video above.
Among the songs performed that night was Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen’s 1975 album, A Night at the Opera.
Besides Freddy’s costume, I also remember staring at the big gong on stage and looking forward to it being used for Bohemian Rhapsody’s final note.
Thirty five years later, Queen remains ensconced in my “Personal Pantheon of Classic Rock Greatness.” Their music, much of it sung in a harmonic style known A cappella, is considered by many to be some of the most masterful rock music ever recorded.
Tragically, Freddy Mercury was one of the first celebrities to die of AIDS, in 1991 and his death brought early attention to the disease.
Now what shall we drink to celebrate Queen’s royal greatness?
Ah, let me rephrase that question — What do I have in my refrigerator that I can write about and photograph this second? (I literally get up, look in the refrigerator and see a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay purchased during my last expedition to COSTCO for $20.00. Since my father-in-law’s 90th birthday bash is coming up, I have begun buying some pricier wines for that glorious occasion.)
This fine label is for you if you enjoy a more “upscale” chardonnay infused with oak and citrus. However, after drinking La Crema it is difficult to go back to drinking less expensive chardonnay.
So let’s raise a glass to Freddy, Queen and my ROTC friend Mike, who, the last time I saw him, in late 1977, had actually decided to become a “lifer” and is probably a 3-star general by now.
Thanks Mike for serving our country and for earning blood money so 35 years later I could write this silly column and dedicate it to you.
Monsignor and Father Jim, thank you for your inspiring words.
From the Marines, Lt. Commander Abdo, and from the Navy, Corpsman Ruddich, Commander Bock, Senior Chief Matthews, Chief Hall, Chief Petty Officer-Select Jennifer Duarte, Chief Baney, Chief Select Dilloway, Chief Select Blake, Petty Officer Englehart and all other uniformed personnel, you honor Keith and us with your presence. We also thank Commander Gerald Olin and Master Chief Michele Curtain of the U.S.S. Independence for their kindness and assistance.
Steve, we thank you for that motorcycle escort last week. We also thank the people of Delphos for their human wall of support.
Likshio, welcome to Ohio and thank you for making the long trip from Tijuana.
I am the brother of Keith’s mother Susanne and Keith’s Godfather. I’m here to tell you a few stories that hopefully illustrate the true character of Chief Petty Officer John Keith Bemis.
His full name was John Keith Bemis, but since we already had so many Johns in the family – my mother’s father, her brother, my father and my brother, we all called the first son of Sue and Tony Bemis “Keith.”
As you may remember, Arnold Schwarzenegger was Keith’s favorite action movie star. When he moved from making action films to California Governor, Arnold’s favorite habit was to describe everything – a movie he did, a campaign he won or a weightlifting record he set – as “FANTASTICK.”
I’m going to borrow Arnold’s favorite word and apply it to Keith – he really was fantastic. He was simply a good, good kid: A loyal son, a loving brother, a dedicated sailor and my closest nephew.
The first thing Commander Olin told me after expressing his condolences was that he wanted to emphasize what a tremendous asset Keith was to the US Navy. What stood out from Commander Olin’s tribute to Keith was that he was always willing to help out and that’s how I remember him. He was always there for everyone.
I knew Keith from the moment he was born, but I really got to know him in the late 1990s when he would come to stay the summer in Santa Monica to train for football season. Every day we’d go over to the Santa Monica College Track to either run or lift weight or sometimes both. There were also some USC players training there and they showed Keith a few pointers including something called a “Navy Seal push-up,” an 8-part exercise that combined push-ups, sit-ups, squat thrusts and chin-ups. When Keith first started training, he could only do about 15 or 20. By the end of the summer, he could do over 100.
On his last Sunday of training, we were over at the field and this handicapped kid named David was trying to kick extra points. Keith played on Special Teams at St. John’s and went over to teach him how to kick properly. David would miss the ball and say: “sorry Kevin.” We’d say his name is Keith and then David would miss the ball again and say: “sorry Kyle.” We’d remind David that the name was Keith. Poor David must have missed 20 kicks and called Keith 20 different names that began with K, including girls’ names like Kim, Kathleen and Karen. Finally, Keith got David to kick an extra point that was good and we all went home laughing about the missed names. And of course, that fall, Delphos St. John’s supplied a happy ending by winning the State Championship.