Towers of Strength

Reader Response to “Don’t Marry Career Women” – Towers of Strength

Towers of Strength
Regular Contributor
By Anne Morse

Unexpected Movie about America’s Unexpected Mission

Given that Oliver Stone directed World Trade Center, I fully expected to see a film blaming President Bush for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Twin Towers. Or maybe Israel, or Jerry Falwell, or Martian invaders. After all, this was the director who gave us JFK, which blamed the president’s assassination on the military-industrial complex, the mafia, the CIA, the FBI, and LBJ.

But World Trade Center is not only a surprisingly accurate depiction of what happened that day, it’s also a terrific film. It tells the September 11 story from the point of view of the Port Authority police officers who entered the North Tower after it was hit, and it captures the raw confusion and violence of that sunlit morning.

We learn about the first attack, as the cops did, as they began their work day at the Port Authority, chatting and getting coffee: They hear a horrific noise and feel the building shake. A team of first responders head for the North Tower, intent on rescuing the victims. Tragically, they become victims themselves when the tower collapses on top of them. Three officers are killed, and two others—Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena)—are buried in thousands of tons of concrete and twisted metal some twenty feet below the rubble field.

The film offers a terrifyingly real depiction of what it would be like, pinned in the bowels of a collapsed skyscraper. The survivors can see flames shooting above them, and the sporadic rumbling is a menacing reminder that the concrete might, at any moment, collapse further, finishing them off. It’s the closest thing to hell on earth. The men keep each other awake and alive by calling encouragement to one another in the darkness, telling stories, and talking about their loved ones.

Contrasted with this dark chaos are the peaceful neighborhoods in which these men live, where their wives and children anxiously await news of them. These scenes remind us that terror comes in many forms: a crushed cop beneath a pile of rubble; a child frantic with fear; a wife so distraught she may lose the baby she’s carrying.

But if we are given the full flavor of terror, we are also given a full measure of valor—starting with the men who are willing to run into a building that bleeding and broken people are running out of (and jumping from). We see Wisconsin firefighters watching the attacks on television and immediately deciding to head for the Big Apple to help.

Most poignantly, we see a former Marine—now an accountant—praying in a church for guidance before donning his old uniform and driving to New York. There, he meets up with another Marine and they begin searching through the rubble in the dark, hunting for survivors. Twelve hours after the North Tower’s collapse, the Marines hear one of the buried cops banging on a pipe. One Marine goes for help while the other shouts down to the cops, “We’re not leaving you, buddy. We’re Marines. You are our mission.” (The audience at the Washington, D.C., screening broke out in spontaneous applause during this scene.)

It does not occur to the police officers, firemen, and Marines not to help if they can. They take care of the victims, and each other, partly because it’s their job, but mainly because it’s the right thing to do. But one has to wonder how much longer we will have men who think and feel and act this way.

As Harvard professor of politics Harvey Mansfield notes in his book Manliness, the qualities that inspire men to gallant behavior are out of fashion today.

Mansfield defines manliness as “confidence in the face of risk.” Almost unknown in modern scientific literature, Mansfield writes, is a phenomenon Plato and Aristotle identified as thumos, “a quality of spiritedness . . . that induces humans, and especially manly men, to risk their lives in order to save their lives.” Instead, scientists attempt to reduce manliness to “the simplistic drives of aggression, domination, and self-preservation,” failing to consider “the phenomenon of manly assertiveness.”

“A manly man asserts himself so that he and the justice he demands are not overlooked,” Mansfield notes. “He rouses himself and seeks attention for what he deems important, sometimes something big—as in the case of the New York uniforms and the Islamic fascist, the nature and value of Western civilization. Manliness brings change or restores order at moments when routine is not enough, when the plan fails, when the whole idea of rational control by modern science develops leaks.”

Today’s boys are growing up in a culture that suggests that there is no real difference between males and females, and that if little boys do engage in typical boy behavior—running, jumping, shouting—they are put on Ritalin or threatened with suspension. As Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys, notes, “There are many who do not like boys, who view the natural tendencies of boys to be pathological, a defect to be overcome.”

And when those boys grow up, they are often hounded into behaving more like women: They must be more “sensitive,” willing to talk about their feelings, and do more of the housework—a view perfectly captured by the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Those unwise enough to suggest that there are inherent differences between the sexes (never mind that these differences should be encouraged) as former Harvard president Lawrence Sommers did, often live to regret it.

But the truth is that there are tremendous differences between males and females, and gender warriors will not succeed in suppressing manliness. The question is, what form do we want it to take? We either teach our sons to direct manly impulses channel manliness into virtuous channels, or we will see it erupt in destructive ways. We will have more thugs, gangs, and hyper-machismo behavior, and fewer men willing to run into collapsing buildings to save strangers.

At the end of World Trade Center, after the rescue of the buried cops, one of the Marines surveys the destruction around him and says, “We’re gonna need some good men out there to avenge this.”

The question is, will we have them?

Anne Morse is a senior writer for BreakPoint.

09-20-2006 02:41 PM

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