In her book of the same name, Christina Hoff Sommers brilliantly defined The War Against Boys in today's feminized culture, particularly in public education. But two surprise blockbuster-selling books show that the feminist effort to polish away the essential grit from the souls of American boys might not be as successful as it sometimes seems, and there is still a market for manliness.
We've all seen it in real life. Unless the school shrink is given the opportunity to drug it out of them, boys will be boys. When my son was about 5 years old, he inadvertently became the neighborhood gunrunner. Our street was filled with rough-and-tumble boys, but two mothers -- both public school teachers -- were determined to banish toy guns. No other husband dared to cross them.
My wife, on the other hand, seemed incapable of resisting my son's plea to buy him a new Nerf or cap gun every time he had to tag along on a shopping trip. Of course, it's no fun playing guns by yourself, and he soon broke the embargo on false firearms with the other boys (who had been fashioning toy guns out of whatever materials they could scrounge, anyway) flocking to our house to take up arms. Masculine nature trumped graduate school sociology courses, and Nerf ammo and gunshot sound effects, spoken and mechanical, filled the air on Main Street.
British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden remember the days when parents and teachers understood the difference between toy and real guns—and in fact encouraged the safe use of real firearms-- and zero tolerance essentially was reserved for children's disrespect for adults.
Their bestselling The Dangerous Book for Boys is a collection of war stories, how-tos on various projectile delivery systems, crafts, cool science stuff and sports trivia that would have been considered an essential reference for men-to-be at pretty much any time in the past. But 40 years ago, it wouldn't have been the sensation it is today.
Back then, this guide to a true boy's life probably would have borne an innocuous title like The Book for Boys. Adding "Dangerous" to the title is an in-your-face warning that this book is a counter to the feminization of Western culture and is undoubtedly what gets it picked up at the bookstore, where middle-aged men standing in the aisles pore through the pages with nostalgic grins.
Asserting in their foreword that "Men and boys today are the same as they always were, and interested in the same things," the Igguldens set about to write the book they wish someone had written for them back in the day.
Beginning with "Essential Gear" — the first item is a Swiss Army Knife, whose possession could get one expelled from most public schools today -- and ending with a handy metric/standard conversion table, The Dangerous Book for Boys alternates the practical with the just plain fun in lively, concise prose accompanied by throwback-style illustrations.
From tales of survival in Antarctica to Mount Everest, from fighting the odds on battlefields from Thermopylae to Gettysburg; from teaching basic first aid to how to make a good bow and arrow, The Dangerous Book for Boys is the perfect response to the common complaint "There's nothing to do." There's even a chapter on how to hunt and eat a rabbit,
And where else are you going to learn such essential facts as "Beware of the dog" signs date back at least to Pompeii?
Conn Iggulden is the author of a popular series of enjoyable — and very macho — novels about Julius Caesar and his rise to power, but he may have found a whole new niche here and hopefully is starting a trend.
For my money, the coolest two pages in any book this season are in The Dangerous Book for Boys—titled "Timers and Tripwires." If you run that past the zero-tolerance types on your school board, make sure you read the Basic First Aid section first. You may need to perform CPR.
It would be interesting to see what might happen if conservatives en masse began donating this politically incorrect book to school libraries. Would the group of radicals who oppose Internet filters on library computers suddenly find a use for "censorship"?
If Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 -- the other manly-man bestseller of the summer -- had been published last year, I bet it would have been included in the Igguldens' list of "Books Every Boy Should Read."
I suspect Luttrell, an East Texas-born Navy SEAL, might have spent a lot of summer days with The Dangerous Book for Boys if it had been available during his formative years. Actually, the young Luttrell — who writes that he knew he wanted to be a SEAL from the age of 12 -- could have contributed a few chapters, himself. His dad taught him how to hunt wild boar with a noose, and he skipped high school sports in order to train with a retired Green Beret.
The bookstores are filled with first-hand accounts of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them very good, but none has reached the stratospheric sales numbers that Luttrell's memoir has. The fact that the last 150 pages contain some of the most jaw-dropping combat scenes I've ever read in a nonfiction book can account for only part of the secret of its success.
The fact that Lone Survivor unapologetically in favor of killing bad guys and is the most gung-ho, pro-war recent combat memoir I have picked up so far has to be a factor in its mass appeal. Lattrell mostly keeps the language as a PG-13 level, but his opinions are completely uncensored- - especially for a guy who's still on active duty—and the public is responding to him.
In his first chapter, Luttrell smacks "lefties" in general and the "liberal media" in particular for being on the wrong side of the Global War on Terror. He openly admires George W. Bush, and he pronounces that Abu Grahib "does not ring my personal alarm bell" in the context of the region's human rights abuses. He brutally honest about the rules of engagement that hamper American forces who are fighting terrorists masquerading as civilians. In his criticism, he minces no words:
"Thus we have an extra element of fear and danger when we go into combat against the Taliban or Al Qaeda — the fear of our own, the fear of what our own navy judge advocate general might rule against us, the fear of the American media and their unfortunate effect on American politicians. We all harbor fears about untrained, half-educated journalists who only want a good story to justify their salaries and expense accounts. Don't think it's just me. We all detest them, partly for their lack of judgment, mostly because of their ignorance and toe-curling opportunism. The first minute an armed conflict turns into a media war, the news becomes someone's opinion, not hard truths. When the media gets involved, in the United States, that's a war you've got a damned good chance of losing, because the restrictions on us are immediately amplified, and that's sensationally good news for our enemy."
The raison d'etre for Lone Survivor, however, is not as a media or political critique. It is a testament to incredible courage and valor under fire. Luttrell was the only man to survive the single biggest disaster in Navy SEAL history. While only a couple of dozen SEALs -- officially -- were killed during hundreds of daring missions in Vietnam that left thousands of the enemy dead, 11 died in one day during of Operation Redwing in Afghanistan.
In June 2005, Luttrell was part of a four-member team of Navy SEALs assigned to track and kill a top Al Qaeda commander in a remote region of Afghanistan,. The unit was led by Lt. Michael Murphy and also included Petty Officers Matthew "Axe" Axelson and Danny Dietz.
After an ill-advised act of mercy for Afghan shepherds -- a decision made partly out of fear of prosecution and partly out of Christian decency -- the SEALs found themselves trapped on an exposed mountainside by an army of about 200 Al Qaeda fighters.
If Lone Survivor makes it to the big screen, and accurately portrays the story's central combat incident, the filmmakers will have to worry that critics will label the movie unrealistic.
The four SEALs main tactic in fighting the terrorist army that is swarming toward them is by jumping a cliff and killing scores of Al Qaeda fighters who try to follow them. Then when that position is overrun, they repeat the process. All the while, they each take a physical beating that makes Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard look like he's playing touch football at a church picnic.
Eventually, the 50-1 odds are too much. Mortally wounded, Murphy, in an act of astonishing bravery, deliberately exposes himself to enemy fire to get a clear phone signal to call for help for his men. Axe and Dietz fight through incredible wounds and injuries to the very end, while the rescue helicopter loaded with SEALs and Rangers is shot down with all hands lost in the mountainous terrain.
Luttrell alone survives because a grenade blows him off a cliff into a hidden crevasse. He eventually is rescued by Pashtun tribesmen who, possibly taken with his incredible bravery (Luttrell does not speculate on their motivation), offer him sanctuary, treat his injuries and defy Al Qaeda demands to surrender him.
Lone Survivor wears its heart of its sleeve. Luttrell bleeds red, white and blue, and the Lone Star is only a step behind Old Glory in his allegiance. He loves being a Navy SEAL, and he lives to fight America's enemies. If his story doesn't stir you ... well, you're hopeless.
The success of Lone Survivor proves that the real objective of the feminist culture's war against boys -- to keep the U.S. from producing men like Marcus Luttrell—has failed. Thank God.