by Peggy Noonan, WSJ (10.12.01)
[ Peggy Noonan wrote this article over fifteen years ago. Its still powerful and poignant but do you think her hope that real men were back when the men of 9/11 rose up against evil and unselfishly, heroically rescued people. Re-read her comments and see if we've forged ahead or shrunk back from authentic manhood. Is the Duke back or is he still dead?]
few weeks ago I wrote a column called "God Is Back,"
about how, within a day of the events of Sept. 11, my city was awash in
religious imagery--prayer cards, statues of saints. It all culminated, in a
way, in the discovery of the steel-girder cross that emerged last week from the
wreckage--unbent, unbroken, unmelted, perfectly proportioned and duly blessed
by a Catholic friar on the request of the rescue workers, who seemed to see
meaning in the cross's existence. So do I.My
son, a teenager, finds this hilarious, as does one of my best friends. They
have teased me, to my delight, but I have told them, "Boys, this whole story
is about good and evil, about the clash of good and evil." If you are of a
certain cast of mind, it is of course meaningful that the face of the Evil One
seemed to emerge with a roar from the furnace that was Tower One.
You have seen
the Associated Press photo, and the photos that followed: the evil face roared
out of the building with an ugly howl--and then in a snap of the fingers it
lost form and force and disappeared. If you are of a certain cast of mind it is
of course meaningful that the cross, which to those of its faith is
imperishable, did not disappear. It was not crushed by the millions of tons of
concrete that crashed down upon it, did not melt in the furnace. It rose from
the rubble, still there, intact.
the ignorant, the superstitious and me (and maybe you), the face of the Evil
One was revealed, and died; for the ignorant, the superstitious and me (and
maybe you), the cross survived. This is how God speaks to us. He is saying,
"I am." He is saying, "I am here." He is saying, "And
the force of all the evil of all the world will not bury me."I
believe this quite literally. But then I am experiencing Sept. 11 not as a
political event but as a spiritual event.
of course, a cultural one, which gets me to my topic.
is not only that God is back, but that men are back. A certain style of
manliness is once again being honored and celebrated in our country since Sept.
11. You might say it suddenly emerged from the rubble of the past quarter
century, and emerged when a certain kind of man came forth to get our great
country out of the fix it was in.
am speaking of masculine men, men who push things and pull things and haul
things and build things, men who charge up the stairs in a hundred pounds of
gear and tell everyone else where to go to be safe. Men who are welders, who do
construction, men who are cops and firemen. They are all of them, one way or
another, the men who put the fire out, the men who are digging the rubble out,
and the men who will build whatever takes its place.
their style is back in style. We are experiencing a new respect for their
old-fashioned masculinity, a new respect for physical courage, for strength and
for the willingness to use both for the good of others.
didn't have to be a fireman to be one of the manly men of Sept. 11. Those
businessmen on flight 93, which was supposed to hit Washington, the businessmen
who didn't live by their hands or their backs but who found out what was
happening to their country, said goodbye to the people they loved, snapped the
cell phone shut and said, "Let's roll." Those were tough men, the
ones who forced that plane down in Pennsylvania. They were tough, brave guys.
me tell you when I first realized what I'm saying. On Friday, Sept. 14, I went
with friends down to the staging area on the West Side Highway where all the
trucks filled with guys coming off a 12-hour shift at ground zero would pass
by. They were tough, rough men, the grunts of the city--construction workers
and electrical workers and cops and emergency medical worker and firemen.
joined a group that was just standing there as the truck convoys went by. And
all we did was cheer. We all wanted to do some kind of volunteer work but there
was nothing left to do, so we stood and cheered those who were doing. The
trucks would go by and we'd cheer and wave and shout "God bless you!"
and "We love you!" We waved flags and signs, clapped and threw
kisses, and we meant it: We loved these men. And as the workers would go
by--they would wave to us from their trucks and buses, and smile and nod--I
realized that a lot of them were men who hadn't been applauded since the day
they danced to their song with their bride at the wedding.
suddenly I looked around me at all of us who were cheering. And saw who we
were. Investment bankers! Orthodontists! Magazine editors! In my group, a
lawyer, a columnist and a writer. We had been the kings and queens of the city,
respected professional in a city that respects its professional class. And this
night we were nobody. We were so useless, all we could do was applaud the
somebodies, the workers who, unlike us, had not been applauded much in their
now they were saving our city.
turned to my friend and said, "I have seen the grunts of New York become
kings and queens of the City." I was so moved and, oddly I guess,
grateful. Because they'd always been the people who ran the place, who kept it
going, they'd just never been given their due. But now--"And the last
shall be first"--we were making up for it.
may seem that I am really talking about class--the professional classes have a
new appreciation for the working class men of Lodi, N.J., or Astoria, Queens.
But what I'm attempting to talk about is actual manliness, which often seems
tied up with class issues, as they say, but isn't always by any means the same
what I'm trying to say: Once about 10 years ago there was a story--you might
have read it in your local tabloid, or a supermarket tabloid like the National
Enquirer--about an American man and woman who were on their honeymoon in
Australia or New Zealand. They were swimming in the ocean, the water
chest-high. From nowhere came a shark. The shark went straight for the woman,
opened its jaws. Do you know what the man did?
He punched the shark in the head.
He punched it and punched it again. He did not do brilliant commentary on the
shark, he did not share his sensitive feelings about the shark, he did not make
wry observations about the shark, he punched the shark in the head. So the
shark let go of his wife and went straight for him. And it killed him. The wife
survived to tell the story of what her husband had done. He had tried to deck
the shark. I told my friends: That's what a wonderful man is, a man who will
try to deck the shark.I
don't know what the guy did for a living, but he had a very old-fashioned sense
of what it is to be a man, and I think that sense is coming back into style
because of who saved us on Sept. 11, and that is very good for our country.
Well, manliness wins wars. Strength and guts plus brains and spirit wins wars.
But also, you know what follows manliness? The gentleman. The return of
manliness will bring a return of gentlemanliness, for a simple reason:
masculine men are almost by definition gentlemen. Example: If you're a woman
and you go to a faculty meeting at an Ivy League University you'll have to
fight with a male intellectual for a chair, but I assure you that if you go to
a Knights of Columbus Hall, the men inside (cops, firemen, insurance agents)
will rise to offer you a seat. Because they are manly men, and gentlemen.
is hard to be a man. I am certain of it; to be a man in this world is not easy.
I know you are thinking, But it's not easy to be a woman, and you are so right.
But women get to complain and make others feel bad about their plight. Men have
to suck it up. Good men suck it up and remain good-natured, constructive and
helpful; less-good men become the kind of men who are spoofed on "The Man
Show"--babe-watching, dope-smoking nihilists. (Nihilism is not manly, it
is the last refuge of sissies.)
should discuss how manliness and its brother, gentlemanliness, went out of
style. I know, because I was there. In fact, I may have done it. I remember
exactly when: It was in the mid-'70s, and I was in my mid-20s, and a big, nice,
middle-aged man got up from his seat to help me haul a big piece of luggage
into the overhead luggage space on a plane. I was a feminist, and knew our
rules and rants. "I can do it myself," I snapped.
was important that he know women are strong. It was even more important, it
turns out, that I know I was a jackass, but I didn't. I embarrassed a nice man
who was attempting to help a lady. I wasn't lady enough to let him. I bet he
never offered to help a lady again. I bet he became an intellectual, or a
writer, and not a good man like a fireman or a businessman who says,
perhaps it wasn't just me. I was there in America, as a child, when John Wayne
was a hero, and a symbol of American manliness. He was strong, and silent. And
I was there in America when they killed John Wayne by a thousand cuts. A lot of
people killed him--not only feminists but peaceniks, leftists, intellectuals,
others. You could even say it was Woody Allen who did it, through laughter and
an endearing admission of his own nervousness and fear. He made nervousness and
fearfulness the admired style. He made not being able to deck the shark, but
doing the funniest commentary on not decking the shark,
seem . . . cool.
when we killed John Wayne, you know who we were left with. We were left with
John Wayne's friendly-antagonist sidekick in the old John Ford movies, Barry
Fitzgerald. The small, nervous, gossiping neighborhood commentator Barry
Fitzgerald, who wanted to talk about everything and do nothing.
was not progress. It was not improvement.
missed John Wayne.
now I think . . . he's back. I think he returned on Sept. 11. I
think he ran up the stairs, threw the kid over his back like a sack of
potatoes, came back down and shoveled rubble. I think he's in Afghanistan now,
saying, with his slow swagger and simmering silence, "Yer in a whole lotta
trouble now, Osama-boy."
think he's back in style. And none too soon.
once again: Thank you, men of Sept. 11.
Ms. Noonan is a
contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Her new book, "When
Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan," will be published by Viking
Penguin this fall. Her column appears Fridays.