Masculinity an important factor to survival on the battle field
Heroism — the willingness to put your life on the line for family, tribe, duty, honor, country and God in the face of the greatest possible adversity — used to be considered one of the foremost masculine virtues.
Indeed, the history of western civilization from the ancient Greeks to the recent present has been the history of heroism as well: the last stands at Thermopylae, Masada, the Swiss Guard at the Vatican in 1527, the Alamo, Khartoum, and Stalingrad are still names to conjure with, learn from, and celebrate.
Indeed, just 70 years ago this week, the First Marine Division fought its way into the pages of history with their gallant stand at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. In temperatures as low as minus-30 degrees, the Marines held off some 100,000 Chinese attackers and fought their way in hellish conditions back to the allied lines.
Today, however, we live in a decidedly unheroic age, one in which the traditional masculine attributes of courage, physical strength, and moral fortitude have been disparaged by feminists and soy boys nearly into oblivion.
Dismissed as outdated and derided as “toxic,” masculinity and the martial virtues so vital to the maintenance of society and social order have been stuffed into the cultural closet in favor of wishful thinking, politically correct fantasy, and dangerous good intentions. It seems we’re too rational, too sophisticated, too civilized for definitive brutality anymore.
But are we? As I argue in my new book, “Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost,” the notion that a progressive “arc of history” has somehow made war obsolete and men superfluous goes against all the evidence of history.
As my study of more than a dozen notable last stands shows, the decision to fight to the end not only affects history, it changes it. The Spartans at Thermopylae stopped the Persians and gave birth to Western civilization. The Hungarians and Croats staved off the Ottoman Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent at Szigetvar in 1566 and halted militant Islam’s incursion into Europe. The “Texians” at the Alamo helped create the modern territorial United States. In each battle, the defenders died to the last man.
Others survived, but at a terrible cost. The Union Army under Grant and Sherman was surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the Confederates at Shiloh, but they regrouped and won through the following day; the Civil War might have turned out very differently had they lost.
The Sioux and the Cheyenne warriors who annihilated Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 never again mustered so large a force, or defeated the US Army. A Russian loss against the German Wehrmacht at Stalingrad during the fierce winter of 1942-43 — where the combined casualties were 2 million dead, wounded, missing or captured — would have left Hitler the sole master of Europe.
Don’t think it can’t happen again, because while technology changes, the human animal does not. Battles are won or lost most often by which side wanted victory more, even if they had to pay the ultimate price. “The human heart,” wrote Col. Ardant du Picq in his treatise, “Battle Studies” (1880), “is then the starting point in all matters pertaining to war.”
Most of the time when men find themselves facing annihilation by an enemy they have no choice but to fight until the finish. The Marines who fought their way out of the Chosin Reservoir destroyed the Chinese Ninth army which would never be reconstituted during the Korean war. Not only was it a heroic operation by the Marines under terrible weather conditions, but it had a lasting impact on not only the Marines but also on Chinese leaders who never wanted to engage US forces in a land war again under Mao.
The men at the Alamo were a relatively small force and Santa Anna's decision to annihilate them was a serious blunder that allowed the main army of the Texans to escape and eventually defeat his tired men. He would have been smarter to isolate the Alamo and continue to pursue the main army.
In Vietnam, the siege of Khe Sanh did not involve a last stand because the US used air power and artillery to prevent a final assault on the isolated base. One of the unique aspects of the siege is that the NVA troops had to deal with the plague while the Marines inside the perimeter had all been inoculated with a plague vaccine before coming to Vietnam. As a Marine officer, I had a brief visit to the base on a top-secret mission after the siege was lifted. The mountains outside the perimeter of the base looked like a moonscape from the bombing. The base had several strategic missions, and one of them was to act as a jumping-off point for special ops to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was likely that mission was the reason Gaip wanted to isolate the base. Ironically, the special ops forces entered the trail from a base in Thailand and gathered intelligence on a high-level meeting at Co Rock in Laos which was an NVA artillery base to attack Khe Sanh. That led to a bombing operation at Co Rock.