On Courage and Strength

I finally sat down to write today.  Oh, it hasn’t been all that long since my last post — certainly it has been nothing like some of the pauses when I was still living inside Yellowstone itself— but it has felt like forever.  It hasn’t been just this blog that I haven’t been writing, by the way, it has been everything.

I haven’t written a word since that last post.  Not a word on my personal stuff, not a word on my professional stuff, not a word on anything.

That honestly has sucked worse than the COVID itself (which sucks pretty damned bad).

I still can’t quite catch my breath, but at least I can see some daylight ahead…

At any rate, I want to get a post put together.  It’s more than want, really.  I need to write these few hundred words in order to flip that switch inside my brain from “meh” to “create.”  

I am not, however, going to write about the election.  Bah!  No more!  No more robocalls!  No more texts!  No more bullshit, I can’t take it anymore!  I put my phone into a box, then I buried that box.  I poured some cement on the dirt.  I built an altar on top of the cement and sacrificed a goat to the old gods of silence. I put a nuke on top of the altar…

Yeah, you get the picture.

So, what am I actually going to write on?  Err…well…”manliness.” 

And, no, I’m not trying to make this about sex or gender.  Linguistically speaking, I’m using the word to denote the complex set of beliefs and behaviors our culture has associated with concepts like strength, endurance and courage.  These concepts have nothing to do with the fun bits below our waists, by the way.  They have, however, everything to do with who a person is, rather than what.

I know, I know…how can I make a short blog post about something so big?  And just how did this come up anyway?!  Yeah, I just read a good article on it, and I got to thinking.  That’s always dangerous, of course.  Actually thinking is just asking for trouble…

Now, I’m not going to even begin to try to fully unpack the concept itself.  That would take several thousand words…and enough beer to drown me.  What I do want to say, however, is just how screwed up is our surface level view of this concept.  If you ask anyone for an example of “manliness” without giving time to consider and think, you will get some silly ass answers (no matter their location on the socio-political spectrum).  You will get the kind of “manliness” that is anything but.  You will get the false “tough-guy” persona of a Trump, or the false “real man” persona of a Bernie Sanders.

Neither of those is true, nor admirable.  Both are, in fact, the merest masks worn to cover inner deficiencies, and to give a shorthand route to popularity among their shallowest of followers.

No, what is true “manliness” — what defines true strength, endurance and courage — is something far more than shallow bravado and meaningless belligerence.  Equally, it is more than the shallow and meaningless showboating of “virtue” and “righteousness.”

No, if you have to talk about your strength and courage, or if you have to signal to others that you have it, you have already failed.  You have become an empty suit more prone to villainy than heroism.  Period.  End of story.

I’m going to offer an example to make this point.  An example not of those who come instantly to mind — those showboating and wearing masks — but of one whose strength and courage were true…and made a difference.

The story, then:

Tensions were rife everywhere.  The world was on the edge of war.  A single mistake and hundreds of thousands — millions, even — would die.  Those who made the decisions were not at risk, of course.  They pushed and pulled and manipulated from places safe and insulated from all threat.  Those on the front lines, however, were not so insulated.  They were instead educated and trained to fight and to follow orders to the cost of life itself.  They were taught just how much of a threat were the “others” (humans will always find “others” to hate and fear), and that survival rode on their ability to fight and win.

The ships above were carrying death.  Even worse, for our hero, they were seeking him.  Seeking him, and his shipmates on the fragile little submarine.  They would kill him, he knew, if they found him.  Every bit of training he had, and all of the secret intelligence so hard-won by those living among the enemy, told him that.

There was no contact with home.  Submarines at the time could not communicate when they were deep underwater.  Even today they struggle with such communications when down a thousand feet.  The world was on the brink of war, they knew.  The enemy was hunting them, they knew.  And that was all they knew.

Then the enemy found them.

There is no doubt, when on a submarine, that you have been found.  Your main defense relies solely on your invisibility.  When that invisibility fails, you have few options.  One of those options, however, is as old as war itself: overwhelming force.  If the other guy tries to stab with a knife, you shoot with a gun…

The sub was dying already.  The air was foul and batteries almost flat.  They could wait no longer.  The order came from the captain, then.  Fire.  Fire everything.

The torpedoes on the sub, they weren’t those of this man’s father.  The torpedoes would do far worse than sink a hunting destroyer.  They would do far worse than sink the entire fleet, even.  Detonating nuclear weapons underwater, you see…that would sink the entire world.

This man…this man of quiet strength, he refused to fire.  Without his approval, as first officer, the  sailors could not — would not — carry out the captain’s order.  The torpedoes stayed in the tubes, the sub surfaced to quietly face the circling enemy, and the world lived on…mostly unaware that the strength and courage of one man saved them all.  Even the enemy, those who had hunted so hard, quietly acknowledged this man with the highest of praise: “he saved the world.”

Oh, who is he?  Not who you may think.

Vasily Arkhipov, Soviet Navy.

Submarine B-59

There are other examples I wanted to offer.  Examples of names you no doubt know, and others of which you have never heard.  Examples, even, that would surprise you.  I wanted to offer those, but verbosity got the better of me, as it so often does.

Courage and strength — that which we in the US call “manliness” — it is not a thing of posturing and shouting and the shaking of fists.  It is a thing of heart and meaning and conviction.  It is, when you get right down to it, a thing inside you, not a mask to wear.

P.s.

Can you guess who has spent the morning thinking about his next protagonist…?

Edit — I don’t think I need to add this explanation — err, I hope I don’t need to add this explanation — but I will, just in case. When I mentioned the wearing of masks above, I was referring to the wearing of a false face. To the external projection of qualities not present internally. I most certainly was not referring to the wearing of masks as a tool in the battle against this damned virus. Forget the false masks of pretense, but wear your real mask!

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