Sunday, April 23, 2006


Even before the bombs started falling in Afghanistan, right-wingers were saying that perhaps 9/11 had been a good thing, at least to some extent, because America seemed to be embracing a new era of respect for manly men -- firefighters and so on.

Well, now it appears that there might have been some truth to all this -- as today's New York Times Style section notes, young men are paying good money to embrace their inner warrior.

Sort of:

We've just been overrun!" Reggie Bennett, a burly 41-year-old in full-body camouflage, shouted to the four young men behind him on a sunny day in the middle of March. "Our plane is down. We're going to our hole-up site!" One by one they followed his signal to move forward, crouching behind trees, carefully navigating through the brush, quickening their pace as they heard threats screamed behind them: "I see you, G.I.! You think you crafty, G.I., but I gonna put you in a cage so you can't get out!" They paused in a dried-up creek bed, Mr. Bennett bringing up the rear. "Keep quiet. There are land mines, B-52's and burnt craters all around us," he warned. "This is what a war zone looks -- "

He was interrupted by a ringing cellphone. "You're going to my voice mail," he said, as he checked the incoming number. "I'm evading now!"

Ah, war is hell, isn't it?

Reggie Bennett runs the Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School in Amherst, Virginia. People (mostly male, mostly young) pay him a lot of money so that they can learn manliness and survival techniques. Now, they could do that for free -- by joining the military -- but they want to be (sort of) military without being in the military. In fact, they want to be (sort of) military without it even seeming like the military:

"They want to pretend they're on 'Lost,' " said Mr. Bennett, referring to the hit drama on ABC about a group of plane crash survivors trying to hack it on a remote island. "They watch those shows and think, 'Hey, that looks pretty cool.'" ...

These kids really do learn to be tough, of course:

"First assess your medical problems -- take care of massive bleeding," Mr. Bennett commanded his troops, who nodded earnestly, even though none appeared to have a scratch. "Now we restore fluids and apply camouflage."

"This is awesome!" exclaimed 23-year-old Garrett Foster, an engineering student.

The survival training gets them to drill down past superficialities to what's really essential:

The men down in Amherst were ... posing for a few last pictures as they rolled up the camouflage ponchos they had been using as shelters. "Wait, my camo's all smudged," Mr. Hightower said. "I look like a goober!" He fixed his makeup and Mr. Brush clicked a few shots before Mr. Bennett came to give them their final instructions.

And we're told this can have real-world applications:

A few years ago, [Tom Brown Jr., who runs Tom Brown Jr.'s Tracker School in Waretown, New Jersey] said, a couple who took another one of his classes used the skills they learned to bust a drug deal in their New Jersey neighborhood. "All they did was camouflage up and hide behind some garbage bins and take pictures," he said, "which they anonymously gave to the police."

(What do they say in the news business about stories that are "too good to check"? I love the idea that you would successfully conceal yourself in New Jersey, in some area where drug dealers were operating, by skulking around looking like this.)

Oh, and of course Harvey Mansfield, author of Manliness, is brought on to tell us What This All Means (if I ever write a book, I want his publicist):

Young men sign up for extreme survival courses, [Mansfield] said, because "they are as embarrassed about patriotism as they are about manliness, and to go into the military may seem too conventional."

Oh yeah -- I'm sure that's it. I'm sure they're just embarrassed. It has nothing to do with, y'know, fear of actually getting hurt.

(And if they're embarrassed about patriotism, doesn't that mean it's not conventional? And therefore they'd want to do it?)

This is machismo in the Bush era -- completely ersatz, completely selfish, a simulacrum of a simulacrum.

Come to think of it, that's probably not very different from how Bush sees the real war.

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