More on manly men

To a hammer, everything is a nail. Currently, I'm hammering away at the idea of manly men. I did so yesterday in a post that alluded to early posts and articles I've written. Today, I'm doing it in connection with a New York Times article about Paul Greengrass's United 93. It turns out that there've been some murmurings of discontent from family members who think four male passengers have been given too much credit for the events on that flight:

As the courageous behavior of passengers and crew members who battled the four hijackers on the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001, became public, some families grew troubled that four former athletes who made phone calls from the plane — Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick — received almost all the sunlight of media exposure. Many others aboard were left in shadow.

It's not that other victims' families discounted or resented the valor of those men. But the families resisted early attempts by politicians to honor only these four. There was concern that bravery aboard United Airlines Flight 93 not be made into a kind of Olympic sport, where some passengers received a gold medal for gallantry while others had to settle for silver or bronze.

That's a very personal fight the families are having with a media that likes to focus on individuals the media deems more charismatic than others. I'm not going there, because deep emotions such as these are beyond the realm of argument or analysis.
The fact is, though, that when making the film, Greengrass decided to hew to this popular version of events on the plane, and he did so for what I believe is a very compelling reason: he felt it was more likely that these traditional, manly men, would assume leadership roles and personally lead the charge against the terrorists:

Relying on logic and evidence from phone calls, if not the safety net of proof, Mr. Greengrass concluded that the passenger rebellion was propelled by the youngest and strongest men.

"Sitting in a real airplane with actors who are roughly the same age and build as the passengers, you notice who the young men are and how many there are," Mr. Greengrass said. "Pinned in the back, your eyes automatically go to the biggest men."

In the movie, it is Mr. Glick, a former national collegiate judo champion with an outsized body and the skills for close-quarter fighting, who leads the revolt, leveling a hijacker with a running kick. Later, he appears to break a terrorist's neck.

I don't think Greengrass's decision denigrates the others on the plane. As I noted, I knew one of the passengers personally and, knowing her energy, optimism, courage and superb physical fitness, I have little doubt but that she was an active participant in saving the Capitol from the terrorists. However, acknowledging the undoubted bravery of the other passengers doesn't mean ignoring reality. And reality is that, in the small amount of time remaining to them, these passengers were not going to have a touchy-feely, egalitarian meeting, with everyone weighing in with an opinion, and debating the finer points. The events could only have happened if leaders stepped forwards immediately and Greengrass is right: The leaders were most likely to be the fit, traditional males on the plane.

Manly men — true manly man who embody all male virtues, from bravery through compassion — are an asset to a healthy society. We forget that at our peril.

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  • Earl

    And if it WAS a “touchy-feely, egalitarian meeting”, no film-make who wanted people to come see the film could shoot it that way, anyhow! Imagine! That’s not what the public will pay money to see — the deep-seated need for “manly men” WILL be satisfied, one way or another.

    I agree with BW – the most likely scenario is that the folk with genuine leadership ability took charge. Equally brave people pitched in, but the chances of a plane full of leaders is vanishingly small.

    God bless them, every one.

  • Patrick O’Hannigan

    I’m glad you’ve been pondering this, Bookworm. I have too, in part because the subject is dear to the husband and wife who run the gym where I work out. Several active duty military personnel and law enforcement officers train there as well (there’s a framed thank-you note on the wall from SEAL Team Six, which is high praise indeed, as they’re at or near the top of the heap in elite fighting units for the U.S. military)

    Gym owner: a real man “has only one face,” meaning he’s not hypocritical. Consensus view: men are ideally neither sheep (passive) or wolves (predatory), but sheepdogs (guardians).

  • Patrick O’Hannigan

    In case you wondered where the sheep/wolves/sheepdogs meme came from (because it’s not original to my circle of gym rats), you can find it here.

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  • Ymarsakar

    It was no coincidence that the hijackers stabbed the first person who resisted, and took the women stewards captive on 9/11. On the other flights you also heard of injuries, because there was just One Guy who did not follow orders. The terroists knew if you killed that guy, resistance would break, without leaders and those in front. They also knew that if you held women captive, the men wouldn’t rush you. Giving you control over the situation by forcing the hot heads to back off.

    We just turned the psychology back onto the terroists.

    There was one flight that had no injuries reported, I believe, but that could either be because nobody resisted at first or because they were the first plane to hit, and thus no time to report or do anything.