In his documentary Indoctrinate U, filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney drew perplexed looks from college co-eds when he started making on-camera inquiries about the Men’s Resource Center and Men’s Studies courses on their campus. If such a discipline ever did come to pass, veteran journalist R. Cort Kirkwood’s Real Men would make an excellent text.
The book more than lives up to its subtitle: Ten Courageous Americans to Know and Admire. We get:
Frances Marion, The Swamp Fox of the Revolutionary War who bested the British time and again;
Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I ace who came back and saved the survivors of an airplane crash when he was a middle-aged executive during the Second World War;
Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers;
Wild Bill Hickock, not the Hollywood version of the lawman/gunfighter/Army Scout, who reversed the crime waves in a number of “Wild West” towns;
Lou Gehrig, who deserves to be remembered for more than the disease that claimed the life of the great Yankee ballplayer;
Audie Murphy, the most decorated hero in the Second World War;
Davey Crockett, who died a hero at the Alamo despite shaky recent Hollywood claims to the contrary;
Andrew Jackson, captured in the Revolutionary War as a teenager, he fought back against a mugger when he was a sitting 68-year-old president;
Robert E. Lee, the anti-slavery commander of Confederate forces during the Civil War who took the post because he would not fire upon his fellow Virginians, particularly those he was related to; and
Rocky Versace. As Kirkwood notes, the last of these gentlemen is probably the least well-known of the ten, and the author does a great service by resurrecting him.
An American POW in Communist Vietnam, Versace responded to Viet Cong attempts to break him by, among other things, singing “God Bless America” while being executed. President Nixon wanted to give Versace the medal of honor but, for one reason or another, the Army officer did not receive the decoration posthumously until the current occupant of the White House conferred it upon him in 2002.
Kirkwood, the managing editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Virginia, offers up a story on Lee that is worth quoting in its entirety, particularly at a time when the college that the general once headed is surveying high school students to figure out if his name is a turn-off. After the Civil War, Kirkwood writes, “Lee fully demonstrated what reconciliation meant, not just by denouncing ‘bitter expressions against the North and [the] United States government’ as ‘undignified and unbecoming,’ but by a deed of remarkable moral courage at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond.”
Richmond, be it remembered, was the capitol of the Old Confederacy. “When the minister announced communion, a black man stood first, then walked up to the altar in his Sunday finery,” Kirkwood relates. “The congregation was stunned, and the congregants kept to their seats in ‘solemn silence,’ according to one account, and the minister was embarrassed.”
“They believed it was an attempt to embarrass the congregants with a symbolic undeclared avowal that the regime of the Old South had ended,” Kirkwood explains. “But then Lee rose and knelt next to the man, his example a silent reproach to the assembly.”
By that one simple act, the native Virginian did more to achieve racial harmony than have all the battalions of campus diversity officers today in their various multicultural affairs offices.
These days, academic historians only evince an interest in primary sources when they can unearth such treasures as diaries of 18th Century lesbians that can be used in courses with titles such as “The other declaration of independence.” Such offerings tell us nothing about how American freedoms have survived more than two and a half centuries of onslaughts, an imbalance that Kirkwood’s Real Men goes a long way to redress.
“The men in these pages embodied the traditional Christian conception of manhood defined in chivalry,” Kirkwood writes in the preface. “They were honorable and honest, generous to varying degrees to foes, and solicitous and protective of women, children and animals.”
“They did not brook insults, and they understood that some things are worth dying for.” The father of six writes, “I picked the men profiled in these pages by asking two questions: What kind of men do I want my sons to become? What kind of men do I want my daughters to marry?”
As you might guess, George Clooney doesn’t make his short list.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.