Throughout “Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost,” which I highly recommend, author and Epoch Times columnist Michael Walsh raises a number of questions pertinent to Western culture and masculinity in the 21st century. Is our culture capable of producing citizens possessed by a sense of honor? Do we still regard heroism—duty, honor, and country, often practiced in the face of tremendous odds—as a virtue? Are young American men today prepared to fight in a war as did Walsh’s father in Korea, a Marine at the Chosin Reservoir doing battle with a horde of Chinese soldiers?
Let’s start with that last question.
To which the answer is no.
Three years ago, the Heritage Foundation examined a Pentagon report stating that 71 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 were ineligible to serve in our military, even if they wished to do so. That figure includes both males and females.
Many of our young people either lack the high school diploma required by the military or else can’t pass the basic tests required to join the armed services. Their failure reflects the failure of our schools to educate students even in the basics of math, reading, writing, and critical thinking.
Others fail to qualify for military service because they have criminal records. According to a report included in the Heritage Foundation article, nearly 10 percent of applicants miss the mark because of crimes committed, and that figure is based on information already 11 years old.
Issues of health, especially obesity, are also impediments to enlisting in military service. Every year, the armed services reject many prospective recruits because of their weight, and as the report states, that problem is only getting worse. In contrast, Audie Murphy, World War II’s most decorated U.S. combat soldier, had to gain weight to enlist in the Army.
Though not listed in the report as a major factor in declining enlistments, we may also surmise drug abuse would bar some applicants from putting on a uniform and standing to post.
More Bad News
And now our young people have endured a year of school shutdowns, restrictions on participation in sports, and in many cases confinement to their homes.
As a result, many of them have fallen behind in their education. Doubtless, too, students have gained weight as a result of sports cancellations and more time than ever spent entertaining themselves on their screens. Many youngsters, particularly teenagers, are suffering from depression and mental problems, conditions often caused by their constrained social life and the disruption of their normal activities. They will fail not only to qualify for military service, but may also be hampered by these conditions from living healthy, happy lives.
So what can we do?
Make ‘Em Tough
Every issue of The Epoch Times offers articles on the value of exercise and diet. Though my cooking days are mostly gone—I live alone and most often eat canned soups, microwave meals, and prepackaged salads—some of these articles have inspired me to take better care of my body. I have begun a walking program, I try to get a good night’s sleep, and I swallow a daily dose of various vitamins.
We must help our children take these same measures. Depending on the pandemic restrictions we face, we can adapt to that situation and encourage physical exercise: running and walking, backyard sports, dance, and other exercise classes taken from our computers. On a recent visit with some relatives, a 10-year-old grandson who wants to become a boxer asked me to be his trainer. That was impossible, I told him, because I live six hours away, but I promised to send him a training schedule. Those guidelines may not make him Rocky Balboa, but they may make him stronger if he follows them.
With very little effort, and without spending a fortune, we can also provide our children with nutritious meals. Samuel Johnson, editor of the first real dictionary in English, defined oats as “a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people,” to which Scotsman James Boswell, Johnson’s biographer, replied, “Aye, and that’s why England has such fine horses, and Scotland such fine people.”
Oats, vegetables, fruit, and other such staples are cheap and readily available foods that help produce healthy children.
Education Is Our Responsibility
Whether your children attend public or private school, whether they are learning in a classroom or virtually by a computer, isn’t important. What is important is whether they are learning.
Our current pandemic has driven home one point about learning: We’re all homeschoolers now. It has restored a proper balance in education, showing us what was always true though often forgotten: Parents are the chief educators of their children, meaning it’s up to us to see that our young people are educated when they leave home, especially in the basics of reading, writing, and math. Kids who master those subjects at age appropriate levels can tackle any other subject.
All of us should be appalled that so many of our older teens and those in their early 20s lack either the degree or the learning skills to enter the armed services. We can buck that trend by keeping an eye on the studies of our sons and daughters. We can foster in them a love for reading. We can have them shut down their screens for certain hours of the day and have them keep journals or write letters to friends and relatives. And when they need help with some subject such as algebra or world history, we can reach out to others for assistance or make use of the vast resources of the internet.
Kitchen Table Warriors
In “Last Stands,” Walsh asks, “Do we still have a concept of what it is like to live—and die—nobly?”
Well, do we? And if not, then how do we instill such a concept in our young people, and maybe even in ourselves?
Children can learn honor, heroism, and such virtues as patience and fortitude in a variety of ways: the example of their parents or friends, reading stories and books from fairy tales to novels, watching certain movies, and from conversation.
In terms of books and movies, our store of resources is inexhaustible. Google “reading list for children’s classics,” for example, and dozens of sites leap to the screen. Movies such as “Chariots of Fire” and “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” can instill values like persistence, courage, and love of God in our older children.
Family meals can be a natural and productive time to build virtue. Discussing a child’s day, talking about national events with older children, and sharing our own difficulties at the workplace can imbue our young people with wisdom and values that might otherwise be lost to them.
Many people I know are in despair over the fate of our country. The long restrictions, shutdowns, and mandates of the pandemic have left them exhausted. A summer of rioting and the mess of an ugly election year have double-downed on that fatigue, leading some to despair over the future.
Here, too, we can take a lesson from Walsh’s “Last Stands.” The Spartans who prepared themselves for death at Thermopylae, the six soldiers of the French Foreign Legion who charged their Mexican opponents at Camarón, the British troops facing what seemed certain death at Rorke’s Drift: When confronted by calamity, these men and many others throughout history didn’t give up, whine about their fate, or run away. They fought back, as the poet Macaulay put it, “facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods.”
Yes, we are living in tough times. But if we give way to the darkness, if we declare all is lost, we are infecting our children with a virus deadly not to the body but to the soul. For the sake of their future and for the future of our country, we must endow them with hope rather than despair, with love rather than hatred, and with faith rather than bitter cynicism.
Come what may, let us all be of good heart.
Michael Walsh ends “Last Stands” with a well-known Latin tag: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”: “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
The wars fought by our children may take place on fields of battle, but will more likely be waged in our courtrooms, our legislative bodies, our media, and the public square. To prepare them for those struggles, let’s make warriors of our young people, champions for liberty, truth, and justice.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.