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Thoughts on post-Afghanistan America and manhood

Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan.
Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. | WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

With the catastrophically misguided Biden withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, the world watched as mayhem ensued after the Taliban seized power. President Biden gave assurances the Afghan government would not collapse in July; then came the collapse and evacuation in August. This ordeal has harmed American security interests profoundly. Adversaries are quickly taking advantage: China warned Taiwan that they could not depend on American help. China is requiring foreign vessels to register to transit international waters of the South China Sea. North Korea has reopened a key nuclear reactor. Iran is rattling its sabers in the Middle East. Terror groups are coming back to Afghanistan, threatening attacks on American interests. The threats to America are clear, but so are reforms, which include manhood. Let me explain.

First, unlike during the United States withdrawal from Saigon in 1975, the threats America now faces are much more direct. The Taliban was able to seize around $85 billion of U.S. weaponry and equipment. China, Russian, Iran and others will get ahold of that American technology. Mexican drug cartels have begun reaching out to the Taliban to purchase high-tech U.S. weaponry. The connection of jihadist terror groups and cartels with high-tech weaponry is a virtual certainty. With the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, including thousands of Afghan allies left behind, terror groups will feel more emboldened to attack the American homeland. The chances of near-peer or peer competitors like China will be emboldened to advance their interests at the cost to America.

Courtesy of Bill Connor
Courtesy of Bill Connor

America must conduct soul searching and reform. From polling after the fall of Kabul, it is clear the majority of Americans hold the Biden administration responsible for failures of planning and execution. Many Americans also put responsibility on senior flag officers (generals and admirals). Both the administration and liable flag officers must be held accountable. Many have rightly noted the current senior flag officer corps appears more focused on, as General Mark Milley put it in front of Congress, “white rage” and CRT over successfully prosecuting wars. The emphasis on a “domestic extremism stand-down” and other such priorities seem to have overwhelmed the senior leaders’ proper focus on places like Afghanistan. Much of this is being pushed by the administration, but the military leaders involved also bear responsibility.

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In addition to senior leaders, it’s time for America as a society to reflect on a cultural drift that must be fixed, or it could lead to even worse catastrophe in the coming years. This is the drift toward the deemphasis of masculinity. Neil Howe in Forbes magazine provided studies showing testosterone levels among men had dropped “substantially” since the late 1980s (at around a one percent drop per year). Howe also showed the dramatic loss of strength in men, like grip strength, in the past three decades. According to Howe’s analysis: “Young men have fallen behind women in educational attainment. They’re increasingly dropping out of the workforce and expressing less work centrality. The anxiety over the state of men mirrors a bigger debate over America’s national identity. Americans have traditionally seen themselves as a “pro-testosterone” nation: restless, striving and rowdy. Yet in his new book The Complacent Class, Tyler Cowen argues that America is losing the dynamism, mobility and enterprise that made it special.”

As Americans, we have all seen the societal changes and the destruction of almost every all-male institution, including the Boy Scouts. We have seen the promotion of effeminate men and demonizing of the masculine. Meanwhile, our primary competitors, China and Russia, are moving in the opposite direction by encouraging masculinity and deemphasizing feminine boys.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is quite functional and understands what it must do to surpass the U.S. as world hegemon. From recent AP reporting of CCP directives: “Broadcasters must ‘resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics,’ the TV regulator said, using an insulting slang term for effeminate men — ‘niang pao,’ or literally, ‘girlie guns.’ That reflects official concern that Chinese pop stars, influenced by the sleek, girlish look of some South Korean and Japanese singers and actors, are failing to encourage China’s young men to be masculine enough.”

Most are aware of Russia’s emphasis of masculinity through the various stories on the subject. Associate dean Dr. Alexandra Orlova has noted that “Russia is deliberately pursuing politics of masculinity.” Much of the Western reporting on the subject of Russian masculinity has been negative, but we must recognize the geopolitical significance. Russia is attempting to reassert itself from after the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin and others understand the importance of masculinity for a strong society. Russians have openly asserted they do not want the kind of feminization of their boys they see in other Western nations, including the U.S.

Both the CCP and Russia are crude and undiscerning in the way they address manhood; American traditions are far more nuanced and respectful of the importance of women as part of our armed forces. We as a nation need not follow the wrong models; we know better.

During America’s rise to great power status, we had been noted as a vigorous and “manly” nation. Strong and well-trained men will always be a key part of our armed forces. Our version of being manly requires an understanding of the nuances that separate an American man from a Russian brute. The American “leading man” type is that same fellow who climbed the stairs of the World Trade Center to rescue thousands, losing about 350 firefighters in the process. He is the same guy you see holding babies in the Kabul airport after being relieved from his guard post. He is also part of SEAL Team Six and its nearly superhero raid that killed OSB. It’s time for America to learn from our mistakes and as a nation “man up” the right way, ready to work with fellow patriots from all walks of life.

Bill Connor, a retired Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book Articles from War.

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