Summary: In response to the Million Man March and Promise Keeper’s rallies. God’s men need to step up and mentor children, take chances on the helpless, build practical structures, and become evangelistic.
The image remains strong and vibrant in my mind, after all these years: the image of my father, marching. Y’left, y’right, y’left. One-two-three-four. Marching.
No, my dad was not in the army; he wasn’t even a veteran, having been born a little too early for the First World War and a little too late for the second one. And no, it wasn’t a protest march or a union march or a striker’s march. He never did any of those things. But my father did march.
His marching was all done around the first floor of our house, whenever one of his favorite musical programs would come on the radio. It was called the "Band of America", and it was an hour of march music played, as the announcer declaimed it, and this will tell you how far back this story goes ... played in 48 states, under 48 stars, by 48 men, the Band of America.
Now whenever that program would come on, my father would undergo a transformation. He would leap to his feet, striding throughout the house, pushing an imaginary trombone slide or tweedling a piccolo seen only in his dreams. His own experience with real band instruments had been limited to a brief job at an instrument factory in Elkhart, Indiana, and to a couple of years ownership of a clarinet, long since pawned for cash during the great depression. Never mind; when the Band of America played, it was left-right-Ieft, from the living room through the bedroom, into the hall and around the back bedroom, out into the hall again and with a furtive side-trip into the kitchen, where my mother was attending to her chores and shaking her head at her silly, childish men. Yes, men, because once he would begin my brother and I were never far behind, with our own small, clumsy steps and our own pretend instruments.
Back out into the dining room and over toward the radio again, where we would flop down, laughing and puffing our faces out if the tuba or the sousaphone came on, and whacking the edge of the table for a good percussion section. What a great time we had, being marching men, militant men!
Men love to be militant. It’s part of our mythology, isn’t it, that men march and fight and lead the way. It’s part of our way of looking at things that men are leaders more than followers, that men have courage and determination, that men are mountains of responsibility. Militant men.
But some things have happened along the way to call that image into question and to push us to redefine it. Some things have come into our time, our history, that make us search for a new way to understand who men are and what it is we are to be militant about.
First, may I suggest that the military experience is not all that it was supposed to be, and that in our time, the old images of glory have faded far, far away. You see, within the last century American men have marched away by the thousands upon thousands. They marched away to remember the Maine and charge up San Juan Hill, and that seemed glorious, dashing, and heroic. They marched away to fight the war to end wars, which had already taken a horrible toll in the muddy trenches of Europe, but the late arrival of American soldiers on that scene helped rescue the day and left some of the sheen of glory on that victory.
But the tide began to turn. Scarcely twenty years later, the ugly tentacles of fascism and Nazism reached out and began to devour territory and freedom. Whole peoples were under duress, and we marched again. Anschluss and blitzkrieg became part of our vocabulary. The day which shall live in infamy was forever etched on our consciousness. And again thousands of men, and a few women, marched off. This time, however, the glory was severely diminished. The horror of mechanized warfare left little room for glory and valor. The legacy was death and disfigurement and social dislocation in huge proportions.
Do you see where I am going with this? The myth of militancy that men had lived out of was growing very thin indeed. A generation or so before it had seemed there was some glamour in marching off to battle, hurrah, hurrah. But now we wondered. We wondered. And a few years later, when we sent thousands off to Korea, we didn’t even call it a war, but a police action, and we didn’t find anything glamorous at all in the cold, forbidding heights of that peninsula. It ended in a stalemate, which continues to this day.
And then Vietnam. The spiritual agony of Vietnam. The war fought on the six o’clock news on your television screen. The war which many were calling America’s moral morass, her disgrace. The war for the hearts and souls of a southeast Asian people we could not understand and did not respect. Few there were who marched home proud after Vietnam. The nation rejected its tradition of militant men. The American people wanted nothing to do, it seemed, with militant men. This war left in its wake only Agent Orange, political disruption, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The militant man was gone. The Band of America wasn’t playing any more.