Where have all the good spines gone?

Posted: Jun 17, 2005 12:00 AM
Well, the crab season is officially over. And I will never look at an all-you-can-eat crab leg buffet the same again.


I’ve been watching “Deadliest Catch,” a Discovery Channel mini-series about the world’s most dangerous profession—Alaskan crab fishing. The show follows a handful of fishing boats through the crests and troughs of a five-day crab season. Five days. Sounds easy, right? Not when there is a quota for the fleet and you’re competing against hundreds of other boats to haul in your share before Fish and Game calls the end of the season over a crackling radio.

Not when there’s 37-degree water, freak 45-foot waves, and nothing but an ice-slicked deck and railing standing between you and the Bering Sea.

The men work days-long shifts, grabbing two hours’ pillow time here and there, maximizing the number of 800-lb. crab pots they can throw and reel in during the abbreviated fishery. The pots, made of what looks like rusty chain link, crash into the sea and settle heavily on the green, muddy bottom, zipping 300 feet of rope over the railing behind them. Get a foot caught in that rope and you’re gone; hit that water without a survival suit and you’re gone; find your ship sitting under a squall and you’re quite possibly gone.

As you would imagine, the fishermen are gruff, nary a one without dirty facial hair and dirtier language.    

And I like them. Sure, there’s a glint of crazy in some of their eyes and more than a hint of a barfight in many of their smiles, but they’re all men who do hard work at great risk, hoping to hit it big, and go home better off. They understand the risks they take, they know the reward that’s possible, they weigh the costs and benefits, and they cast off.

These days, it’s helpful to watch a show like “Deadliest Catch” to remind you of what Americans can be—responsible, grimly determined, and just plain tough. Sometimes it’s easy to forget, especially so in the past couple of weeks.

First came the preeners of the Great Compromise:

"Thank God for this moment and for these colleagues of mine," said Sen. Robert Byrd.

"We have reached an agreement to try to avert a crisis in the United States Senate,” said Sen. John McCain.

In the Bering Sea, on a ship called the Maverick, men expend far fewer words on far braver acts than bucking one’s party leadership.

After that, the Senate let me down again when a red-blooded red-stater indulged in some public parliamentary blubbering—over President Bush’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. As James Taranto put it in Tuesday’s Best of the Web:

Voinovich… was blubbering because John Bolton, a man who is purported to be socially rough-edged, is about to become America's ambassador to the U.N. This is not something that would make a normal person weep.

Back on the Fierce Allegiance and the Lady Alaska, men honor a friend who slipped overboard and out of their lives with a stiff upper lip and a moment of silence.

So, what does the State Department have to offer? A pamphlet that reminds us that “Real Men Moisturize,” with several different lotions, even. It’s a good thing I know plenty of real American men who counter the image of this product-centric creature.
Unfortunately, the people this pamphlet is aimed at—Arab youth—don’t know a lot of real American men. And the cause of building bridges with that community is probably not well-served by flaunting our pliable gender constructs.

But these are just pockets of prissiness, right? No, I’m informed that this really is the new man, and I better get ready for him:

"The masculine ideal is being completely modified. All the traditional male values of authority, infallibility, virility and strength are being completely overturned," said Pierre Francois Le Louet, the agency's managing director.

According to this article—dateline, Paris—the new man also has the “guts” to trade in a traditional wife for something more along the lines of wife swapping. Luckily, father/blogger/columnist and regular American guy with guts, James Lileks, takes some time to explain the term for the “new man:”

I hate to break it to these theorists, but it does not take guts for a young man to want to have multiple sex partners. It takes guts to settle down and have a family and rein in the roaming libido.

Back in the Bering Sea, Capt. Pete Liske calls home to discipline one of his nine adopted kids over the radio.

But perhaps the most emasculating whining in the past couple weeks has come from folks who actually believe Gitmo is a “gulag.” When dealing with the would-be 20th hijacker of 9/11, these folks believe that loud Christina Aguilera music, dripping water, exposure to females, proximity to dogs, and thorough medical care constitute “torture.” Democrat leaders and weak-kneed Republicans are mewling about closing Gitmo altogether.

On the Bering Sea, water that drips instead of gushes from the heavens would be a luxury, sleep deprivation is a perpetual state, and exposure to women would most assuredly not be considered torture.

Luckily, there’s another man with guts who will inject some sense into the debate:

"The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people," Vice President Dick Cheney said.    

By “bad people,” he means enemy combatants who scorn military uniforms to gain strategic advantage by blending in with civilians. He means enemy combatants who are not technically entitled to Geneva Convention protections, but who get them at Gitmo, along with their fried chicken dinners. Closing Gitmo as a response to this kind of criticism would be an admission that we are the pedicuring, Kleenex-carrying society we’ve looked like lately.

We can’t afford such an admission. Many seem to forget that we are engaged in a fight with an enemy that wants us all dead. All of us—civilian and military alike—because we are a many-hued, many-faithed nation and we like it that way; because our citizens can treat flags and holy texts in any way they wish without being killed; and because we let the womenfolk write columns, among many other transgressions.

It is not mere understanding that will win this fight and keep us alive. It is most certainly not preening or crying, or moisturizing, or shutting down prisons that will do the trick either.

Thank goodness we have folks like this, and this, and this, and many more who are willing to show some spine in this fight. There is a deadly storm at sea. To get through it, we need grizzly fishermen at the helm, not scuttling invertebrates.

Mary Katharine Ham is Senior Writer & Associate Editor at Townhall.com