On this day 75 years ago, the Allied forces launched the largest amphibious assault in history. Over 24,000 troops stormed the coast of Normandy, France under intense German resistance from heavily fortified positions, dodging mines and gun fire as they made their way up the beach. Nearly 5,000 men would die in the ultimately successful mission.
It was one of the most impressive military campaigns the world has ever seen. The Allies, of course, did not win the war simply by taking Normandy, but they did turn the tide, forcing Hitler to fight on two fronts — against the Soviets in the east and the Americans and British in the west. Less than a year later, Hitler would shoot himself in a bunker in Berlin.
Put yourselves in the boots of these men, for a moment. Imagine crouching in one of those landing crafts, jostling up and down from the breaking waves, listening to the rapid pops and bangs of machine guns and grenade launchers, knowing that you will be charging into that Hell the moment the door opens and the whistle blows. Imagine jumping into that water and trudging through that sand as your friends get blown to bits all around you. Imagine fighting Nazis — real Nazis, not just someone whose opinion you find disagreeable. And real fighting — not an angry tweet or a hashtag campaign. Imagine sailing across an ocean to die for someone else’s freedom.
There is much that can be said about the men who entered the war with a bang — with many bangs — on this day three-quarters of a century ago, but one thing we must surely say about them is that they were men. Real men. Men who did what men must do, and what only men can do. Men who showed us then, and still show us today, what it means to be a man.
We hear a lot about “toxic masculinity” in these times. I have never quite nailed down the definition of the term, which is probably because there is no definition. It is an ambiguous, catch-all phrase used by misandrists and self-loathing men to shame men simply for being men. If it were not meant to shame men, then you would expect to hear these same people sometimes warn against the dangers of “toxic femininity.” But you never hear such a thing. The word “toxic” is only ever affixed to male traits, and that is not an accident.
So we are left to surmise a vague definition of the ambiguous term. It seems that “toxically masculine” men are those men who are aggressive, violent, hard, and tough. Men who do not talk much about their feelings or strive to “get in touch” with them. Men who might be known on occasion to spit and cuss and make crude jokes. Men who do the dirty work. Men who put action over feeling. Men who would not be considered enlightened or progressive by our modern standards. Well, 24,000 of those kinds of men went charging into a hurricane of bullets and blood on this day 75 years ago. They went all that way to die or kill — or both. These were violent men, rough men, toxic men — toxic, at least, to those who oppress the innocent and oppose freedom.
It seems we have decided that we no longer need those kinds of men, that their day has come and gone. I disagree. Rather than trying to domesticate and feminize our boys, hoping that they will grow into manly women or womanly men, we should point to those men on that beach and say, “Be like them. Be a man. Be who you are.” Because as long as there is evil in this world, we will need men laden thick with toxic masculinity to rise up and meet it. That was the case in 1944 and it is still the case today.