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Jewish World Review March 19, 2001/ 24 Adar, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Russell Crowe doesn't wear a Black Beret -- CLOTHES don't make the man, but they sure tell you something about him. That goes for hats, too. Every generation has its own symbols of what it takes to be a hip male and the first clue is often the hat or the hair. A little dab won't do ya, no greasy kid stuff, please. (Ask your mom.)

Little boys (and big ones, too) wear their caps with the visor aimed backwards and woe to the kid who doesn't. A man who wears a fedora in 2001 suggests an old-fashioned masculine attitude, a nostalgic affinity for the '40s and '50s. Think Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, James Cagney. Symbols on football helmets (rams horns, Indian feathers, Spartans, longhorns, razorbacks) are symbols of pride. But you have to make the team to get one.

So Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, shouldn't have been surprised --though he seems to have been-- that his order to distribute black berets to the whole Army outraged the Rangers and angered half of Congress. It cheapened the badge of distinction of a very special unit that put down its markers on Omaha Beach. It was like grade inflation, giving an A to every student for simply showing up. You don't win a Silver Star at target practice.

"To give the headgear to every soldier in the Army is disrespectful to the soldiers who are triple volunteers --volunteers for the Army, volunteers for the Airborne and volunteers for dangerous assignments and missions,'' says Jimmy Dean of the Special Forces Association, a group of former and current Green Berets.

Having heard all that, the fuss over the black berets is about something more that what you see on a soldier's head. It sounds to me like a growing crisis in masculine pride in our Armed Forces.

It's been a long time since the warrior culture in America enjoyed anything close to universal admiration. Ever since John Wayne went to that great bivouac in Heaven, the soldier image in the popular culture has diminished in the public mind. We prefer astronauts (if not athletes and rock stars). We think they're made of the "right stuff'' and there are not so many of them.

The black beret means a lot because it makes distinctions; it tells you who is the toughest of the tough, the fiercest of the fearless, the bravest beyond the bravado. The rough 'n' ready rangers need all the help they can get.

"Make love, not war'' was a celebrated sentiment during the Vietnam War years and it hasn't really gone away. "Saving Private Ryan,'' set in World War II, was nominated for an Academy Award but it couldn't compete with "Shakespeare in Love.'' Venus trumped Mars. Tom Hanks, the star of "Private Ryan,'' did a fine acting job, but his portrayal was not heroic, but rather a portrait of decent guy doing his job. Bob Dole, the last World War II hero to run for president, retired to shilling for Viagra.

It's easier to appreciate dead heroes. The big warrior movie of this past season, "Gladiator,'' is about gladiators of another time and place. The superstar Russell Crowe portrays a man who will fight like a lion; to do less is to die.

He's the personification of brute force, the traditional heroic image of the warrior, but there's also something cartoonish about his character. He growls and grunts, maximizing maleness, stopping just a dagger away from looking comically grotesque. He couldn't possibly be taken seriously by contemporary audiences without his historical props. He would look silly in a black beret and he would look even sillier arguing about what it symbolizes. Each contest testifies to his courage.

But the contemporary Army must depend on costume for definition, to sort the men from the girls, you might say. The placement of recruitment ads reflects the latest psychological conflicts in the military. When the Army was criticized for running too many recruitment commercials during Sunday football games, the generals broadened their perspective to appeal to audiences of the sitcom "Friends,'' "The Simpsons,'' "Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' and "Comedy Central.''

They've scrapped the slogan "Be all you can be'' for an appeal to recruits for "An Army of One.'' (Tell that to old Sarge.) Market researchers identified a desire in potential recruits for instant gratification, reflecting a "me now'' philosophy and an affinity for "people like me.'' The new ad features a corporal, a solitary runner with a heavy backpack, who says, "Even though there are 1,045,690 soldiers just like me, I am my own force.''

Are you listening, Gen. Shinseki? That means berets in 1,045,690 shades of khaki, black --and pink.


03/15/01: 'The little intimidator' of the breakfast table
03/13/01: "We are asking the Creator for clemency"
03/08/01: Saving El Salvador with dollars and sense
02/27/01: The last cowboys of their craft
02/23/01: When Bubba graduates to Bobo
02/16/01: Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world
02/12/01: Ariel Sharon, not by Steven Spielberg
02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate