NICOLE RUSSELL: Would Gen Z storm Normandy?

NICOLE RUSSELL: Would Gen Z storm Normandy?

Remember the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan? It’s a realistic but brutal look at the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, or D-Day. Some men died immediately, as the Higgins boat ramps opened up to German fire. As the MG-42 rained down on the Allied forces, others barely made it onto the beach before their limbs were blown off. Still others cower and try to hide. Our heroes of the film, of course, make it.

Not only did they make it, but in real life, the Allies formulated and executed a plan to attack German forces with courage, verve and skill. We lost around 4,400 troops but in 2024, we recognize the incredible event’s success on its 80-year anniversary.

Any time I watch a film like Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, or Band of Brothers, I wonder: Would today’s generation of men storm the beaches of Normandy?

Young men are struggling today: struggling with identity, purpose and relationships. They’re not going to college as much as they used to and they’re not just forgoing higher education to work either. They’re participating in the labor force less too. Men’s labor force participation rate in the United States has been declining for decades. About 7 million prime-age men are not in the workforce. That’s a lot of men sitting around without a purpose.

Men aren’t spending all this extra time not working in relationships either. Something like half of Generation Z men aren’t dating or interested in marriage, creating what researchers are calling the “romance gap.”  Men aren’t entirely to blame for this. We’ll get into that. But vocation (or a calling) and relationships are two primary drivers, besides pure patriotism, that drive men to excel, to succeed, and give men an identity. Without either of these, men are lonely, angry and purposeless. These kinds of men not only lack courage and grit, but they’re likely to become the worst version of themselves, possibly even dangerous.

Men are not entirely to blame for this, although they should accept responsibility for their role. Political polarization has taken hold among younger generations, perhaps more than others. More young men are likely to be conservative and more young women are likely to be liberals — and you guessed it — it’s rare that the twain should meet. While political ideology isn’t a requirement for a successful relationship, many people desire shared values in a relationship. For many men, a committed relationship and family spur them towards getting a better job, earning more, and improving overall. Families make men more productive.

As feminism has taken hold among young women, more and more are increasingly educated and joining the workforce. The traditional need for men, for provision and protection, seems to have waned. Dedicated feminists seem to know this and throw it in their faces. For a man already struggling in his identity, in the workforce, or with little education, the seeds of his own misogyny grow. Rather than quell this when spotted, ultra-feminists seem like they fan the flames (though some research shows feminists don’t hate men as much as it looks like they do).

Women could do their part in offering polarity, embracing their feminine traits, and supporting the men in their life to make good choices about work, education, and family life. They’re by no means fully responsible for a man’s laziness or cowardice, but the men of World War II wrote their sweethearts cursive love letters and stifled Nazism. Love can be a strong motivator and a precursor to heroism. (Patriotism helps too.)

If young men of prime working age aren’t working, dating, or gaining an education, what are they doing? How could Gen Z, if necessary, storm the beaches of Normandy as their forefathers did if they won’t even get a job or gather the courage to ask a woman out?

Regardless of what feminists say about men today or even what men say about themselves, they are necessary and society does need them. While traditional needs for provision and protection may have changed as society has evolved, this doesn’t eradicate the need for good strong men. Men must evolve too. Healthy, good strong men still offer women traits that mirror and complement them, and society benefits from both. Even women, if they’re honest, should see that this polarity is real and necessary for American society to thrive.

If I’m honest, I don’t have high hopes that the men of Gen Z would have the same courage young men had 80 years ago to storm the beaches of Normandy in order to subdue Hitler’s regime. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need men like this. We do now, more than ever.

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