August 11, 2004 -- THIS November's election is about something everyone is thinking about, and almost no one is talking about. Words like "national security" are fig-leaves for the real subject: manhood.

Why does manhood matter? Because we're at war. What kind of leader do you want when armed lunatics are trying to kill you and your family? Do you need a master of nuance or a leader of men? Do you want Alan Alda or Braveheart? (Hmm. Let me think.)

You might wonder why the recent Democratic convention was the gaudiest display of militarism and macho talk since the Berlin Olympics of 1936 this, from the party that successfully ran a draft-dodger for president twice, and which won't fund a candidate who doesn't bow to the feminist abortion-god.

I'll tell you why. Everyone in the United States knows what time it is: It's after 9/11.

The 9/11 attacks have precipitated a crisis of manhood that is shaking our society to its roots. But for so many years, we have been so entangled in the delicate sensibilities of feminism that we can't even put our confusion into words.

To state the crushingly obvious, war is a male thing. Even when directed by the occasional Maggie Thatcher or Joan of Arc, war is fought by men's rules, by men. At the same time, not all men are enthusiastic warriors; in peacetime, for the sake of civilization, there is a need for men who are contemplatives, diplomats, artists and even complainers.

Martial men are always eager to believe it's time for action, that the enemy is at the gates. It can make them seem crude and scary. But on 9/11, it was suddenly obvious that the everyday heroism of soldiers, firemen and cops was indispensable.


Meanwhile, the stock of intellectuals goes down in a life-or-death crisis, especially for those who weren't that brilliant to begin with. Some men claim the status of artists simply because they don't know how to change a tire. Men from the arty class can become parasites, making their try for greatness simply by throwing muck at men who are truly great.

For some reason, that makes me think of Michael Moore. If his latest movie which perhaps should be entitled "Paranoid 9/11" were truthful, no one would go see it. Its appeal is that it's deliciously false. It's the revenge of the weenies like Moore, who resent the new importance of masculine men like George W. Bush. Moore's audiences want to believe that the Arab jihad against us isn't real, so they can force the rest of us to read their lousy poetry.

Hoping for votes from normal people as well, John "Botox" Kerry has been trying to recast himself as a he-man. Kerry served in Vietnam 35 years ago, as you may have heard him say once or twice. But now the new book by Vietnam swift boat officer John O'Neill, "Unfit for Command," suggests that the recent bunny-suit image of Kerry at NASA was not far off. Testimony by Kerry's mates and commanding officers describes him as a timorous whiner who lied his way to several combat medals.

Some of the first heroes of post-9/11 America had no medals or military records. They were ordinary guys catching an early flight to San Francisco. As the 9/11 commission report definitively concludes, early stories about heroism on board doomed United Flight 93 on 9/11 (often pooh-poohed as comforting fairy tales in the mainstream press) were correct.

Black box recordings prove that at 9:57 a.m., a contingent of passengers "overwhelmed" (i.e., killed) the hijackers in Flight 93's cabin and bashed their way into the cockpit of the plane, which was being piloted toward Washington by the two surviving hijackers. As they were being overcome, the jihad "pilots" ditched the plane in a field in Shanksville, Pa., rather than die fighting.

The fighter jets sent up to defend Washington did not know Flight 93 was approaching, and could not have stopped it. The last line of defense was that group of strangers ordinary Americans who counterattacked against their enemies and destroyed them.

For these times, in place of Kerry's limp salute and tedious 55-minute acceptance speech, I prefer Bush's terser words, on the phone to Vice President Dick Cheney on Sept. 11, 2001, on his way to the airport: "I heard about the Pentagon. We're at war. Somebody's gonna pay."

Bush's directness reminds me of Jeremy Glick, the 225-pound judo champion who called home from Flight 93 on his cell phone to say goodbye and explain what was about to happen: "The men voted to attack the terrorists."

Glick's fellow passenger Todd Beamer put it this way: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll."

Duncan Maxwell Anderson is president of High Tor Media, Inc., a New York book-packaging company. E-mail: