The Battle for Britain’s Masculinity

January 27, 2009  •  From
On the 130-year anniversary of Rorke’s Drift, are there any real men left holding their ground against the emasculating tide?

January 22 and 23. These dates mark the anniversary of one of the most astounding battles in the history of the British Empire. One hundred and thirty years later, an emasculated and sickly nation desperately needs the fearless male leadership it once was renowned for. Sadly, with its moral fabric torn apart, and twilight engulfing the empire that the sun once never set upon, Britain’s great men are gone.

It was not thus in the days of the Battle of Isandlwana.

In 1879, the British South African states were at war with the Zulu empire. And the war was not going well.

On the hot, humid morning of January 22, 1,300 British soldiers—armed with cannons and rifles—were massacred by an army of 20,000 Zulu warriors. All but 50 men gave their lives that day to help protect the civilian Dutch, German and English farmers, their wives, their children and their towns. The Battle of Isandlwana remains Britain’s worst military defeat at the hands of a native force.

That very same day, as the slaughter was reaching its climax, a messenger arrived at Rorke’s Drift, a makeshift supply depot and hospital that was located at a river crossing several miles distant from the battle. The order from Isandlwana read: Hold your ground.

Slightly over an hour later, a massive tide of 5,000 trained Zulu warriors descended upon Rorke’s Drift. All that stood between the most fearsome warriors on the continent and the outpost’s munitions and supplies were 140 men, some of them sick and wounded. From all outward appearances, they didn’t stand a chance—and the defenders knew it. Faced with what they saw as certain death, and with orders to protect the river crossing and supply cache at all costs, 140 men sang their death songs and prepared to give their lives, so others could live.

For a day and a half, wave after wave of Zulu warriors hurtled themselves against the outpost’s two buildings and the thin walls of cornmeal bags and biscuit boxes connecting them. Zulu snipers poured down a murderous hail of bullets from the surrounding hills. And for each Zulu killed, two seemed to step up in his place. But still the little outpost held. Like an isolated island of red tunics in a raging sea of black, the defenders clung to life.

Among the 140 were privates John Williams and Henry Hook. Williams and Hook held their ground until their ammunition ran out and then, with bayonets fixed, went at it hand to hand against overwhelming odds. They may have stood out as examples, but they were not alone in their bravery. Williams and Hook were part of a contingent that battled from within the walls of the makeshift hospital, firing from loopholes and windows. Eventually, the Zulus breached the main doors, flooding the halls with spear-wielding warriors. The only way out for the trapped soldiers was to hack holes through the sun-baked mud-brick walls into other interior rooms. With smoke pouring in, the roof on fire, and within the close confines of convalescent rooms, Williams and Hook desperately engaged the spear-wielding Africans while also dragging eight wounded men with them from room to room as they worked their way out of the burning building.

Outside, the fighting was so fierce that bodies of dead warriors piled up like a ramp against the outpost’s hastily constructed walls.

By sheer grit, the few weary defenders held their ground, repulsing attack after attack. And then, as things appeared most bleak, the unexpected, but universally hoped-for happened: reinforcements. The cavalry arrived. The bloodied Zulus, noting the rapidly approaching new forces, decided that one final attack against men now proven to be warriors just wasn’t worth the cost. They retreated, laboriously carrying many of their dead with them. The brave defenders, who refused to leave their post, were saved.

The Victoria Cross, which is awarded for valor “in the face of the enemy,” is the highest honor in the British military. More Victoria Crosses were awarded at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift than at any other in the history of the British Empire—including World War i and World War ii.

Both Williams and Hook won Victoria Crosses for their action at Rorke’s Drift, as did nine other brave, selfless men. And in doing so, they also won a place alongside a long list of British heroes—men such as the outnumbered, but victorious, English archers at Agincourt; Queen Elizabeth i’s Seahawks who battled Spain’s Invincible Armada; and Wellington’s Regulars who defeated Napoleon.

And those Victoria Crosses were well deserved. Although it was unknown at the time, the fate of South Africa hung in the balances at Rorke’s Drift. In a lonely, little-known—and today almost forgotten—corner of African rangeland, it would have been easy for these soldiers to surrender, or flee. With the odds they faced, few would have blamed them.

But they didn’t flee. They didn’t run. They didn’t surrender. And the course of history was altered. They held their ground.

The heroes at Rorke’s Drift did much more than just save their own lives and defeat a vast and ferocious army. Their victory rallied and inspired the British nation. These men proved that victory was possible, just as Admiral Nelson proved that victory was possible against overwhelming odds against Spain in 1805, and as General Wolfe proved against the fortified but surprised French on the Plains of Abraham in 1759.

The sacrifice made by the defenders of Rorke’s Drift won renewed support for the war effort. Public sentiment was reversed—no longer was the public in favor of ending the war and withdrawing. Reinforcements were called up, the full force of the British economy was mobilized, and eventually the Zulu war turned in favor of the British.

But the Britons of yesteryear are a far cry from the average Briton of today.

Last April, the Telegraph published the results of a survey that should have infuriated all self-respecting British. The study highlighted “the extent to which men have had to change within one or two generations.” It also revealed how emasculated British males have become.

Over half of the men polled thought that society was turning them into “waxed and coiffed metrosexuals.” Fifty-two percent said they had to live according to women’s rules. Men said they “felt handcuffed” by political correctness, and two thirds openly admitted that they felt they could not speak freely and had to conceal their opinions.

Four out of 10 men confessed to being frightened of heights and spiders, while a third admitted to being frightened of bossy women.

Astounding. But it gets worse.

The Telegraph published the results of another study, which, the report’s authors claimed, “put the myth of the father as the financial head of the family to rest.” In Britain, purportedly, “men rarely appear to have the final say in matters of finance.” Women took the lead in no less than 13 of 16 categories of spending.

The image of the healthy, robust, energetic Briton is long gone too. A government report last year labeled Britain as the sickliest nation in Europe. The nation is blighted with record levels of obesity, alcohol abuse, diabetes, and smoking-related deaths. In some areas, one third of men are overweight.

Where are the strong, masculine men? Where are the Williamses and Hooks of yesteryear?

Today, the image of a typical Briton, especially of the younger generation, is that of a slack-jawed youth whose sole purpose in life is to exercise his two thumbs “texting” his friends with the latest gossip or playing the newest video game. Knife-wielding, rock-star-enamored gangster-wannabe thugs make up much of the rest.

“Manly men” have been “hunted to near-extinction in the British Isles,” says historian Neil Oliver. “There’s been some kind of politically correct revolution where we’ve forgotten—or discarded—the value of being manly men.”

According to Oliver, much of the problem stems from children lacking decent role models. With divorce rates sky-high and a social system that encourages young mothers to have children out of wedlock, record numbers of boys are growing up without a man to teach them how to be a man.

On average, boys now spend a whopping six hours a day watching tv, fooling around on the computer, or playing video games. Do any boys actually build forts and shape sticks into fishing poles anymore? Do children make ships out of cardboard boxes? Or help “fix” the car? When was the last time your son asked you to take him to an exotic jungle locale, or to visit Brazil, the North Pole, or some other remote location?

Britain has changed.

And the school system doesn’t help boys become men either. Besides the fact that just one in 50 primary school teachers is male, the government now encourages homosexual lifestyles beginning in elementary school. A government report, titled “Homophobic Bullying,” released last year warned: “Schools can perpetuate a rigid view of the ways in which boys should behave and act. Boys who are told to ‘be a man’ and stop behaving like a ‘bunch of women,’ are therefore discouraged from being themselves and leads to bullying of those who do not conform to fixed ideas about gender.” The government wants educators to encourage children to have openly homosexual role models.

How can we ever develop the strong, mature male leaders that Britain—and the rest of the world—so desperately needs if boys cannot even be told to “be a man”?

No wonder real men are such a rarity today.

But Britons are going to want real men again—and soon! The worst economic crisis in its history is now rapidly eroding away the nation’s wealth—wealth that was given and won during the times of its forebears. And as the crime and social breakdown that always accompanies economic collapse intensifies, people will look for their modern-day King Arthurs and Ernest Shackletons. They will look for a Churchill. And yes, they will look for the Williamses and Hooks too.

But sadly, they will not be found.

The battle at Rorke’s Drift was clearly a miracle. No group of men could withstand such tremendous odds on their own. It wasn’t just valiant effort that saved Britain’s fortunes in 1879. Despite their bravery, these men would have been slaughtered by the Zulus had God not been with this nation. At that time, God was blessing Britain, and He used the bravery, courage and exemplary character of self-sacrificing men such as Williams and Hook to further His will and fulfill a promise that was made more than 2,500 years earlier. (You can read about that promise in the book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.)

But today, God is not blessing Britain. A nation in tragic decline is clearly evident. It is no coincidence that today there is a dearth of heroes—the type of men God has used to save it in the past.

Upon the tomb of Private Hook, on a marker weathered from age and neglect, and almost illegible, are the following words: “If our time is come let us die manfully for our brethren’s sake and not have a cause for reproach against our glory.”

British society is dying today. And Hook’s tomb is a condemnation of the tragic loss of manliness in Britain’s collective character. But more than that, it is a reproach against a nation that has turned its back on the Being who glorified Great Britain in the first place.

Wellington and Nelson would have long been rolling in their graves, if it were possible. But on this anniversary of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, the lives of privates John Williams and Alfred Henry Hook—along with the thousands of men and women who gave their lives for loved country—stand in mute witness that Britain is a nation in rapid decline.