Last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school reminds us yet again that to live well—to live free—requires men with chests. That is a fundamental requirement of free government.
One young man in particular, Peter Wang, died with his chest out for all to see. As the Daily Mail reports, Wang was killed while “holding the door for classmates, dressed in his grey ROTC uniform.” For his heroism, the Army posthumously awarded Wang with the JROTC Medal of Heroism. In addition, the United States Military Academy appointed Wang to West Point’s class of 2025, as it was his dream to attend the academy.
Such honors are fitting, but they are not sufficient.
Peter Wang exhibited extraordinary courage under fire for a young man, and his example serves as a stark reminder of the republican virtue required to live in a free nation. His sacrifice deserves extraordinary attention to match his deeds. With that in mind, Trump should do one of the things he does best: dispensing honors to the deserving to teach our citizens what republican virtue really is.
The idea of men with or without chests comes from C.S. Lewis’s description in The Abolition of Man. Lewis ends his first chapter with an important passage:
And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more “drive,” or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or “creativity.” In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
This, it seems, captures our predicament today. A man’s chest—the organ that enables one to know right from wrong and the source of virtues like courage—is a laughable idea to many today.
This utter disbelief in the need for boys (especially) but even adult self-governing citizens more generally, to develop manly chests in order to act like free men, is systemic. As the controversial author Doug Wilson points out, our problem has to do with “fatherless boys who are loaded up on psychotropic drugs, administered by the school nurse, and educated by a school system that is prohibited by law from telling anybody what the meaning of life is.” We’ve denied to our children our heavenly Father, Wilson writes, and “substituted the state—a ramshackle federal father, if ever there was one.” PJ Media’s Roger Simon makes it clear that this substitution is our fault. “This abdication of adult and, quite often, parental responsibility,” he says, “is rampant in today’s America.”
Wilson and Simon are not the only ones to make this point. When fathers lack chests, it should not be surprising that our sons do too. “Unstable homes produce unstable individuals,” notes Peter Hasson. But unstable homes do not arise as a common problem in ordinary circumstances. Representatives without chests helped make it this way. And voters without chests helped elect those representatives. The problem is more than one of simple fatherlessness; it is a disease in the whole body politic.
But it does not have to be this way. We can elect representatives who will end government practices that hurt the family. And we can raise our boys better. We can teach them what their chests are for. American Greatness’s own Joe Long wrote an excellent piece about this in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.
And thankfully, there are still some men out there with chests. Which brings us back to Peter Wang.
While others died well that day, doing their duty and protecting the innocent, Cadet Wang’s courage was extraordinary. We should expect that any self-respecting man would have to charge someone shooting children, but we do not expect it of those as young as Cadet Wang. At the mere age of 15, Wang died a man’s death so that others might live.
For such heroism, we should honor Peter Wang. We should raise what he did up high in our minds, not simply because of the nobility of his actions, but because Wang vindicated himself in a way that represents what is required of all of us in lesser measure if we want to live free.
As James Madison pointed out so well in Federalist 55:
As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.
In other words, to live free we must have virtue. This is not limited to moderation and self-control. Adam Selene observes how the Founding Fathers knew keeping America free requires courage. They rallied behind sayings like “give me liberty or give me death” and “live free or die.” Our situation today requires no less courage—the courage to resist the tyranny of government and the tyranny of murders alike.
If we want to be free, we must be like Peter Wang, for where there is not “sufficient virtue among men for self-government…nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”
In this statement about republican virtue the Founders echoed the ancient wisdom found in Pericles’ Funeral Oration. And the words of Pericles would be a fitting epitaph for Peter Wang, preferably etched on his monument in Arlington Cemetery: “Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.” This is a message that Peter Wang clearly understood; and a message many of us need to learn.
Peter Wang had the chest required to live free, and President Trump should heed the petition to give Peter Wang full military honors. Trump should offer to the family the option to process through the nation’s capital to Arlington Cemetery if they should so desire. He should attend the ceremony and present the flag himself.
I’m a military man myself, and I’ve had the honor to do a few funerals for soldiers who have passed on. When men like me present the flag, we say:
On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.
Harder words to say are difficult to find. But they are important, for they honor men with chests. The President should do the same, but in an extraordinary way to match the extraordinary courage displayed by Peter Wang. President Trump should look in Peter Wang’s mother’s eyes and say his own version: “On behalf of a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our gratitude for your son’s example and courage.”
Perhaps in so doing, we might all get a better sense of what is right and wrong, and the courage necessary to defend our freedom. We are in extraordinary need of such courage. Perhaps in honoring Peter Wang, we might find our chests, and keep our country “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”
Finally, someone points to the real source of the problem: a systemic failure to acknowledge that we need more than the Libertarian dreamworld of politics reduced to calculated self-interest. Like it or not, the State has to be concerned with the virtue of the citizens if it is to be secure enough to protect their rights. I hope Trump shows that part of American greatness lies in beautiful sacrifices like this young man made.
“If to any people it be the avowed object of policy in all its internal refinements, to secure the person and the property of the subject, without any regard to his political character, the constitution indeed may be free, but its members may likewise become unworthy of the freedom they possess, and unfit to preserve it.” – Adam Ferguson
Well, then-it’s a good thing we haven’t had that “libertarian dreamworld” that you’ve made up out of whole cloth. If you actually understood self-interest, you’d see that it actually takes into consideration the effects of behaviors on others, and how to maximize what many would call “win-win situations.
But, thank you for advocating more government intrusion into peoples’ lives. That always works out well.
There is a faction of “libertarianism” that is what I call “crypto-Marxist.” Their infiltration into “libertarianism” has been the cause of much confusion. I know because I used to tell people I was a “libertarian,” but not any longer, as it doesn’t seem to mean what I thought it meant. I always thought that “liberty” required the rule of law and had to be based, legally and socially and spiritually, on a solid moral foundation, otherwise, it was just a philosophy of jungle anarchy. The anarchy of the jungle is not “libertarianism.” I think the key starting point for true “libertarianism” worthy of the name is what Jesus said in Matthew, Mark, and Luke:
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many
Well, when you get out of your “dreamworld” you’ll find his comment accurate. Libertarianism and socialism both are a big part of the problem.
That is dumb and that is why you are a “nobody”. This country was founded and expanded by libertarians. It was neither populated nor created by people who waited for someone else’s permission to get busy. Did they have morals and ethics. Of course, but neighbors helped neighbors not because they were ordered to, but because they wanted to.
I am in awe of the complete misunderstanding of libertarian thought by such a “nobody” as you.
Pray tell how Peter Wang got his share of the “win-win situation” for sacrificing his life for his friends?
This is a drug free zone – if you can’t pay attention to the sign, take more Ritalin.
This is a gun free zone – so the shooting just can’t possibly have happened.
The only men with chests who matter today are those with treasure chests.
Thank God for parochial schools.
When the fecal matter hits the rotary air impeller we get to see who is a man and who is an imitation of a man.
Peter Wang is a real American hero I hope to meet him and countless others in the world to come.
Making a heroic virtue of dying, in a school, in insane circumstances due to insane gun laws, is self serving rubbish. Every country in the advances world has long figured out that there is no place for guns in a civilized society. American adolescent cowboys keep America in the unenviable position of being the stupidest, most gun victimized country on earth. Peter Yang died because a deranged madman got a military grade assault rifle as easily as he could get a fishing license. How stupid are we? He died for a pathetic reason; not an exalted heroic cause. Bill Kilgore is a pseudonym for a fool and like an NRA paid hack.
For a good examexample of a “man with no chest”….see above comment.
Gold medal goes to BCML. I do not think I’ve ever seen a poster miss the point of an article and/or OpEd piece by such a wide margin. One has to truly refuse to see what is mere inches from his face to post such an inane and off-range response. Truly remarkable.
It was such a puerile and tactless treatment of a serious topic that I barely mustered strength to eschew it. My reading is different . Men with chests, as he described it, are men with small brains, big cajones, and who love to fight. Its the 21st century. The age of barbarians will end with Trump’s impeachment and we can move on to gun control rather than deifying its victims. “Thoughts and Prayers”…the words that really mean “I like guns and won’t give em up, a few dead people ain’t my problem”.
So your argument is that men should just be like women and eschew any efforts to protect those around them? You’ll find that actual men will snort at you in contempt.
Beneath comment. Go find a site for slow 10 year olds.
And yet you commented, oh chestless one…
An insult, not comment, Oh brainless one.
You just don’t know when you’re beaten, do you? Idiot.
You couldn’t beat my hamster little fella. You should pick a fight you have a slim chance of winning and this ain’t it. Find a kids site.
It’s mildly amusing to see you try to puff yourself up and look all tough. No one’s buying it, of course.
Here’s the thing Dougie. I have a policy. I only waste 3 posts on morons and you are over your limit. So, pi$$ off and quit stalking me. There are worthy opponents on this site; you’re not one of them repeat, find a kids site – you’ll feel at home and might be able to beat up a slow 10 year old. But, don’t reply, just disappear.
Replying to you when you reply to me is stalking, eh? Sorry child, but you’re not even close to being intellectually my equivalent. There’s no point in trying to engage you in any kind of debate as you’re just not equipped for it.
The fact that (1) the boy acted heroically and that (2) the circumstances were insane, and had lots of causes possibly including the ones you mention, are not mutually exclusive. We can debate changing the circumstances (laws, etc.) and we can also voice our respect for a child that acted heroically.
I do feel sorry for you. Ethics and morality do not enter into your calculations. Riddle me this, oh wise one. Do you think the Jews in Germany would have liked to have guns in the 1940’s? Here is another one for you. Do you think it is wise to have a “gun free” zone in our schools. The “unadvanced” Israelis think not.
Here’s the answer. Do what every other country in the G20 has done: gun control. With the result that they have virtually no mass shootings or school shootings and they enjoy a homicide rate that is a fraction of ours. Emulate the Israelis? Never. Emulate the Canadians, Brits, Australians, Irish, Italians, French, Germans, and on and on and on. You know, the civilized countries – which we are not. This ain’t tough. Everyone has solved it but us.
You don’t know very much. You mumble about the Australians, but they reduced gun ownership by a mere 21% plus they don’t have borders like we have with Mexico. The English have found that guns were traded for machetes and knives. Neither of these countries has a second amendment. Just try to remove the 2nd amendment and confiscate guns. Good luck with that. You are just another one of the deluded left that thinks what is impossible and impractical is easy. BTW, the Florida House voted down additional gun control yesterday even with Stoneman-Douglas students in the gallery.
You’re a dumb turkey. America has 1 gun per person. Australia has an 80% lower ownership, one gun for 5 persons. The have a 95% lower gun homicide rate. Do the math; guns kill. In the UK, they have a TOTAL homicide rate from all form of weapons that os 80% lower than ours. You have zero idea what you are shooting off your mouth about.
You exactly just made my point. Australia started from a much lower base and reduced the base by a mere 21%. As you point out the US has more than one gun per person, so if you got the same percentage, we would still have 4 guns for every 5 people. You are claiming the murder rate is a function of number of guns without any interest in actually finding out where the murders are committed and by whom.
Read some history BCML. There “is no place for guns” in an UNCIVILIZED society.
What a phenomenal idea.
Note, the perverted desire for fame and notoriety that is often behind these mass shootings.
Peter Wang sets a much higher standard for young men to aspire to than killer. Proclaiming his name more loudly and for far longer than the psychopath’s would perhaps push for more young men to follow his and not the pyscho’s example.
There should also be a ceremony honoring Cruz….. A public hanging.
Love this piece, David.