A U.S. army ad went viral last weekend after a Twitter user spliced it together with a Russian army ad to show a difference in the tone and messaging. Two AllSides writers, one from the left and one from the right, share opposing perspectives on the ad below.
The Russian ad shows physically fit men waking up at the crack of dawn, doing pushups, shooting guns and jumping out of airplanes. (We don’t speak Russian, so we’re not sure what it says.) Meanwhile, the American ad is a colorful cartoon telling the story of how Cpl. Emma Malonelord decided to join the military. She says she was "raised by two moms” and “marched for equality.” The video shows her at her moms’ wedding and holding signs at a rally before she states that she graduated at the top of her class and found "a way to prove my inner strength" by joining the U.S. Army. (Note that the U.S. ad is shortened in the clip below — full video here.)
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The reaction to the video was largely split on left/right lines. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) responded, “Holy crap. Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea....” To which Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) replied, “Holy crap. Perhaps a U.S. Senator shouldn't suggest that the *Russian* military is better than the American military that protected him from an insurrection he helped foment?”
While some took criticism of the U.S. ad to be totally unwarranted, others saw it as a sign we are doomed as a nation:
For those who keep saying "yet the US military is better".
Yes...... because the US military was built off the back of what the Russians are currently doing with theirs.
When China & Russia overtake the US, we'll all know why.— ThatEnglishGent (@ThatEnglishGent) May 19, 2021
It's incredibly frustrating to have a sitting Senator degrading the service of a woman who raised her hand, volunteered, and is currently serving honorably.
— Lethality Jane (@LethalityJane) May 20, 2021
Internally at AllSides, two of our writers — Director of Marketing Julie Mastrine (Lean Right) and Daily News Specialist Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left) — had very different takes on the advertisement and cultural response. Compare their two opposing perspectives below, and let us know what you think on Instagram.
Lean Right Perspective: Cruz is Right, U.S. Military Ad Shows Emasculated Nation
Julie Mastrine is the Director of Marketing at AllSides.
Ted Cruz is right: America has an emasculation problem, and whoever spliced these two ads together is a genius. What a brilliant way to show the feminization of U.S. society.
What has historically been meant to be the toughest and strongest part of our nation, the military, now seems to care more about feel-good social justice pandering in pastels than about putting in place the attitudes and physiques that would actually serve to protect us from foreign invaders. And it’s a reflection of the state of American men and culture as a whole.
It’s very simple: if I were being beaten by a criminal on the street, I’d prefer a strong man to step in to defend me. I wouldn’t care if his mom was gay, or if he marched in the streets for left-wing causes. I would care if he were strong, capable and could protect me from hurt. Likewise with the military.
Of course, I understand the point the US ad was trying to make — connecting the fight for LGBTQ rights to freedom. But freedom, as it turns out, is “not the right to live as we please, but the right to find how we ought to live in order to fulfill our potential,” to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Americans — our men in particular — are no longer encouraged to fulfill their potential. It’s largely due to woke hegemony that tells us masculinity is toxic. America no longer encourages men to embody virtue, honor, and strength in order to live up to their duty of protecting women and children. In fact, America actively discourages the type of masculinity that we see in Russia’s ad, painting strong men as “toxic.”
We lift up and celebrate almost every single identity group except strong men. Instead of encouraging men to feel a sense of duty and purpose to their families and to their nation, we deride and mock masculinity — or actively confuse them, telling men to become more feminine.
In the U.S., men are encouraged to be more like women, and women are encouraged to be more like men. Men are shown on magazine covers wearing dresses, are told their masculinity is “toxic” and that they have too much “male privilege.” Meanwhile women are told they should become girl bosses and smash every glass ceiling. Rather than recognizing that men and women are equal, yet have complementary strengths and interests that can be harnessed to build and defend a strong nation, we blur all the lines and call it “freedom.” Men and women are both worse off as a result.
The emasculation of an institution that is meant to protect us from foreign invaders has existential implications for the future of our country, not least of all because it also reflects America’s new ethos: all of your choices must primarily serve to glorify yourself. In the ad, Emma talks about how her motivation for joining the Army was because she saw her sorority sisters studying abroad in Italy and climbing Mt. Everest, but “I needed my own adventures, my own challenge.” Thus, the Army was “a way to prove my inner strength.”
The message is that instead of sacrificing yourself in the name of a higher good — freedom from tyranny, love of family, God and country — military service is now about elevating and serving yourself. It’s no longer about defending something higher — such as the ideals and institutions that made us the freest nation in the world.
Masculine strength is largely marked by self-sacrifice, a willingness to give up something of value (time, resources, energy) to serve the highest good of others. The inversion of this masculine ideal is what makes this ad so ridiculous. The message is that the Army is a great way to serve your own ego, so it will inevitably attract self-serving people — the opposite of what we want in military power. It’s also a reflection of American culture as a whole, which is now all about pride — something we used to agree was one of the seven deadly sins.
The irony of this ad is that women are hurt the most when masculinity is suppressed. America needs to once again depict and build up strong, masculine men (yes, like the ones depicted in the Russian ad) if we want to regain our sense of purpose and properly defend our homeland and families.
Lean Left Perspective: Leave Emma Alone and Go Touch Some Grass
Joseph Ratliff is a Daily News Specialist at AllSides.
As one of Ted Cruz’s constituents, I am routinely exhausted by the never-ending train of awful takes spawning from his Twitter account.
In this case, as in most cases, Ted Cruz is wrong. In fact, I would argue that the American military ad is much better than the Russian ad. If the latter were used to advertise for Army recruiting in the U.S., I would feel significantly worse about the military’s role in national defense.
Let’s start off with the obvious: criticisms of the U.S. ad are steeped in sexism and homophobia, both explicit and implicit. One has only to take a look at the replies to Cruz’s tweet and comments on conservatives’ posts to find numerous examples of this. The fact is, we wouldn’t be having this debate if Cpl. Emma Malonelord were a boy with two straight parents.
The usual counterargument is that it isn’t Emma’s gender or her parents’ sexual orientation that’s the issue, it’s that the ad is “woke” or “preachy.” This is a classic argument of the right, and it’s one that I think does apply in some situations. This complaint, however, is almost always biased; while no one would raise claims of “wokeism” over an ad featuring only straight white men, the very presence of women, LGBT people, and people of color is considered “woke.” Can you imagine the conservative outrage if Emma had also been black?
I do empathize with conservatives’ discomfort when faced with the U.S. ad. The ad frames LGBT rights as an essential part of the American story, with Emma comparing her LGBT rights activism to “defending freedom from an early age.” This framing implicitly defines opponents of LGBT rights, a group that heavily skews conservative, as antagonists of the American story. It is undoubtedly hard for people who place so much value on American-ness to hear from the military—the same military that they booed Colin Kapernick for—that they’re the villain of the story.
I also empathize because, as recently as 2015, I considered myself conservative. I remember being in those conversations, and I remember the people who argued against the very concept of homosexuality.
Regardless of my empathy, conservatives deserve to be called out for their efforts to find problems to fit their solution. One conservative commentator even tried to make the issue about “selfishness,” as opposed to the “selfless service” of prior generations. There’s just one problem with that: prior generations didn’t have a choice. Those men were drafted to have their male bodies thrown into bloody conflict after bloody conflict. In most cases, their “service” wasn’t up to them. Today’s military is volunteer-based, enticing recruits with financial aid for college and other benefits. Regardless of how you feel about military service, it is an inescapable fact that in order for today’s military to get new recruits, it has to market to them.
The conservative arguments favoring the “masculinity” of the Russian ad are particularly concerning, for a variety of reasons. The simplest of these is that the argument is wrong. The kind of war depicted in the Russian ad, with men cocking guns and parachuting into a warzone, just isn’t how war works these days, at least not for most American forces. Instead, we have drones and missiles and jet fighters and all sorts of technology intended to accomplish missions without puting American lives in danger.
It’s important to point out that the portion of the U.S. ad shared by Ted Cruz was highly edited. One important detail it left out was that Emma’s job is to operate Patriot Missile Defense Systems. I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure you don’t need to be a high-testosterone megachad to make sure a machine shoots down incoming missiles. Even when it comes to offense, the nature of the U.S. military just doesn’t require the kind of Russian ubermensch that conservatives seem to be fetishizing; you don’t need to be able to do 200 push-ups to operate a Predator drone. You don’t even need to deadlift 300 lbs. to shoot someone with a gun — the bullet does the work for you!
The difference between the ads also portrays a different attitude about military intervention. While the U.S. ad focuses on national defense, including a focus on why the subject wants to defend her nation, the Russian ad portrays what seems like an invasion. The promise of the Russian ad isn’t “you love your country, so defend it.” Rather, it’s “join the army and you’ll get to inflict violence on others.”
This is noteworthy because while the U.S. is (supposed to be) defending democracy and the liberal international order, Russia has already invaded Crimea and currently has its troops on the Ukrainian border for what we can only assume is a threat of further invasion. Is that kind of territorial expansion and violation of sovereignty really what conservatives want? I hope not.
This kind of violence-based, toxic masculinity-reliant approach is also dangerous. American military families experience high rates of domestic abuse; a 2017 survey found that 15% of military family members didn’t feel physically safe in their current relationship. The causal relationship here should be obvious: when you put people in stressful situations and train them to suppress their emotions and kill other people, that training can have negative effects on personal relationships. Making military service a viable part of a fuller life seems to be a recruitment priority for the U.S. military, and that’s a good thing.
The argument that the U.S. has been “emasculated” is also particularly offensive, both to women and to myself, as a man. Hundreds of thousands of women honorably serve in the active duty force, with many more in the reserve force; to consider their service lesser simply because of their gender is the epitome of sexism. As a man, I see Emma’s service as a fantastic example for young Americans of any gender.
Men should also take issue with this argument. Who are conservatives to tell us how we are supposed to perform or express our gender? Women can wear both dresses and pants, but as soon as a man wears a dress, it’s the end of civilization? For a political coalition that supposedly values freedom, conservatives sure seem to spend a lot of time telling me and my fellow men what we can and can’t do.
In the end, these are recruitment ads. They exist to serve the function of getting people to join a dangerous profession. The U.S. ad does this by appealing to what makes young Americans consider their country worth defending. The Russian ad does this by appealing to angry young men looking for a violent outlet. Which country would you rather live in?
What do you think? Which perspective most closely matches your view? Share your thoughts on our Instagram page.