On Sept. 9, 2001, just two days before the horrific Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, HBO premiered Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' television rendition of American historian Stephen Ambrose's 1992 Band of Brothers, E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: From Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest.
Simply titled, Band of Brothers, the HBO work was later released to DVD in November of 2002 and became one of the first "binge-watched" series.
However, what made Band of Brothers different than contemporary Netflix and Amazon Prime shows that are frequently and sadly binge-watched alone was that Band of Brothers was part of the last era of "dad" or even "grandpa" movies and television programs that two, three or even four generations of a family would watch together.
Unfortunately, Band of Brothers contained late-season scenes of impurity as well as foul language that often shocked viewers expecting a family-friendly and patriotic series.
Nonetheless, there was something special about watching the boys of E Company fight their way through France and Germany while in real time our soldiers were fighting in the sands of Iraq.
Although as it dragged on, the Iraq War would garner deserved criticism. The post-Sept. 11 moment in which millions of Americans were temporarily united in common effort seemed to sync with the comradery and bonhomie of the 101st Airborne Division's march to victory.
Perhaps the most appealing element of Band of Brothers was precisely this depiction of men struggling together for a common cause.
As is commonly known, the term "band of brothers" is ultimately derived from Act IV, Scene III of William Shakespeare's play Henry V, in which the English king Henry rallies his men against the French the evening before the Battle of Agincourt, telling them:
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here
The term "band of brothers" points to a phenomenon deep in male social formation.
Likely derived from the early human hunting parties, which likewise served as war party, the band of brothers has been the principal way in which men bonded and developed into functioning members of their communities.
Called a "laos" by the ancient Greeks and a "comitatus" by the Roman Historian Tacitus in his description of Germanic culture in his famous Germania, the band of brothers was the primary way in which men — not only in Indo-European societies, but also throughout many cultures across the world — learned to be men.
The absence of the band of brothers in our own society today is one of the many reasons why contemporary men throughout the West (and developed parts of the world such as East Asia) are undergoing such terrible suffering.
While many on the contemporary political right have revived the band of brothers as the "Mannerbund," a word with (neo-)pagan resonance, as Catholics can tame this very natural and necessary social practice and "baptize" it as our own.
With prudence and caution, Catholic men should reach out to other Catholic men in their community and seek to form bonds of friendship. There are a number of characteristics of the band of brothers that are necessary for healthy male psychological development.
The first is that it gives a man a place in a "pecking order."
Despite claims to the contrary, as humans we desire the approval and respect of others in the form of honor and status. As Catholics, we are called to renounce this desire through detachment, but it is nonetheless rooted in our natural desire to be welcomed and accepted.
In our contemporary postmillennial world, men often do outrageous and stupid things (especially behind the wheel of a pickup truck) in order to "flex" on other men and get their attention and respect. Within a band of brothers, there are (or at least should be) clear standards of behavior worthy of merit.
Within a Catholic band of brothers, virtuous behavior and holiness (as well as accomplishments in sport, at home or at work) would be rewarded and praised while degenerate and vicious behavior would be shamed.
A typical example of this phenomenon is the practice in Christian mens' groups of men holding each other accountable for viewing pornography. A healthy male social order praises chastity and marital fidelity while shaming infidelity.
Within this band of brothers, each man has a role to play. Some men:
Obviously, a band of brothers should be a natural phenomenon that "just happens" on its own. One's band of brothers should just be the males in his family and their immediate friends who work together for the common good of their community.
However, in our contemporary, fragmented, postmillennial world in which the nuclear family as well as the wider village and tribal structure in which humans naturally have lived since Adam and Eve have been shattered, it is necessary to make an effort to reforge these bonds — a process that, one must admit, will be extremely difficult and, in some cases impossible.
The primary objection to the band of brothers is often from women — especially spouses. Due to work, commuting and the hustle and bustle of contemporary life, many men already do not spend enough time with their wives and children. It would thus seem ridiculous to argue for even monthly meetings of groups of men to discuss, plan and pray for better lives for their children.
However, one of the principal stressors on marriages and families is the isolation that the nuclear family experiences. Husbands and wives and children are not designed to live isolated from their wider community. We are tribal people who desire to be part of a wider community. The band of brothers should thus serve an ancillary function to the nuclear family and wider community. After spending time with other men, husbands and fathers should come back to their families as better husbands and fathers.
Moreover, a healthy band of brothers serves as a bridge to forging stronger bonds between families as wives and children equally bond to form a truly healthy human community.
In the end, the band of brothers must be geared ultimately to the salvation of souls of its members while, at the same time, providing support and strength in this valley of tears.