The lions and pussycats

About the time James ''Bo'' Gritz was holding court in his Thailand jail - completely equipped, it seemed, with American television cameras - the story was going the rounds back home that Ernest Hemingway had done his own bit of cloaking-and-daggering during World War II.

What would Papa, the undercover man ferreting out Nazi agents in Cuba, have had to say if he met the former Green Beret, searching for American prisoners of war in Southeast Asia?

For one thing, the meticulous old stylist would have tidied up the Gritz rhetoric. No more talk of ''if you don't mind my caveating that a bit. . . .'' And enough of all hypotheses about ''were we to access an American prisoner of war. . . .''

But doubtless the two rogue males would have felt a sense of bonding. Hemingway enjoyed a little more official backing - he was under the sponsorship of the United States Ambassador to Cuba, Spruille Braden. ''Bo'' Gritz has received the financial backing of Clint Eastwood and a few other admirers. Still , both adventurers have in common that they finally earned the disapproval of the Establishment.

In Hemingway's case it has developed that the FBI disliked the free-lancer enough for J. Edgar Hoover to warn: ''Hemingway's judgment is not of the best'' - and he got very personal about it.

Eventually history will tell us what the State Department and the White House have been muttering about ''Bo'' Gritz.

Nobody can be a nuisance like a hero whose time has gone, or not yet come.

But beyond any camaraderies based on two-against-the-enemy (and two-against-the-Establishment), there are certain characteristics Gritz and Hemingway share with each other, and with other free-lance heroes - young Winston Churchill, for instance. In the Boer War, Churchill - serving as a correspondent - got involved firsthand in the action and found himself arrested as a spy. He confessed afterward to being guilty of a ''keen pursuit of adventure, dear to the heart of youth.''

''Eager for trouble'' was the way the Establishment growled at the time.

One of the first of the secret-agent novelists, Somerset Maugham, drew an archetypal portrait in his derring-doer, Ashenden, and the men about him. They were men of ''exuberant vitality.'' They were ''not outraged by wickedness.'' They ''regarded introspection as unhealthy and unpatriotic.'' Also, ''un-English'' or ''un-American,'' as the case might be.

With Hemingway and Gritz, we are back with the shamelessly romantic hero, looking for dragons to slay - or if dragons are scarce, a windmill will do.

In the movies the line is, ''A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.'' But a man doesn't, really.

Whatever the swashbucklers do is finally their choice, and often they seem perfectly willing to go out of their way.

In modern times the macho-man has come to appear a dangerous anachronism - Don Quixote with a nuclear bomb, willing to blow up the world so long as his masculinity tests out.

We wonder how they treat their mothers, wives, and daughters, and for every point they award themselves on their John Wayne scorecards, we dock a point on our scorecards of sensitivity.

But on the other hand, we're getting a little tired of the men who make a career out of being sensitive. Why, we ask, must we all be either bully-boys or wimps? Why can't we include opposites, if opposites they be?

And so the wimps try to put a little steel back in their sensitivity, and the bully-boys square their muscled jaws and strain to raise their consciousness, just a tad - and mostly nobody's too thrilled.

It's a social dilemma worthy of Groucho Marx - these raging old hunters strutting the streets like dinosaurs who don't know they're extinct. And yet when we subtract them totally from our cast of characters, they stubbornly remain as part of the human ideal - if only we could get a few other human qualities to go with all that grace under pressure which so often translates into a punch in the nose.

How to have strength without violence? Paradoxes are easier to write than to be. Golden means are hard to locate in the rush-hour traffic of life.

Still, there have been cases. Generally we call them saints. But there they are - the gentle people with the courage of a lion - and in our own lives we have to keep on trying to find this lost country. That can be a quest too.

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