Chickens and Straw Men and Hawks, Oh My

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Bush Administration, conservatism, Iraq War

Jeff Jacoby doesn’t want to be called a “chickenhawk.”

You hear a fair amount of that from the antiwar crowd if, like me, you support a war but have never seen combat yourself. That makes you a “chicken hawk” — one of those, as Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, defending John Kerry from his critics, put it during the 2004 presidential campaign, who “shriek like a hawk, but have the backbone of a chicken.” Kerry himself often played that card. “I’d like to know what it is Republicans who didn’t serve in Vietnam have against those of us who did,” he would sniff, casting himself as the victim of unmanly hypocrites who never wore the uniform, yet had the gall to criticize him, a decorated veteran, for his stance on the war.

“Chicken hawk” isn’t an argument. It is a slur — a dishonest and incoherent slur. It is dishonest because those who invoke it don’t really mean what they imply — that only those with combat experience have the moral authority or the necessary understanding to advocate military force.

Jacoby defends himself by scratching up a straw man argument. I, for one, would never argue that “only those with combat experience have the moral authority or the necessary understanding to advocate military force.” I don’t have combat experience, and I spout off about moral authority and military force all the time. Further, our two greatest war presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, had no combat experience. FDR was never in the military, and Old Abe claimed the most action he saw in the Illinois militia was swatting mosquitoes.

Yet Jacoby might still be a chickenhawk.

I like this definition of chickenhawk (emphasis added)

Chickenhawk n. A person enthusiastic about war, provided someone else fights it; particularly when that enthusiasm is undimmed by personal experience with war; most emphatically when that lack of experience came in spite of ample opportunity in that person’s youth.

James Wolcott elaborates:

Those who wrestled with the decision to go to war I’m not inclined to call chickenhawks. A pro-war civilian does not automatically a chickenhawk make.

For me, the working definition of a chickenhawk is–a chickenhawk is a cheerleader. A cheerleader for war. And not necessarily just the war in Iraq, or regional war in the Mideast, but war in general. A chickenhawk glorifies war as an enterprise, enjoying the heroics inside his or her head, mocking those less enthusiastic military aggression as pacifists, appeasers (Michael Ledeen’s pet word), even traitors. Who patronize anyone with qualms, from the Quakers to the Chuck Hagel, with edgy impatience and disdain. Who treat the destruction of human life as a stupendous flourish as long as it’s the US doing the destroying–who, that is, propose “creative destruction” on a geopolitical scale as an instrument of transformation. Not to mention an opportunity to teach those desert folks in sandals a lesson upside the head.

The enthusiasm part is essential to the classification of the species pullus bellum diligo. Sometimes wars have to be fought. Sometimes people who recognize a war has to be fought have no combat experience and are not capable of combat — too old, too infirm, whatever. By themselves, these attributes do not make someone a “chickenhawk.”

As Jacoby’s argument is made of straw, just ignore it. Please also ignore Wikipedia on this matter, as the online encyclopedia gets neither the etymology or the definition of chickenhawk right. I assume a chickenhawk wrote it.

There is a big difference between acknowledging a war must be fought and being enthusiastic about it. There’s a difference between making a moral judgment for war and cheerleading. A person with no combat experience who makes a sober and reluctant decision to support war, and is unable to fight that war, is no chickenhawk. He or she may have made a wrong decision, but it wasn’t a chickenhawk’s decision.

But when you find an able-bodied enthusiastic cheerleader for war who has “other priorities” than to fight it — you’ve got yourself a chickenhawk. And I think the lowest form of chickenhawk is not only a war cheerleader who thinks himself too precious to fight; he also attacks and calls “cowardly” people who don’t support the war. Like it’s an act of courage to park one’s fat backside on the sofa and cheer the carnage on CNN.

Greg James writes in today’s San Francisco Chronicle,

You don’t have to be a psychologist to see a predictable pattern with this administration and its most vocal conservative supporters: They project one thing and do another. Or more to the point, they try to project a manly Teddy Roosevelt “rough rider” image; in reality they are a bunch of overweight middle-aged men who mostly avoid wars and real action in favor of sending others to do the dirty work.

In many ways, I suspect this is at the heart of why Iraq is going so wrong, and why our country is in such turmoil. Maybe the U.S. is finally waking up to the scare tactics, orange alerts and right-wing “talkers” and coming to terms with who they really are.

Recently, Rep. John Murtha took presidential adviser Karl Rove to task for his “cut and run” comments and called a spade a spade. He didn’t mince words as he described Rove as a fat Washington-based spin doctor who sits in an air-conditioned office and has no problem pushing a war in which he’d never die. Thank God someone finally found the guts to go after the cheerleaders and actually point out what they really are — sissies who talk tough but do little.

From President Bush all the way down, a quick look finds the “big talkers” in charge and promoting a kind of “do as I say, not as I do” agenda. As a veteran myself, it’s hard not to be outraged by this crowd. Bush, who has so vocally pushed the war in Iraq, was himself a cheerleader (yell king) in college and avoided Vietnam with a cushy job in the Air National Guard.

Vice President Dick Cheney took numerous deferments from the draft and, as the poster boy for the National Rifle Association and tough guy hunters, shot a friend in the face at close range while blasting pen-raised quail in Texas. Limbaugh, along with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Mike Medved and the majority of right-wing radio’s most vocal “tough talkers” also fall squarely into the “did not serve” crowd.

The most offensive thing about this bunch is they have no problem attacking people such as Murtha, Sen. John Kerry, former Rep. Max Cleland and retired Gen. Eric Shinseki (the guys who actually did fight in Vietnam) while they sit around sipping lattes in their protected, mostly white, upper-class enclaves.

As with Limbaugh and his constant attacks on Clinton, you have to wonder if this isn’t actually some type of perverse psychology playing out on a national scale where the sissies actually tear into the tough guys because they’ve developed sharp tongues as a response to their own perceived shortcomings. (In this case, a lack of real courage.)

And the punch line:

I suspect the Iraq war would have had a whole lot more thought put into it if the “cheerleaders” actually had to fight rather than sitting on the sidelines talking and urging others on.

I suspect so, too.

See also: “Chickenhawk” flash video; “The new world immaturity.”

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18 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Swami  •  Jul 24, 2006 @3:43 pm

    Ah…I knew that the link that said “chickenhawk” would find Jonah Goldberg on the other end. I think I’ll change my screenname to Karnac.

  2. maha  •  Jul 24, 2006 @3:45 pm

    Goldberg is the chickenhawk’s chickenhawk. He is the pure distillation of chickenhawkery.

  3. mishu  •  Jul 24, 2006 @4:43 pm

    So, what? In order to avoid the chickenhawk label, you must ‘support’ a war yet hope not to win? Because if you did hope to win and were vocal about it, you would be cheerleading and Bush was a cheerleader…Sheesh. Talking about grasping at straws here.

  4. maha  •  Jul 24, 2006 @4:54 pm

    So, what? In order to avoid the chickenhawk label, you must ’support’ a war yet hope not to win?

    I doubt the possibility of not winning enters the mind of a chickenhawk.

    Because if you did hope to win and were vocal about it, you would be cheerleading

    Wow, what a textbook case of elective ignorance! The parameters of chickenhawkism were clearly described in the post, yet you willfully revise them so you can debunk them. Fascinating.

    Sheesh. Talking about grasping at straws here.

    Yes, you are.

  5. Swami  •  Jul 24, 2006 @5:26 pm

    Here’s an example of a chickenhawk variant.

    Two guys are speeding on open highway across Oklahoma when they notice flashing lights appearing in the rearview mirror. They pull over and the Oklahoma State Trooper pulls behind them. When the trooper approaches the stopped vehicle he pulls out his baton and raps it on the drivers window, The driver rolls down the window and the trooper smacks him on the head with the baton. The driver grabs his head in pain and says,” what was that for?”. The Trooper responds by saying, “Son, In Oklahoma when a trooper pulls you over..you have your window down and your license and registration ready, you understand!”.
    The trooper writes out a ticket and hands it to the driver, he then proceeds around to the passengers side of the car, he raps on the window, the passenger rolls down the window and the trooper cracks him on the head with the baton also. He recoils rubbing his head in pain,saying..”what was that for?”. The trooper replies, ” that’s because I know when you get down the road you’re going say to your friend…Gee, I wish he would have done that to me.

  6. mishu  •  Jul 24, 2006 @6:53 pm

    Bullshit. You define your parameters right here:
    ——————————————————
    There is a big difference between acknowledging a war must be fought and being enthusiastic about it. There’s a difference between making a moral judgment for war and cheerleading. A person with no combat experience who makes a sober and reluctant decision to support war, and is unable to fight that war, is no chickenhawk. He or she may have made a wrong decision, but it wasn’t a chickenhawk’s decision.
    —————————————–

    Greg James also reinforces those parameters by citing Sean Hannity. He is 46 years old. What war was the U.S. fighting when he was 18? Did he just have to join the Army because it was peace time?

    And talk about Elective Ignorance. Many people who claim to be hawks now felt they were mugged by reality on 9/11. Hence, they’ll have an enthusiasm for retrobution for that act of war. They were doves up until that day happy to splurge on the ‘peace dividend’. They changed their minds but according to you, they are locked into your favorite slur.

  7. Ed  •  Jul 24, 2006 @7:12 pm

    What tortured logic mishu. How does Iraq fit into the reality of 9/11.

    One can enlist or attempt to well past 18. Dashiell Hammett enlisted to fight in WWII after having served in WWI. Then again WWII was a real war. Survival was an issue. There was a draft. The wingnuts of Hammett’s day still persecuted him.

    How Kerry allowed those smearing craven chickenhawks an advantage in 2004 still befuddles me.

  8. maha  •  Jul 24, 2006 @7:40 pm

    Mishu — it’s fascinating that you are so eager to demonstrate your substandard reading comprehension skills. But before I ban you from the blog, please read this quote from the post, slowly —

    A chickenhawk glorifies war as an enterprise, enjoying the heroics inside his or her head, mocking those less enthusiastic military aggression as pacifists, appeasers (Michael Ledeen’s pet word), even traitors. Who patronize anyone with qualms, from the Quakers to the Chuck Hagel, with edgy impatience and disdain. Who treat the destruction of human life as a stupendous flourish as long as it’s the US doing the destroying–who, that is, propose “creative destruction” on a geopolitical scale as an instrument of transformation. Not to mention an opportunity to teach those desert folks in sandals a lesson upside the head.

    Put another way, there’s a big difference between a concupiscent desire for war and a judgment that a war must be fought. A mature and psychologically healthy person recognizes when war is necessary; a chickenhawk wants war because he gets off on it.

    If you don’t see the difference, I assume you are chickenhawk scum yourself.

    What war was the U.S. fighting when he was 18? Did he just have to join the Army because it was peace time?

    I notice you don’t ask about Limbaugh, O’Reilley, or Medved. I might not have used Hannity as an example, except as someone who is quick to call another person a coward when he’s never been under fire himself.

    BTW, the United States has been involved in a number of military actions since Hannity became an adult.

  9. maha  •  Jul 24, 2006 @7:47 pm

    Hence, they’ll have an enthusiasm for retrobution for that act of war.

    I was in favor of a military attack on al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11 because I thought it was necessary. The war in Iraq, however, didn’t have anything to do with 9/11. They should call Iraq the Chickenhawk War, because it was a pack of lowlife chickenhawks that got us into it.

  10. erinyes  •  Jul 24, 2006 @9:42 pm

    “They should call Iraq the chickenhawk war”
    Maha, perhaps “The chicken shit war” fits better, sure describes Jonah Goldilocks better.
    Nothing like riding his mamas’ coat tail to get in the biz….

  11. dAnimal  •  Jul 24, 2006 @10:13 pm

    Instead of telling people not to read wikipedia, tell them to go there and EDIT wikipedia! I just edited it a bit and boy, was it fun prefacing a bunch of conservative crap with the facts to rebutt them. Keep the right-wingers from giving our public encyclopedia their bullshit slant.

  12. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  Jul 24, 2006 @11:10 pm

    What’s “retro-bution” anyway? Is it like getting your retaliation in first?

  13. Chief  •  Jul 24, 2006 @11:22 pm

    Maha,

    Excellant post. Most of your definition of ‘chicken hawk’ was ramblin’ around in my head and you nailed it. People that have served in a combat situation may not have all the answers re: going to war. There are a lot of Poly Sci folks who understand a lot more about societies than us old military folks. But to cheerlead after having gone to extreme lengths to avoid serving is the height of – – – I’m looking for a word here. Please help me here, Maha.

  14. moonbat  •  Jul 25, 2006 @12:20 am

    Chief, comment 13, how about “cowardice”?

  15. Steve W  •  Jul 25, 2006 @11:17 am

    “I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen two hundred limping exhausted men come out of line-the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.”

    -FDR (who toured European battlefields as Asst. Sec’y of the Navy in 1918) at Chautauqua, NY, August, 1936.

    Far too many of the cheerleaders, on the other hand, seem to love war.

  16. maha  •  Jul 27, 2006 @9:06 pm

    But is “chicken hawk” really an insult?

    Yes.

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