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.
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 personâ€™s youth.
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.
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.