Saturday, December 11, 2004

Meme Disposal -- Fried Chickenhawk

One of the more childish arguments of the anti-war left (and, trust me, there's lots of competition) has been the “chickenhawk” argument.

I purposefully say “argument,” even though “insult” might seem more appropriate, because however malicious the phrase might be, it does have some meaning and reasoning behind it, even if this reasoning is egregiously flawed.

First, a definition would be useful. Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg, in his shamefully puerile speech in front of the Senate, said of Chickenhawks, “We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersions on others, but when it was their turn to serve, they were AWOL from courage." (As a side note, anytime that a Democrat laments the coarsening of the national debate by conservative talk radio or somesuch, show them this disgraceful picture, presented on the Senate floor by Lautenberg, an actual Senator. Or just gesture vaguely toward Ted Kennedy. Whatever). In this iteration, “cast aspersions on others” was a reference to the furor created over Sen. Kerry’s war record and post-war activities, a portion of the Chickenhawk definition that is not vital.

In the broadest sense of the term, and the definition that I think most people attach to it, Chickenhawks are those people that support the war in Iraq but have never served in combat. President Bush, who had a cushy position in the National Guard, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who received various deferments, are the foremost recipients of the slur, although even your humble blogger has recieved a Chickenhawk-type smear (Fourum: Ok, Grant Reichert, when are you going to be enlisting in the army?).

The line of reasoning behind such an argument is that it is hypocritical for those that have not served in combat to support the sending of others into combat. Those that have not served lack the gravitas and credibility to send other people, who are serving, into war, or even to support sending others into war.

This argument is flawed in many ways. One of the most pernicious flaws, is that the Chickenhawk slur is, at its heart, anti-republican (with a small “r”). America is a republic, or more specifically a representative democracy. We elect people to make decisions that affect us, even though we realize that these people are different from us in many ways. We trust that even though a person might not have directly served as a policeman or a fireman, they can still be trusted to make good policies in these areas. While direct experience in a field can be seen as a positive in the electoral process when voters choose a candidate, it is not seen as a prerequisite.

Through the Chickenhawk slur, leftists smash this notion of representation. Ironically, the type of government that would seem ideally suited for war in the Chickenhawk universe, would be a military junta comprised of ex-Generals… which is generally perceived as a poor form of governance. By making military status such a prerequisite for credible authority in military matters, anti-war types also hurt the chances of a prospective female president, as females are much less likely to have served in the military (and, besides, following the Chickenhawk argument, a female would never be subjected to the draft, so what authority would a female have to guide the country into an arena that could provoke the draft? The Chickenhawk argument nearly precludes the election of any females, or even of a handicapped person, to a position that could bear on military matters).

Leftists also use a cousin of the Chickenhawk argument, an even more malignant version, in the abortion debate, where they imply, or even say, that only women should be able to decide on the abortion issue (as if the men the abortion-advocates decry weren’t voted for by a significant number of women). In this way, they assign an arbitrary physical characteristic, sex in this case, a prominent place in policy making, which is obviously entirely antithetical to the makeup of our democracy, and a dangerous thing to do in general in a liberal society.

But I digress. Suffice to say that it doesn’t take a doctor to make medical policy (although their advice is helpful) nor does it take a military man to declare war.

The Chickenhawk argument also has a populist element, but one that is misplaced 180-degrees. Anti-war types think that by maligning people through the Chickenhawk slur they are looking out for the troops. But, when you solicit the actual opinions of the troops, you find overwhelming support for the war and for the president. USA Today reported the findings of an unscientific poll taken before the election:

In the survey of more than 4,000 full-time and part-time troops, 73% said they would vote for Bush if the election were held today; 18% said they would vote for Kerry. Of the respondents, 59% identified themselves as Republicans, 20% as independents and 13% as Democrats.

These are overwhelming numbers, and numbers that, according to the article, are even greater than the margin that Bush won the troop vote by in 2000.

The article continues later:

"You can't dismiss" the results, said Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who for years has studied the political leanings of the U.S. military. Feaver said it's unlikely that Bush will receive 70% of votes cast by military personnel. But the results suggest it will be difficult for Kerry to make substantial gains among a group that has strongly supported Republican presidential candidates in the post-Vietnam era.

Feaver said he suspects Kerry is losing support among those in uniform because he seems less committed than Bush to prosecuting the war in Iraq.

If this last portion is true, and I think that it obviously is (who wants to fight in a war that painted as a “mistake” and as the next Vietnam?), then the anti-war types can’t be said to be looking out for the troops when they hurl the Chickenhawk slur.

Ironically, the Chickenhawk slur could more appropriately be applied not to those that haven't served but do support the war (which has been shown to be in line with the expressed interests of the troops, who are pro-war), but rather it should be applied to those that haven’t served, yet say that we shouldn’t be at war (why should they have any say in military matter’s if they have never served, and their views are in direct contrast to those that are currently serving? As per the rules of the Chickenhawk argument, shouldn't the opinions of those serving, in this case the pro-war troops, outweigh the opinions of these that haven't served, as in the anti-war hippy?).

These are not the only two reasons why the Chickenhawk phrase is a deleterious and uncalled for slur. Indiscriminately hurling the phrase "Chickenhawk" serves as a way for anti-war types to cut-off debate (“your opinion doesn’t matter, because you didn’t serve in the military. Me? I didn’t serve either, but I’m against the people that are currently serving, so I’m gold, baby. Logic? Puh, why should I listen to it, what war did it serve in?”) The chickenhawk smear also implicitly questions the patriotism of those on the receiving end; yet another irony from the party that interprets every Republican critique as a smear against their own patriotism.

A last flaw in the Chickenhawk argument is that it assumes draft-like conditions are occuring. We are "sending" people to war, against their will. "Against their will" has been shown to be incorrect for the large majority of troops in the poll above, and the nature of our 100% voluntary army should dispose of the notion that anyone is being forced to fight against their will. If you would like one last irony, consider that the left is traditionally the side of the political spectrum that is keen on re-instituting the draft as a way to make everyone bear equally the burden of war, as well as to kill support for the war. The right, with it's mile-wide libertarian streak and large presence of Barry Goldwater-type conservatives, sees the voluntary army as the proper and best way to fight wars, barring a national emergency.

The Chickenhawk “argument” (as I have so generously been treating it) is against the nature of our representative democracy, a fascistic* gag on debate, an implicit slur on other's patriotism, and a rhetorical device that attempts to allow anti-war hippies to speak for largely pro-war soldiers, while quieting those that actually support the actions of the troops.


*I use “fascistic” here in the leftist meaning of the word, as in, “everyone and everything I vaguely dislike. That guy at Barnes and Noble that wouldn’t accept my coupon? Fascist. Jennifer Aniston ignoring my letters? Fascist. Long lines at the Disney World? Oh yeah, definitely fascist."

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