Leftists Calling Conservatives “Chicken Hawks”
“It’s touching that you’re so concerned about the military in Iraq,” a reader in Wyoming e-mails in response to one of my columns on the war. “But I have a suspicion you’re a phony. So tell me, what’s your combat record? Ever serve?”The muddle-headedness of the “chicken hawk” charge goes far beyond what Jacoby mentions.
You can expect a fair amount of that from the antiwar crowd if, like me, you support the 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 liked to play 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 -- and a dishonest and incoherent slur at that. 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. After all, US foreign policy would likely be more hawkish, not less, if decisions about war and peace were left up to those who have been in the armed forces. Soldiers and ex-soldiers tend to be politically conservative, hard-nosed about national security, and confident that American arms make the world safer and freer. On the question of Iraq -- stay-the-course or bring-the-troops-home? -- I would be willing to trust their judgment. Would Cindy Sheehan and Howard Dean?
The cry of “chicken hawk” is dishonest for another reason: It is never aimed at those who oppose military action. But there is no difference, in terms of the background and judgment required, between deciding to go to war and deciding not to. If only those who served in uniform during wartime have the moral standing and experience to back a war, then only they have the moral standing and experience to oppose a war. Those who mock the views of “chicken hawks” ought to be just as dismissive of “chicken doves.”
In any case, the whole premise of the “chicken hawk” attack -- that military experience is a prerequisite for making sound pronouncements on foreign policy -- is illogical and ahistorical.
“There is no evidence that generals as a class make wiser national security policymakers than civilians,” notes Eliot A. Cohen, a leading scholar of military and strategic affairs at Johns Hopkins University. . . .
Some combat veterans display great sagacity when it comes to matters of state and strategy. Some display none at all. General George B. McLellan had a distinguished military career, eventually rising to general in chief of the Union armies; Abraham Lincoln served but a few weeks in a militia unit that saw no action. Who proved more farsighted during the terrible years of the Civil War -- the military man who was hypercautious about sending men into battle, or the “chicken hawk” president who pressed aggressively for military action that he himself had never experienced?
If one is forbidden to vote to impose burdens on other segments of the citizenry (a segment to which one does not belong), then nobody who is not rich can favor increasing tax rates on the rich.
Indeed, “soak the rich” liberals want to impose higher burdens on unwilling high income people, while hawks who didn’t serve in the military want to impose the burdens of war on people who have volunteered to serve, and indeed to fight if necesary.
If people who haven’t served in the military aren’t allowed to favor war, then no war (no matter how well-justified) can possibily have majority support with the public, since only a small minority of Americans have served in the military.
Do the leftists want to condemn the “chicken hawks” who wanted to fight Hitler?
Finally, the “you must have fought to favor war” criterion is sexist. Many fewer women than men have served in the military, and no women have served in combat forces. So women’s opinions don’t count, if we take this notion seriously.
This whole business is an example of the general lack of intellectual seriousness among liberals and leftists.