Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What is a "Chicken Hawk?"

Here at Burkean Reflections, I've put up a number of patriotic posts in support of U.S. policy in the War on Terror and the Middle East. One of my favorites, for example, is this entry covering President Bush's 2006 Memorial Day address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Posts like this occassionally generate nasty little responses from antiwar activists, comments that are basically anonymous cheap shots, denouncing me as a fascist or a "chicken hawk" (see the comments, for example, found in the Memorial Day post mentioned above). I've gone to comment moderation because of stinky little rebukes such as these -- remarks that have near-uniform irony in their essential anonymity (dumb, angry respondents such as this don't normally post their blogger URLs publically).

So it was with some gratification -- no, glee! -- that I came across
this essay by Jeff Jacoby at Sunday's Boston Globe asking "Are you a Chicken Hawk?" Here's a snippet:

"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. After all, US foreign policy would be more hawkish, not less, if decisions about war and peace were left up to members of the armed forces. 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. ``George C. Marshall, our greatest soldier-statesman after George Washington, opposed shipping arms to Britain in 1940. His boss, Franklin D. Roosevelt, with nary a day in uniform, thought otherwise. Whose judgment looks better?"

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. Whose wisdom better served the nation -- the military man who was hypercautious about sending men into battle, or the ``chicken hawk" president who pressed aggressively for military action?

The founders of the American republic were unambiguous in rejecting any hint of military supremacy. Under the Constitution, military leaders take their orders from civilian leaders, who are subject in turn to the judgment of ordinary voters. Those who wear the uniform in wartime are entitled to their countrymen's esteem and lasting gratitude. But for well over two centuries, Americans have insisted that when it comes to security and defense policy, soldiers and veterans get no more of a say than anyone else.

You don't need medical training to express an opinion on healthcare. You don't have to be on the police force to comment on matters of law and order. You don't have to be a parent or a teacher or a graduate to be heard on the educational controversies of the day. You don't have to be a journalist to comment on this or any other column.

And whether you have fought for your country or never had that honor, you have every right to weigh in on questions of war and peace. Those who cackle ``Chicken hawk!" are not making an argument. They are merely trying to stifle one, and deserve to be ignored.

This piece is a classic. I'm thankful for such a thoughtful rebuttal to the liberal chicken hawk slur. Jacoby's right: One doesn't have to be a doctor, for example, to have strong views on healthcare. And one doesn't have to be, for that matter, a government official to have opinions on politics and public policy. What's interesting in my case -- with my interests in international relations -- is not just that my family members have served in the military, but that I was brought up with experience living abroad. Moreover, my advanced political science training in international security affairs gives me an informed perspective and academic responsibility to add to the debate on the direction of U.S. foreign policy .

I honor and respect the American service personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces today. The chicken hawk slur is not just a cheap shot attacking supporters of our wars overseas, but is a denigration of all those who serve our country with the support of the American people.

Hat tip goes to
Captain's Quarters for the reference.


Unknown said...

"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."

There goes another tricky double standard.

Great piece. Thanks.

Donald Douglas said...

Hi Jenn!

Thanks for stopping by. I love this piece by Jacoby -- it just speaks the truth to liberal hypocrisy, as you note!

Take it easy.

M1 said...

...of course it's a slur. Has any cretin claimed otherwise?

Opinionnation said...

Indeed a great piece.

I'll be sure to use this as a reference when that particular attack happens by...

Donald Douglas said...


I see you're hanging out over at the Burkean site again! Keep it up, bro, and thanks for visiting.

Take care.

Donald Douglas said...

Opinionnation Man:

Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it!

Take it easy.