Creative Destruction

June 18, 2006

Chickenhawk Vs. The Dove

Filed under: Current Events,Debate,Politics,War — Robert @ 11:38 pm

My dear friend Alex of Sooner Thought engages in misguided cooing over the bizarrely incomprehensible blitherings of poor Sen. Murtha. (As Ann Althouse notes, Murtha sounds like he's (badly) going through talking points someone gave him before the show.)

But mocking decorated Marine veterans is wrong, even when they're wrong. So let me focus on something else: in the comments, Alex engages the tired meme: chickenhawks are BAD! (I love Alex but he got some bad Kool-Aid from the PBS minions he hangs around with.)

Which leads me to an inquiry. It's asserted, by many-most of those in the antiwar camp, that a person with no military background who is pro-war – us chickenhawks, in other words – ought to stand down. If we're the president, we ought to refrain from getting into wars. If we're advisers to the president, we ought to advise against war. If we're bloggers or media figures, we ought to shut up. The reason being – we don't know what we're talking about. We've never been in a war. We've never fought, bled, risked all, died.

I have come to the conclusion that this is exactly correct. Everybody with no military experience or background should stand down on the conduct of the war – questions concerning war should be handled solely and exclusively by those who have fought.

Which leaves my friend Alex silenced, and me as well. It tells our friends in the Congress to – mostly – sit down and shut up. It tells pretty much everybody in the mainstream media (with some honorable exceptions) to stop writing editorials, stop doing analysis, stop doing everything except transmitting raw footage and descriptions of events. Only military veterans get to opine; only military veterans get to decide.

Do anti-war people want to take that deal?

Or do they want to go the opposite route and acknowledge that in a civil society, even people without direct experience of things get a vote, and get a voice?

Because the middle ground – YOUR ignoramuses must be silent, so that OUR ignoramuses may speak – doesn't seem to hold water.

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14 Comments »

  1. I wonder if this also applies to, say, business regulations. Are only people who’ve run businesses qualified to decide which regulations we have?

    Comment by Brandon Berg — June 19, 2006 @ 1:39 am | Reply

  2. I don’t think that many people who use the term “chickenhawk” are saying that only those who served can make decisions.

    As I understand it, a chickenhawk specifically means someone who is gung-ho about war, and had the opportunity to serve during a war, and declined to serve (or arranged to serve only in extremely safe duty). It’s a comment on character, not on policy.

    In other words, if someone says “Dick Cheney is a chickenhawk,” the implication is that Cheney is a person of poor character, and that it’s unseemly for someone who had “other priorities” during Vietnam to be so eager to send soldiers to die in war.

    It does not, however, say anything positive or negative about Cheney’s rational in favor of war; the comment is only about his character.

    I understand the impulse to make character attacks – especially when the target is a right-wing celebrity who makes a big deal of machismo and manliness from behind a desk, the “chickenhawk” critique is very tempting to lefties. Nonetheless, obviously the “chickenhawk” thing is partisan cheerleading, not an actual argument.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 19, 2006 @ 1:39 am | Reply

  3. Way to suck all the fun out of it, Amp.

    Shouldn’t you be over defending Alas! from my imminent freakolibertarian patriarchal takeover?

    Comment by bobhayes — June 19, 2006 @ 1:44 am | Reply

  4. As I understand it, a chickenhawk specifically means someone who is gung-ho about war, and had the opportunity to serve during a war, and declined to serve (or arranged to serve only in extremely safe duty). It’s a comment on character, not on policy.

    BTW, I suppose I have bad character, then. Although I’m not particularly gung-ho (more horrified, but moved by necessity) about war, I’ve had at least a couple chances to serve in combat. Missed Vietnam of course (they could have deployed me as a Combat Toddler). But I was in my early 20s, fit and happy for Gulf War I. I’m sure I could have squeezed aboard for Gulf War II.

    (At the time of GWI I was living in Olympia Washington, not really attending the Evergreen State College, singing very terrible anti-war songs to hippie girls, and liberal as all get out. Well, kind of liberal.)

    (Yes, all you young hippie peaceniks. I am your Destiny. And I voted for Bush. Twice.)

    I suppose I could have enlisted and spiked an imperialist missile with my protesting form, or something.

    Comment by bobhayes — June 19, 2006 @ 2:08 am | Reply

  5. People have opinions and speak on all sorts of topics about which they lack either experience or expertise. Listeners can evaluate whether an opinion is worthwhile on many different bases. I don’t believe that only combat veterans can hold valuable, informed opinions on the conduct of war, but they are perhaps better situated to do so than most. However, things such as post-traumatic stress syndrome could skew those opinions, too, so pedigree is no guarantee.

    Should those without combat experience categorically pipe down? Maybe, if they don’t want to look like fools. But then, similar arguments could be made for only those with performance experience being qualified to talk about music, teaching experience being qualified to talk about education, marriage experience opining about marriage, etc. Clearly, the rest of us have our opinions, too, and we’re entitled to them.

    Ultimately, to silence people (as opposed to demonstrating restraint oneself) is a bad idea. There should be no restriction on free speech, even if that speech is poorly conceived or lacks qualification. There’s no reason why we have to listen, though.

    Comment by Brutus — June 19, 2006 @ 7:41 am | Reply

  6. The ad hominem continues. Remember when Bill Clinton was attacked when we had “boots on the ground” in Bosnia because he “never wore the uniform”? Hypocrites.

    Comment by SoonerThought — June 19, 2006 @ 8:06 am | Reply

  7. Whenever someone says,” you can’t offer an opinion because you haven’t been there” I automatically assume that the speaker doesn’t have any logical rebuttal to the argument that they are being presented with so they use this lame fall-back line. I hear it all the time with abortion too. I often hear feminists tell men that they can’t have any opinion on abortion rights ( or, they can’t have any opinion anti-abortion rights is a more accurate way to say it) because they don’t have wombs.

    I don’t need to get a third-degree burn to know it hurts and I don’t need to have went to war or have had an abortion to have an opinion on either subject.

    Comment by SBW — June 19, 2006 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

  8. Before we go too far down this strawman path, who exactly – in this discussion or in the one Robert linked to – ever said “you can’t offer an opinion because you haven’t been there”?

    I’m sure some lefties have said that – just as I’ve had a pro-war person who had been to Iraq tell me the same thing to my face. But by and large, that’s not what lefties are saying, and that’s not what the “chickenhawk” argument means.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 20, 2006 @ 12:05 am | Reply

  9. I’m pretty sure that’s what Alex (SoonerThought) meant.

    Alex, is that what you meant?

    Comment by Robert — June 20, 2006 @ 12:37 am | Reply

  10. Ampersand, its not a strawman path. I see people online use this line of logic all the time, and it is not a "liberal" or a "conservative" thing either. I see it being said about every subject you could think of i.e., " you're a white man, how dare you criticism radical feminism" or "you're not black, how dare you offer an opinion on the state of black America!"

    I also think I have a more liberal view of the word "chickenhawk" than yourself. When I hear that word I think of ANYONE that is gung-ho about a war and never actually served in one, not just those that had a chance to serve and somehow used their privilege to get out of it.

    Comment by SBW — June 20, 2006 @ 1:25 am | Reply

  11. “you’re not black, how dare you offer an opinion on the state of black America!”

    I got that one in real life once. The irony being that when her friends who were black showed up about ten minutes later, they all took my position and condemned her position much more sharply than I had. Heh.

    I don’t think it’s valid to say “not part of your life so you don’t have a right to an opinion” – but I have little patience with people from “outside” who have a completely ignorant opinion, like a pair of male journalists who seem to think if they “disprove” Koss’ study they’ve disproved the idea that rape is common. Insiders who’re ignorant on the general issue but are speaking from their own (somewhat unusual) experience are easier to tolerate.

    Comment by shiloh — June 20, 2006 @ 4:26 pm | Reply

  12. Robert:

    I’m pretty sure that’s what Alex (SoonerThought) meant.

    Doesn’t look like it to me. Rather, he appears to be using the word to refer to leaders, who he does not think are fit to lead. He’s not suggesting that the rest of us aren’t fit to comment. His criticism of “those (like you)” is conditioned upon your “blindly follow[ing]” the chickenhawks, and your “lack of critical thinking ability”. He does not criticise you for your lack of service.

    Comment by Daran — June 20, 2006 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

  13. Well, the question is out there, and he knows where we are, and I’m sure he can answer for himself, Daran.

    Comment by Robert — June 20, 2006 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

  14. Well, the question is out there, and he knows where we are, and I’m sure he can answer for himself, Daran.

    You’re right, of course, but until he does answer that question, it seems reasonable to believe that he meant what he said, and that he didn’t mean something very different from what he said.

    Comment by Daran — June 20, 2006 @ 10:52 pm | Reply


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