Meaningless Terms: Chickenhawk


[This is the first in a series on meaningless political terms. If you have any suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments section.]


Blogger Mnunez commented on Forgetting Orwell’s Lessons for the Left that a big problem with democratic anti-totalitarians is we’re perceived as “chickenhawks.” As I replied, I find this term quite weak. In fact, chickenhawk is a meaningless term. When I write meaningless, I mean without meaning. I am not implying that the term is unpopular, merely that is intellectually sloppy stupid.

The vast majority of the people who use this word claim you can’t be pro-military if you don’t (or didn’t) serve in the military. This is nonsensical. After all, to be for law and order must one serve in the police? If I support the expansion of public parks do I need to be a park ranger? Of course not. So why do people who use this inane word think the same (il)logic holds true for the military?

As Ben Shapiro notes:

The “chickenhawk” argument is dishonest. It is dishonest because the principle of republicanism is based on freedom of choice about behavior (as long as that behavior is legal) as well as freedom of speech about political issues. We constantly vote on activities with which we may or may not be intimately involved. We vote on police policy, though few of us are policemen; we vote on welfare policy, though few of us either work in the welfare bureaucracy or have been on welfare; we vote on tax policy, even if some of us don’t pay taxes. The list goes on and on. Representative democracy necessarily means that millions of us vote on issues with which we have had little practical experience. The “chickenhawk” argument — which states that if you haven’t served in the military, you can’t have an opinion on foreign policy — explicitly rejects basic principles of representative democracy.

Jeff Jacoby also describes the silliness of this word:

“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?”

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. 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?

[continue reading]

More on the chickenhawk slur here, here, here, and here.

One response »

  1. You are, my friend, INDEFATIGABLE! And I mean that Entirely as a compliment. I rarely show my own blog much love and here I’m considering, yet again, making sure that you don’t get the last word 🙂

    But come on is that really fair? I’m a lazy son of a bitch, why do you keep doing this to me? Can’t you let me comments stand triumphant; unanswerable; alone on the crest?

    Apparently not. But by God, you won’t bait me into writing more for you than I don’t for me! As mentioned, I’m Not In The Mood!

    BUT, even though I might not write, I do

    A) read and

    B) TOTALLY disagree with you.

    So how’s that! 🙂

    Oh, okay, I’ll give ya a few more words.

    My disagreement is with you thinking that all of your prattle with regard to chickenhawking has anything, but ANYTHING to do with my point.

    I elucidated my point in some depth and I think that (for someone familiar with the fact that our current economic model is not the ONLY model that could possibly exist OR that by its very existence it must be good and proper) my paragraph or two speak for themselves.

    The facts simply are, that the majority of the cheerleaders for the war are people with no children on the line and the majority of the parents who DO have children on the line are parents whose son or daughter had almost no shot of having a really really cool life WITHOUT joining the armed forces (where they have a nice chance of a terrifying death and an even better chance of grievous, life-altering injury [not to mention the years of indentured servitude, extreme discomfort and almost complete annihilation of their personal “freedom to choose” Anything.

    Honestly now, I wrote a tiny bit more detail in my previous-paged comments and, by God, I could talk for hours about the subject and, in so doing, refute all of the various but-ifs and non-sequitors that one might raise in attack of the very simple point that I’m making…… but for the love of Baby Jesus, my fingers Hurt and really now, I just wanna read, eat and watch TV! So let me be!

    P.S. You know I love ya, right? I mean, if I think that you’re saying something totally ridiculous and stupid I’ll tell ya, but that implies no ill will whatsoever. Feel free to reciprocate.

    P.P.S. I’m P-r-e-t-t-y damn sure that my point is a good one and it opens up a sore that truly Exists in American society (and if it doesn’t then it SHOULD) and that honest people ought to step out of their political corners and take it to their hearts and consider it.

    That said, the ‘Chickenhawks’ and ‘Incompetence’ points that I make are not, of course, the final word on the subject of the war against islamo-fascism. Valid though they may be, you don’t step out of a war because the guy prosecuting is braindead and his puppeteers are Antoinettes. These factors of course ought to be taken into the equation but so must, as well, a few dozen other factors.

    Also, it’s entirely possible that I missed some major fact here and that these “factors” are actually characters in some merry merry land in mnuez’s brain.

    I go through life sure of Nothing.

    However, I HAVE considered this issue to some extent and I regard it as a major and non-imaginary one and consider the likelihood of my being wholesale-ly wrong on this subject to be as unlikely as the Divinity of Jesus, the non-existence of a physical sun, the common impregnation of men and women by extra-terrestrials, etc.

    I make this point vividly because my experience has Consistently been that my honest recognition that “of course, I could be wrong and I’m always open to learning something new” is read as: “I’m not sure of myself! I think you might be right!” So, though I would never expect You to mistaken any exclamation of my non-omniscience as giving an inch (because, like I said, I honestly HAVE thought this through in depth and could [and in a very public forum WOULD] love to expound upon this for some many hours [making Castro look like a sound-bite guy ;-]) – I wouldn’t want any of the more “standardly thinking” folk who reside out there in the wide world to get a wrong impression regarding my surety of the strength of the ‘chickenhawk’ and ‘incompetence’ attacks on the way in which this war is being prosecuted.

    Now it’s BookTV time, okay?



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