[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?