I run into this quite a bit and I’m sure many of you have as well. You start discussing the Iraq war, defending the President’s rationale for sending over 100K troops into harms way, and inevitably the argument breaks down to: “Well if you’re so gung ho, why don’t YOU sign up to serve?” Or “You don’t have family serving, so how dare you advocate this war!” Well, in a Townhall.com piece today, Ben Shapiro rips apart the arguments of those who claim that “chickenhawks” aren’t qualified to discuss national security issues:
Who is qualified to speak on matters of national security? According to the American left, only pacifists, military members who have served in combat and direct relatives of those slain in combat or in acts of terrorism. The rest of us — about 80 percent of voters — must simply sit by silently. Our opinions do not matter. You want disenfranchisement? Talk to the political left, which seeks to exclude the vast majority of the American populace from the national debate about foreign policy.
The bulk of the left in this country refuses to argue about foreign policy rationally, without resorting to ad hominem attack. The favored ad hominem attack of the left these days is “chickenhawk.” The argument goes something like this: If you believe in any of the wars America is currently fighting, you must join the military. If you do not, you must shut up. If, on the other hand, you believe that America should disengage from all foreign wars, you may feel free not to serve in the military.
This is the argument made by hate-America radicals like Michael Moore, who defines “chickenhawk” on his website thus: “A person enthusiastic about war, provided someone else fights it; particularly when that enthusiasm is undimmed by personal experience with war; most emphatically when that lack of experience came in spite of ample opportunity in that person’s youth.” The “chickenhawk” argument was the implicit centerpiece of John Kerry’s presidential campaign — Kerry hyped his military service and denigrated George W. Bush’s military service, all the while focusing on the fact that he, unlike President Bush, was anti-war. Kerry’s campaign underling, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, made the argument explicit during April 2004: “They shriek like a hawk, but they have the backbone of the chicken,” he said of the Bush Administration. “The lead chickenhawk against Sen. Kerry [is] the vice president of the United States, Vice President Cheney.” Not coincidentally, Lautenberg utilized Moore’s exact “chickenhawk” definition in making his point.
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.
Bang on. Make sure to read the whole thing. Bottom line: invoking the chickenhawk argument is a way that anti-war types attempt to shame the ‘chickenhawks’ into stifling their opinions about matters of national security. I’d like to stress that *some* of these same anti-war types who invoke that argument themselves haven’t served either yet are obvious direct beneficiaries of wars past that neither they nor their family served in, wars that have been fought to ensure that the US stays a free and safe nation and one who can continue to boast about the fact that freedom of speech is a protected right … a right for these same people to speak freely and outspokenly against these very same wars that have protected that right.
Hat tip to Betsy Newmark, who provides additional spot-on commentary:
Another argument that always irritates me is the complaint that Bush’s daughters aren’t serving in the military. The underlying premise is that a father should have some control over the career choices of his children. Children aren’t possessions that you can command to go enlist because it would make Daddy look better. What a patronizing attitude.
But the other thing that gets me is the thought of what would happen if one or both of the girls did enlist and were sent over to Iraq. What a pain that would be for the military. They couldn’t serve as others did, but since they would be such a big fat target for the terrorists, these young soldiers would have to be surrounded by extra security. Their mere presence would draw other soldiers from doing what they had to do in order to provide security for these targets. Being with them would endanger everyone around them constantly. How would that be for unit cohesion. I imagine it would be such a security nightmare that commanders would either not want them there in Iraq or would want them in some relatively protected position inside the perimeter of protection afforded other high profile Americans like the Ambassador. And then there would be such an outcry about their getting special privileges while they were there or not being sent over to Iraq because of who their father is. So, it is a fatuous argument that his daughters should be serving in the military.
Afternoon update: Jonah Goldberg also attacks the “chickenhawks shouldn’t talk” argument:
Anybody who’s been on the receiving end of the “chickenhawk” epithet knows what I’m getting at. Various definitions of chickenhawk are out there, but the gist — as if you didn’t know — is “coward” or “unpatriotic hypocrite.” The accusation is less an argument than an insult.
It’s also a form of bullying. The intent is to say, “You have no right to support the war since you haven’t served or signed up.” It’s a way to get supporters of the war in Iraq, the war on terror, or the president simply to shut up.
But there’s a benefit of a doubt to be given. There are many people — I know because I’ve argued with lots of them — who don’t believe the “chickenhawk” thing is intellectually unserious.
Obsessed with “authenticity” and the evil of hypocrisy — as they see it — they think the message and the messenger are inextricably linked. Two plus two is four only if the right person says so. We hear this logic most often from adherents of identity politics, who give more weight to the statements of women, blacks, Jews, and others for the sole reason that they were uttered by people born female, black, Jewish or whatever. People who grew up poor are supposed to have a more “authentic” perspective on economic policy than people who didn’t, and so on.
Don’t get me wrong — experience is important and useful, including the experiences that come from being black or gay or otherwise a member of the Coalition of the Oppressed. But valuable experience confers knowledge; it doesn’t beatify. And identity isn’t an iron cage: It is not insurmountable. And, at the end of the day, arguments must stand on their own merits, regardless of who delivers them.
Wink: Jeff Goldstein, who has some words of wisdom of his own on regarding this topic.