I wrote about the “you’re a chickenhawk so you can’t comment” argument back in August of last year, but am revisiting it again thanks to a great opinion piece on the subject written by Jeff Jacoby in today’s Boston Globe. He brings some additional points to the table that are worth mentioning:
“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?
Read it all.
Here’s another way to stymie those in the anti-war ‘movement’ who invoke the “chickenhawk” argument: Ask them if they supported us going into Afghanistan after 9-11. 95% of the time, you’ll get a yes answer. In response to that, ask them when exactly it was that they served time in Afghanistan, since they supported going in in the first place. Chances are, they didn’t serve at all. I’ve found it’s a very effective counter-argument