Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Mike Kelly: Chickenshit or Chicken Salad?

Presidential Apologist Kelly writes:

The generally accepted definition of the term, which dates at least to 1988, describes 'chicken hawks' as public persons, generally male, who advocate war but who declined a significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime.

"Chicken hawk" is interesting as an insult because it is such a pure example of reactionary thinking or, rather, the substitution of reaction for thinking. It is the sort of thing you say when you need to stop the argument in its tracks because you simply can't bear to address its realities. Other obvious examples of the type might include "my country right or wrong" and "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." ...

So it is with "chicken hawk." Its power lies in the simplicity that comes with being completely wrong. The central implication here is that only men who have professionally endured war have the moral standing and the experiential authority to advocate war. That is, in this country at least, a radical and ahistorical view. The Founders, who knew quite well the dangers of a military class supreme, were clear in their conviction that the judgment of professional warmakers must be subordinated to the command of ignorant amateurs -- civilian leaders who were in turn subordinated to the command of civilian voters. Such has given us the leadership in war of such notable "chicken hawks" as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Time constraints preclude the full appropriate response to this chickenshit (the author, and the article). The most obvious flaw, however, is the re-definition of usage to suit Kelly's purposes. The term "chickenhawk" does not assert that those without military experience cannot or should not advocate war; rather, it simply asserts that a particular advocate of war lacks the moral standing to make the case. When a warmonger avoids combat during wartime through paternal string-pulling or because he has "other priorities," he lacks the authority to make the case that there is a moral obligation to wage war. The war a chickenhawk advocates may be right or wrong, but the chickenhawk has already demonstrated, by his actions, his belief that war is not a moral obligation.

The chickenhawk can still argue other reasons to wage war (economic benefits for his cronies, the need to win mid-term elections, etc.). He can even argue the moral case for the war. But he can't avoid the consequences of being called on his hypocrisy.

More about the differences between Kelly and Lincoln, and why F.D.R. and Lincoln aren't chickenhawks, later.

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