…and starring Michael Kelly as Foghorn Leghorn.
I’ve put off addressing Michael Kelly’s latest Return of the ‘Chicken Hawks’ because, quite frankly, he makes me tired. Discussing a Kelly column is like housebreaking a puppy: you begin to wonder if he will ever learn. But since I couldn’t let his latest pass unremarked…here goes.
He starts out on the somewhat on the right foot:
The general trump-it-all insult that the antiwar crowd aims at the pro-war crowd these days is a neat little portmanteau term that manages to impute, at once, cowardice, ignorance, selfishness, bloodlust (as long as the blood spills from others’ veins) and hypocrisy: “chicken hawk.”
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.
But then, like a hound that picks up the wrong scent, he goes astray.
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.
Further, the inescapable logic of “chicken hawk”-calling is that only military men have standing to pronounce in any way on war — to advocate it or to advocate against it. The decision not to go to war involves exactly the same issues of experiential and moral authority as does the decision to go to war. If a past of soldiering is required for one, it is required for the other. Chicken doves have no more standing than “chicken hawks.” We must leave all the decisions to the generals and the veterans
Kelly states what a chickenhawk is, and then runs away from it towards an irrelevant strawman argument regarding civilians vs military pumping up and then running a war. As he himself said, chickenhawks are “… public persons, generally male, who advocate war but who declined a significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime.” Examples of this are: Dick Cheney who used every deferment he could get his hands on (even when flunking out of school), including marrying Lynne (desperate times call for desperate measures) to avoid the war because he had “other priorities”. George W. Bush who had his Congressman dad get him into the National Guard where he checked a box on his papers indicating that he was not willing to go overseas…of course he then deserted, which kind of made the issue moot. We’ll leave out the others who missed out on Viet Nam due to rashs, psoriasis, bad knees, and anal cysts, but you can check them out here.
Donald Rumsfeld is not a chickenhawk. Although his service was during peacetime, it still counts. My objection to Rummy is that…he lies. Wolfowitz and Perle count as chickenhawks precisely because they hid out in academia when they could have been fighting for that Pax Americana they’ve got such a hard-on for. But the Mary Kate and Ashley of American Military Might see themselves as “big picture” kind of guys as opposed to “cannon fodder” kind of guys.
These are what are meant by “chickenhawks”. Apparently four paragraphs in, Kelly forgot what he was talking about, or he just reverted back to being Kelly the Obtuse again.
Later Kelly flatters himself as an “honorary chickenhawk” because:
I am myself not technically a “chicken hawk,” as I was, thank God, a few years too young to serve during the Vietnam War and too old and too untrained to be of any military use during the next significant war, the Persian Gulf War of 1991. But I suppose I fit the spirit if not the letter of the slur. I am certainly now a hawk, and during the Vietnam years I was certainly a dove. What changed me was in fact experience of war — but not as a soldier.
I covered the Gulf War as a reporter, and it was this experience, later compounded by what I saw reporting in Bosnia, that convinced me of the moral imperative, sometimes, for war.
In liberated Kuwait City, one vast crime scene, I toured the morgue one day and inspected torture and murder victims left behind by the departing Iraqis.
Well put on the bush jacket and call me Ernie Pyle. Kelly has seen “war”. He’s a hardened war correspondent who’s smoked too many cigarettes, drank too much whiskey, and seen too much death… not to mention the hotels where you can barely plug in your laptop because war is hell, don’t you know.
The Gulf War…Bosnia…two of the Pentagon’s most orchestrated “wins” when it came to the media. After the debacle of Viet Nam where the Pentagon blamed it’s shortcomings on the ‘media’, among others, the General’s got smarter. No more reporters in the field until after the story was practically typed up for them. Film clips for CNN. Daily content-free press briefings. This is what Kelly saw. He was the meat inspector that saw the sausage…but not what went into it, and that was just fine with him, now show me to the open bar.
When you get down to it, Kelly is just soft and easy to manipulate, a stenographer for the government, who wants us to think that he’s Neil Sheehan, when he’s really Professor Harold Hill selling snake-oil and verbs to the little boys and girls who want to have a war for the other kids to play in.
What fun! Praise the lord and pass the ammunition, Mikey.