Once more…explained slowly

Too pretty to fight

As all of our wars turn to shit and we don’t have enough cannon fodder to turn every neo-con pipedream into a wetdream, Jeff Jacoby is getting tired of being called a chickenhawk and fights back, as only a chickenhawk can, by missing the point:

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?

You have to admire Jacoby for not having the balls to actually go and fight while, at the same time, pretending that he too is one with the few, the proud, the hairy-chested. Actually, you don’t have to admire Jacoby at all because his argument is what they refer to in debating circles as “bullshit”. In fact, he seems to be recycling the same “not-a-chickenhawk” argument that we have heard before (not that this is anything new for Jacoby).

It’s very simple; nobody is saying that Jacoby can’t blather on and on about the great moral choices we Americans make about whether to attack and invade countries because they might pose a threat (real or imagined) to us. But at the same time he is making the moral choice to say, “Well, you go on ahead. I have other priorities which don’t include getting my ass shot at or blown up. Your life is worth less than mine. I ‘ll just stay here and wave my little flag. Godspeed!”

That is a chickenhawk. He lets others, who have entrusted their lives to their country, believing with all their hearts that the people in charge have their best interests in mind won’t send them off on a fools errand or a bloody debacle. And if they get killed, well, Jeff can always write a somber full-of-regret athlete-who-died-too-young column about the brave man (or woman) they were, file the story, and then go back to bouncing his son on his knee. No risk of harm, no foul.

And yet in one of Jacoby’s open letters to his son that he submits as a column each year he writes:

I’m in no hurry to dispel your innocence, but I know that the world outside won’t stay outside forever. My power to shelter you from the worst of what’s out there is gradually decreasing; your awareness of human evil and suffering are slowly on the rise. I want to prepare you for the ugliness and injustice that you are bound to encounter as you make your way in the world — prepare you not just to recognize that such things exist but to understand that you have a duty to combat them.

We talked about the war in Iraq the other day. I explained to you that the ruler of that country is an extremely cruel man who for a very long time has been killing and hurting many people — including even children your age and younger — and that the United States was now leading a war to stop him. War can be very terrible and frightening, I told you, but it would be more terrible and frightening if we did nothing to stop the cruel man.

“Imagine how you would feel,” I suggested, “if somebody were hurting you very badly — hurting you so badly that you were crying — and everyone else just watched and did nothing to stop him.” That is a very simple way to frame the case for war in Iraq, Caleb, but you’d be surprised how many adults cannot seem to grasp it.


The lesson I hope you are gradually internalizing is that when victims are suffering, those who can rescue them have an obligation to do so. “Do not stand aloof from the blood of your neighbor,” commands the Bible in Leviticus 19:16. When someone is in a desperate predicament, you must help if you can. And sometimes the only way to help is through fighting and bloodshed. Awful as war is, the alternative can be even worse.

Unless, of course, the alternative is to send someone else to go do the fighting and the shedding of blood, in which case, it’s good work if you can get it.

Seen in his light, Jacoby isn’t just your average run-of-the-coop chickenhawk. He’s also a hypocrite and a liar who talks awful big for his little boy and walks awful small for a man.

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