The Chickenhawk Slur

by John Hawkins | January 13, 2012 2:35 am

On Veterans Day, I noticed that more than a few left-wing websites decided it was an opportune time to break out the “chickenhawks” slur again. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word or who associate it with its more vulgar meaning, when the left uses the term, they are generally referring to a foreign policy hawk who has not been in the military and is not seeking to join up. You see, they’re of the opinion that only those who have actually fought in the military or who are willing to do so, should be able to advocate war. Of course, that’s not exactly what you’d call a “well reasoned argument,” but keep in mind that we’re talking about people who think that carrying a giant puppet head at an anti-war rally run by Communists passes for an eloquent statement about the war on terrorism.

But one has to wonder if these same people think of Woodrow “we must make the world safe for Democracy” Wilson as “Chickenhawk” Wilson? After all, Wilson, the man who launched our country into WW1, had been a professor of political science before he got into politics, not a military man. Then there’s FDR, a gentleman who certainly couldn’t be called a pacifist. In fact, old Franklin “Chickenhawk” Roosevelt led our country into the bloodiest war this planet has ever seen. Was he wrong to have done that since he never served in the military? Most of us would say “no,” but you have to wonder if the people who’re today hooting “chickenhawk” would disagree. We could even look to Bill Clinton and wonder why a President who not only didn’t serve in the military, but once wrote in a letter that he “loathed the military,” was not branded with a scarlet “Chickenhawk” for his rather aggressive foreign policy in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, & Haiti.

Moreover, does it not seem a bit hypocritical that the very people who expect hawks to enlist in the military are not willing to make similar sacrifices themselves? For example, whatever you think of Rachel Corrie, the “peace activist” who was accidentally run over by an Israeli bulldozer while she tried to protect: smuggling tunnels used by terrorists[1], you couldn’t have accused her of being a hypocrite if she had ever called someone a “chickenhawk”. Similarly, while you would be wrong to act as a human shield at a North Korean gulag, in front of a terrorist enclave in the West Bank, or at a bomb making warehouse in Tikrit, at least no one could claim that you were asking others to do what you were not willing to do yourself. But if you decry “chickenhawks who advocate war while they’re safe at home,” please don’t claim some sort of moral high ground if you “advocate refusing to prosecute the war on terrorism while safe at home” yourself.

It’s also worth pointing out that the people who reproach “chickenhawks” for their lack of military experience don’t seem to apply that same concept to anything else. For example, are these same individuals refusing to take a position on the actions of their local police department if they’ve never been a policeman? Do they believe that John Ashcroft knows best if they have never worked for the DOJ?

Here’s an idea that’ll allow you to find out where they really stand. The next time you hear someone gripe about “chickenhawks,” ask their opinion about how President Bush has done since his election in 2000. Then, if they’re intellectually consistent people, you can expect them to say something like, “I really can’t properly evaluate what the President should or shouldn’t do because I have never been President myself”. After all, that’s what they expect the people they call “chickenhawks” to do when it comes to the military isn’t it?

In addition to that, I think it’s worth pointing out that while the exceptional men and women who serve in our armed forces may be experts at combat, that does not mean that ALL of them are geniuses at foreign policy or the best arbiters of how we should handle a situation that might lead to blood being spilled. If you don’t believe that, simply think back to “Operation Northwoods[2],” a plan conceived of by the Joint Chiefs of Staff which featured fake terrorist attacks on American citizens that could be used as an excuse to start a war with Cuba. Of course, that mad scheme never came to fruition because JFK wouldn’t hear of it, but it certainly wasn’t a bunch of “chickenhawks” who cooked the whole thing up.

If you wanted another example of the fallibility of a military man’s judgement when it came to war, you could look to: George McClellan[3]: who ran against Lincoln for the Presidency in 1864 and planned to give up on the Civil War if he won.

I would even go so far as to point out that Wesley Clark, an ex-general with a distinguished military record and a Democratic candidate for President, assured Bill Clinton that just the threat of force would be all that it would take to get Slobodan Milosevic to agree to peace in: Kosovo[4]. Not only was Clark dead wrong, but later during the Kosovo conflict, British General Sir Michael Jackson refused a Clark order to block a “Russian advance towards Pristina airport in Kosovo” and famously explained his actions by saying, ‘I am not going to startWorld War III[5]“. Now if you want to tell people that Wesley Clark is a brilliant strategist whose judgement is far superior to that of the “chickenhawks” when it comes to military strategy, I’d probably be inclined to agree with you. But if you’re trying to make the case that Clark’s overall judgement about foreign policy is superior to anyone who hasn’t served in the military, I’d say that is a very dubious argument indeed.

Summing things up, this whole “chickenhawk” catcall is little more than an attempt to stifle debate and divert attention away from the lack of substance that undergirds much of the anti-war side of the debate. The fact is that many people in the anti-war crowd hold dovish foreign policy views, believe in only using America’s military when our interests AREN’T at stake, & are more concerned with world approval than defending America. Because of that, they are simply incapable of taking positions that would allow us to win the global war on terrorism that we are now engaged in. Rather than deal openly and honestly with issues like that, issues that could cost Democrats the election, they’d rather cry “chickenhawk” and hope that, rather than their foreign policy views & how we should proceed in the war on terrorism, will become the subject of the debate.

  1. smuggling tunnels used by terrorists:
  2. Operation Northwoods:
  3. George McClellan:
  4. Kosovo:
  5. World War III:

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