The Current Crisis

Chicken Hawk Squawk

It emanates from chickens and poseurs.

By 9.12.02

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Washington -- As the debate over the fate of Saddam Hussein moves from a simmer to a boil, perhaps you have noticed that the Scrupling Few are again employing the term "chicken hawk." The Scrupling Few are those who at once are negative towards war with Saddam and also positive -- at least vaguely positive. This is not to say they are positive for war exactly but for good things to come from Washington, despite the evil Republicans. In describing the Scrupling Few, one cannot be much more concrete. They worry, they pontificate, they Scruple. That is about it. Save for one other thing: they apply the term chick hawk to those who favor war but have not actually experienced war. Then they Scruple about having done so. It is fair to say that the Scrupling Few are on both sides of the issue of war with Iraq. They are also on both sides of the legitimacy of the term chicken hawk. Some would call them poseurs; the less mature would call them chickens.

New York Times columnist Bill Keller employed the term chicken hawk the other day in a typically mealy-mouthed column whose vaporous point was that the Scruples of Senator John Kerry about attacking Baghdad must be taken very seriously because of his Vietnam War record. On the other hand, "the current White House warriors" should be taken less seriously because they are not actually warriors -- neither George W. Bush nor Dick Cheney served in Vietnam. On yet another hand, Keller does not mean to say that lack of a war record disqualifies a statesman from advocating war. And on his third hand, Keller displays Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, two chicken hawks whose military decisions he presumably admires. (Incidentally, Keller must know that chicken hawk Reagan served in the military. He is merely Scrupling again.) And on the fourth hand, Keller does not approve of the term chicken hawk, though he does not disapprove -- regular readers of Keller's Times column must be devotees of magic acts.

Continuing his balmy sleight of hand with the term chicken hawk, Keller raises the key question: "Does that mean that those of us who avoided combat, including the current White House warriors (and your astigmatic columnist [self-effacing humor, that!]), are less worthy of trust on the subject of war?" Well, as you can imagine, Keller believes himself abundantly worthy of our trust; despite his admission to having "avoided" combat. He is, however, less confident of investing trust in the President and Vice President. Now is it fair or even accurate for Keller to accuse them of avoiding combat? Strictly speaking he is saying that they "shunned" combat. Has Keller any evidence?

Perhaps it is at this point appropriate to interrupt Keller's magic act and puncture another of the Liberals' many myths about the Vietnam War. Keller and his confreres would have us believe that any member of the Vietnam generation (roughly, those men of draft-age between 1964 and 1975) who did not serve in the military "avoided" the military. That would make the Vietnam generation the largest cohort of draft dodgers in American history. It would also make Bill Clinton just one of the guys; though his now well-documented efforts in the 1960s to avoid his physical and dupe his draft board were highly unusual and shameful.

Only about 8% of the Vietnam generation ever went to Southeast Asia, most to Vietnam. Only about 25% ever served in any branch of the military, overseas or stateside. Today the Liberals solemnly praise the Vietnamese veterans, but during the late 1960s and early 1970s they often reviled them as war criminals. Jane Fonda went so far as to call our POWs "hypocrites and liars," for claiming torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Thus some 75% of the Vietnam generation never wore a uniform. They were not supposed to. The military had no need of them. If it had needed them standards would have been lowered and exemptions tightened. The vast majority of the Vietnam generation's draft records were perfectly legal and honorable.

Finally Keller's dismissal of President George W. Bush's military service is as misleading as his dismissal of President Reagan's. When the other 75% of his generation was following its civilian pursuits, the future president was flying F106s in the Air National Guard. Is this combat avoidance? Tell that to the tens of thousands of National Guard troops serving abroad in the war on terror.

Bootlegging a person's military record into his presentation of whether or not to fight a war is another example of the genetic fallacy. The validity of an idea depends on the coherence of the evidence adduced not on whether we like or admire those advancing the idea. If the Scrupling Few come up with a compelling argument for allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in power I shall be on their side. But to Scruple is not to convince.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.