Chickenhawk Redux – Sacrificing Children

In a Slate article entitled, “Don’t “Son” Me – End this silly talk about sacrificing children,” Christopher Hitchens thrashes the latest variant of the chickenhawk meme floating about, the idea that only those who are willing to send their sons to battle have the right to favor a war. He is particularly peeved by a Richard Cohen piece making that claim.

After parrying the silliness behind the argument, Hitchens gets to the heart of the matter.

Further on in the same portentous article, we encounter one Andrew Bacevich, a “professor of international relations at Boston University and a retired Army officer.” What could be more impressive? This expert delivers himself of the opinion that, “If this is such a great cause, let us see one of the Bush daughters in uniform.” Let me do a brief thought experiment here. Do I know a single anti-war person who would be more persuaded if one of the Bush girls joined up? Do you? Can you imagine what would be said about such a cheap emotional stunt? Stalin’s son was taken prisoner by the Nazi invaders (and never exchanged), and Mao’s son was killed in the war that established the present state of North Korea. I am not sure how encouraging such precedents are supposed to be, but they have nothing at all to do with the definition of a just war.

Much more important than this, however, is the implied assault on civilian control of the military. In this republic, elected civilians give crisp orders to soldiers and expect these orders to be obeyed. No back chat can even be imagined, let alone allowed. Do liberals really want the Joint Chiefs to say: “Mr. President, I’ll respect that order when you have a son or daughter in uniform”? It was a great day when President Lincoln fired Gen. George B. McClellan. It was a great day when President Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur. No presidential brat needed to be on the front line for this point to be understood.

Quite right.

Kevin Drum agrees with another point made by Hitchens:

Did I send my children to rescue the victims of the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center? No, I expected the police and fire departments to accept the risk of gruesome death on my behalf.

Having made the same argument over a year ago, who am I to disagree?

One could reasonably be in favor of a governmental policy and yet have no desire to join in its enforcement. One could, for example, support government restaurant inspections and yet not be willing to change careers to become a food inspector. No one argues that that’s hypocritical. “Ah,” you say, “but food inspectors don’t risk their lives in the way that soldiers do! Straw man! Straw man!” Fair enough. Can one support putting out fires but not be willing to join the fire department? If so, does that make one a Pyro Chicken? Or, since we all know bears are in charge of preventing fires (at least in the forest) perhaps chicken-bear? Can one advocate the arrest of murderers and not go off and join the police department? I’ve never heard anyone called names for that combination. Chicken-Shepherd? I dunno.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I’m trying to joint the Army–the Army bureacracy is making it exceedingly difficult.

  2. Pug says:

    It is not at all a silly argument. It is an extremely fair question to ask why not one member of the extended Bush family is currently serving in the military. Tim Johnson’s son served. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s son served. John McCain’s son is in the Navy now. Johnson and Goodwin, of course, are traitorous Democrats, not nearly as patriotic as the Internet posters you see so often.

    It is a little too easy to favor wars when you know you and your loved ones will not be called upon to serve, isn’t it? The yellow ribbon on the back of your SUV, next to the W04 sticker, does not make you a great patriot.

    There are many cliches to support this argument. You know, “actions speak louder than words”, “where the rubber meets the road” and things like that.

    Of course not everyone can serve, but those that are able-bodied supporters of the war, and of the right age which is now 38 or younger, should be packing a rifle in Ramadi if they really believe what they say.

    The silliness, as usual, comes from the besotted fool Hitchens. If you really believe a cause is worth someone’s son dying for, then you should be willing to risk your son also.

  3. ALS says:

    This argument is completely bogus.

    Whether or not you have a child in the service has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not you are “entitled” to support a war.

    Those of us who support the war in Afhanistan and Iraq simply can’t win this argument.

    Because if you support the war, but have no children in combat, that makes you a chicken hawk. But if you support the war, and have children in combat, you’re obviously a Bush-worshipping brainwashed right wing nut job.

    This argument can’t be won. According to their logic, if you support the war, you are wrong, regardless of whether or not you or your loved ones serve.

  4. Roger says:

    Patrick Henry spoke that immortal line, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Did he serve?

    The argument that the cause is only just if you are willing to commit your own sons and daughters is utter nonsense and incredibly flawed.

    What if I was the one greenlighting the war in Iraq? I don’t have a son or daughter. For medical reasons I was not able to serve in the military.

    And let’s be brutally honest here, no one wants to send their son, daughter, niece, nephew to war.

  5. Roger says:

    oops…forgot to add something to that last paragraph:

    And let’s be brutally honest here, no one wants to send their son, daughter, niece, nephew to war. Personally, I don’t want to ever see my nieces and nephews in harms way.

    This litmus test of sons and daugters is bogus.

  6. LJD says:

    No one wants to see their loved one go to war. Actually, no individual wants to go to war. Yet they volunteer for this duty, repeatedly. It is a sense of right and wrong, of helping those in need. The chickenshits just don;t get it. They figure if we just hang around the coffee house pissing and moaning about how bad life in the U.S. is, then the rest of the world will just leave us alone… Until the issue of the day is helping whatever country resist their opressors. Somehow between demanding support and actually giving it, they abandon the whole damn thing.

  7. Phil Lanager says:

    What are the Bush girls doing these days anyway? I never hear about them doing anything at all. As far as military service, I would think it an honor for those two able-bodied young women to both serve in Iraq. Their dad should be consistent when talking about making “sacrifices” and encourage them to sign up for service right away while the Army and Marines need them. I’m glad someone out there has the balls to ask these questions. That’s what freedom is all about!

  8. ALS says:

    That’s what freedom is all about!

    Almost right. Freedom is about being able to support (or not support) a war, regardless of whether or not your son is fighting in it.

    We all get a say.

    Isn’t that dandy?