What Makes Someone a Chicken Hawk?
Jacoby says the left applies the slur “chickenhawk” against those, like himself, who “support a war but have never seen combat.” He cites several examples of prominent Democrats, including their most recent presidential nominee, using the concept in that manner. That’s pretty much how I’ve understood the criticism as well.
Greenwald says this is nonsense. While conceding some use the term that way, he insists the real definition is far more nuanced.
Although there is no formal definition for it, the “chicken hawk” criticism is not typically made against someone who merely (a) advocates a war but (b) will not fight in that war and/or has never fought in any war (although, admittedly, there are those who mis-use the term that way). After all, the vast majority of Americans in both political parties meet that definition. The war in Afghanistan was supported by roughly 90% of Americans, as was the first Persian Gulf War, even though only a tiny fraction of war supporters would actually fight in those wars which they advocated.
Something more than mere support for a war without fighting in it is required to earn the “chicken hawk” label. Chicken-hawkism is the belief that advocating a war from afar is a sign of personal courage and strength, and that opposing a war from afar is a sign of personal cowardice and weakness.
He cites several examples of people making variants of that argument, including Bill Kristol in this week’s Standard. (Although, in fairness to Kristol, one could argue that he’s merely claiming moral resolve in the face of a constant stream of depressing news rather than actual courage; I haven’t read through the other links sufficiently to see whether they’re making such a claim.)
This is an interesting distinction, to be sure, although it’s unclear how the coinage of a slur word to poison the well helps advance the argument (with which I’m in full agreement, by the way) that one can simultaneously believe a war that one’s country is fighting is ill advised and be a patriot. Regardless, however, it’s rather silly to claim Jacoby is advancing a straw man when, in fact, he is defining the word in the sane way as virtually everyone who uses it; indeed, Glenn Greenwald is the only known exception.
Most amusingly, Greenwald’s commentators simultaneoulsy cheer him for taking down Jacoby’s “intellectural fallacy,” so common not only to Jacoby’s writing and to evil Bush loving Repugs everywhere, while using the slur in the Jacoby-defined fashion repeatedly.
That’s the best explanation of “chickenhawk” I’ve seen to date. I would add one thing: among the class of people you describe, “chickenhawk” is particularly applicable to those who had ample opportunity to fight in war and deliberately avoided it. To name a few examples, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, and Rush Limbaugh all sought deferments during Vietnam, yet today they pratically equate themselves with soldiers. 2:47 PM
Ah, the mis-states the opponamt’s argument then aegue against the misstatment. A Republican classic. 2:47 PM
Ah, the irony of the Anonymous commenter . . .
Ugh, more strawmen for these cowards to burn with a mix of righteous glee and solemn concern. What an accomplishment. Next time, he should visit reality and pontificate on that. 2:58 PM
Check out the link above for an examination of who served in the military and who didn’t. 3:08 PM
Chicken hawk describes the Bush/Rove smear of Kerry, swiftboating lies that went way over the line. Bush was snorting coke at some keg party while Kerry was in combat. And as posted above it seems as though all of the cheerleaders of our adventure in Iraq did everything possible to not serve in South East Asia when they had a chance and those that chose to go without getting drafted are now cowards. The wacko right wingers are just experts at framing the message and now wish to frame “chicken hawk” as an insult when it is the perfect description of these cowards. 3:33 PM
liquified viscera said…
It’s really quite simple.
A “chicken hawk” is someone who cheers the use of military force both overt and covert, yet is unwilling to take a part in the dirty work and expects others to do it for him/her.
Typically such “chicken hawks” also will criticize any view which opposes that use of military force as an “appeaser” or “terrorist sympathizer” or “weak, spineless simp” or suchlike. Where the critic is of suitable age and fitness to perform military service in the desired theater, this only serves to amplify the applicability of the “chicken hawk” label.
Jacoby was trying to re-define “Chicken Hawk” to make the argument suit his own perspective. Jacoby is obnoxiously defining a term that he himself would not use, but instead might find used against him. The fact that anyone could take Jacoby’s recasting seriously is indicative of the sad state of the collective American intellect. 5:27 PM
And it goes on and on.
Now, I’m not holding Greenwald responsible for the views expressed by his commenters. But they are a fair example, I think, of the views of a sizable percentage of those on the left in their characterization of war supporters who aren’t currently in uniform. (Indeed, I have heard, on numerous occasions, people argue that even being a combat veteran is no excuse since, after all, one could probably get the military to take you under present circumstances.)
Furthermore, even in its limited Greenwaldian usage, “chicken hawk” is an ad hominem –one of the classic logical fallacies (or, if you prefer, “intellectural fallacy”)– not an argument. Indeed, Greenwald’s caveat is akin to saying that one only uses the word “nigger” to describe blacks who are particularly shiftless, flamboyant, or engaged in criminal activity and that, of course, many black people are just fine. If one’s position is that particular war proponents are poisoning the well by implicitly challenging the courage or patriotism of war opponents, then call them on it by use of rational argument. Surely, a big-time litigator of complex issues of constitutional law who authored a New York Times bestselling book while simultaneously creating one of the most highly trafficked weblogs in the known universe in a mere nine months is up to that task.