Thursday, December 17, 2015

Chickenhawk thang

Two days after the freak-show misnamed a 'debate,' facebook - where I spend entirely too much time - is being populated by a picture of the Republican hopefuls lined up on the stage, with bold white text reading: "Lots of tough-guy war talk but not one single veteran.

This is the chickenhawk thang.

Christians use this pseudo-argument, even some Christians who believe we ought to abstain from killing other people because we are Christians.  I believe that, about not killing people, by the way; but I dislike this meme almost as much as I dislike the term 'meme.'

I mentioned this in the Preface to the book, right here on pages xvii and xix, but I'll reiterate it for those who may not yet understand why I have an issue with it.

Not complicated, but maybe a little counter-intuitive.

This chickenhawk thang is gendered, first of all.  The same people who despise men who avoid war do not despise women who do not go to war; and this chickenhawk assertion implies that there is something lacking in men who don't go to war, i.e., physical courage, which is seen as a masculine virtue.  It's seen as a virtue in women, too, don't get me wrong, but as an exceptional virtue in women, whereas it is seen as an essential virtue in men.  I'm not referring to a few people's exceptional understandings, but to the dominant cultural episteme.

Secondly, and here speaking in a more general ethical sense, if we accept that war is conducted by armed forces - a collective body, under some form of leadership - and that US wars are conducted by armed forces beholden to the state (and Constitutionally under civilian authority), what does the experience of participation in war (as a veteran, which can mean anything from front-line soldier to band leader) have to do with the qualification to be that civilian leader?  More to the point, if you think a war is just, is it any less just because the chief of state is or is not a veteran?  And conversely, if it is unjust, then would the order to initiate hostilities be any more just if the supreme leader were a blooded former Marine infantryman?  In neither case does it matter one iota.

What the chickenhawk thang is saying is, "You're not man enough to start a war because you have never engaged in this kind of violence yourself."  This is a schoolyard taunt, and it is a boy-taunt.  Wearing a uniform, carrying a gun, or participating in armed combat does not earn anyone a special right to ask other people to do the same thing.

The argument resonates because it taps into the war-veteran entitlement notion that operates with such force in this militaristic culture, and because it taps into the "you're not man enough" gender-trope, and - understandably - it taps into the very reasonable, in my view, outrage we feel when we see anyone who is not at risk themselves using their power to potentially harm others. But the latter is true, whether that leader has been in uniform or not.  Some veterans are quite bright and insightful.  Some veterans are whackadoodle loony toons, just like those tough-talking debaters; and I know of quite a few veterans who think Donald Trump is just the cat's ass.

They like him because he hits all those boy-buttons with his macho chatter; and this chickenhawk thang is just another boy-button.


  1. Well, at least FB prompts you to clarify some details about these items (smile). The Devil is in the details, you, know!

  2. You can also say (& see) someone is a Chickenhawk, and be damned glad to see the deadly irony.