The big theme running around the anti-war blogs nowadays is a revival of the classic “chickenhawk” accusation. In a nutshell (a singularly appropriate turn of phrase in this context), the idea is that it is cowardly of those who support the war (myself proudly included) to do so unless we are ready, willing, and able to go and fight it ourselves — and prove that commitment with action.
I’ve spoken at length at my own personal circumstances that make that impossible for me, but I won’t fall into that trap here. And the argument is, indeed a trap — a dishonorable, dishonest, fraudulent tactic that has been allowed to remain unchallenged for far too long.
I’ve always believed that one should limit one’s arguments to the issues, not the individuals. I always try to refrain from gratuitous personal attacks when discussing matters of grave import. (I don’t always succeed, but I do try.) To me, the message is far more important than the messenger, and the cause far greater than its advocate.
That belief stands in stark contrast with the “chickenhawk” argument, which tries to shift the discussion from the message to the messenger. It tries to move the topic from “is this a good idea?” to “who the hell are you to say anything?” It is an attempt to silence the opposition by assailing them personally, by punishing them for daring to have a dissenting opinion.
But it is even more fundamentally dishonest than that. It is a wholesale attempt to shift not only the topic of the argument to one side’s proponents, but the entire burden of the argument on to them as well. The anti-war advocate, by converting the argument from a philosophical one to a personal one, is freed from the onus of having to marshal facts and citations for their position.
Let’s see how this normally plays out:
A: “I believe that the war in Iraq was necessary.”
B: “I believe that the war in Iraq was wrong.”
A: “I’ve looked into this extensively. Because of A, B, C, D, and E, the war became the least worst option.”
B: “If you believe that the war is such a good thing, then why aren’t you over there fighting it yourself, you fucking coward?”
At that point, A usually falls into the trap and starts explaining why he isn’t currently serving in the military. Lord knows I’ve done it myself on more than a few occasions.
B: “OK, so fine, you won’t go. Then why don’t you encourage others to sign up and go fight your war?”
Please note that at no point in the argument has B even attempted to refute any of the points that A spelled out. They are left in the dust as A suddenly finds himself not having to defend the decision to go to war, but his own personal character and choices. And B has managed to distract and silence a voice spelling out reasoned arguments without having to actually answer the facts presented.
But for just a moment let’s run with the idea that the “chickenhawk” squawkers are putting forth. They toss their accusation at me. I am immediately mortified in shame. The very next morning, I race down to the recruiting station to volunteer. Once they look at me and my medical history, and once they finish laughing in my face, they formally send me away. I start encouraging others to enlist, and start getting called a hypocrite for trying to get others to do my dirty work for me. Finally, in shame, I go home and kill myself.
Just what has been achieved? I have been silenced, but have my points been answered? The Left raves all the time about “the suppression of dissent,” but that is the very core notion behind this argument.
I’ve spelled out my reasons for believing that the war in Iraq was necessary, and some of the reasons it’s working here. No one successfully refuted them at the time, but I’d like to re-open the discussion here and see if any of the “chickenhawk” squawkers would like to take a run at them again.
But please, make it about the WAR. I wasn’t raised to believe that “it’s all about me,” and this topic is far more important than I could ever be. See if you can counter any of my points without attacking me. And anyone who takes this opportunity to bash me instead of my opinions is, in my humble opinion, tacitly admitting that they can’t refute my arguments.