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Chickenhawk!

Ah, good, something decent emerges from the ugly Goldberg/Cole spat -- a reasonable discussion of the status of the "chickenhawk!" argument. Beyond the ad hominem issues Ogged raises, I'd like to make a further point. To wit: right now, unlike during the run-up to the Iraq War (or the Afghan War) the American military is facing an actual manpower shortage. The National Guard is experiencing a rather large recruiting shortfall and the Marine Corps a smaller one. Under circumstances where a sufficiently large number of people are willing to volunteer to do something that you would like to see done but are not willing to do yourself, it seems reasonable enough to support sending the volunteers in to do it. When the number of volunteers becomes -- as it has become -- insufficient to the task at hand, that changes things.

One point many chickenhawks have raised in their defense is that no one thinks it's odd that I support the practice of sending firefighters into dangerous situations to stop the District of Columbia from burning down even though I have no desire whatsoever to join the Fire Department. It is, I think, a pretty good point. But at the same time, if a house down the block from me was on fire, a truck pulled up to work on putting it out, and the firefighters on the scene started yelling that they needed some assistance from the various people standing around because there weren't enough of them on the scene, I like to think I would help out. Certainly, we would all think there was something wrong with refusing to lend a hand under those circumstances. It's one thing, in other words, to let others serve in your stead when a sufficient number of others are willing to do so. It's another thing entirely to let others be conscripted to serve in your place (as George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, and Dick Cheney all did during Vietnam) during a war you support, or to stand aside while it becomes clear that there aren't a sufficient number of volunteers to get the job done.

February 9, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Matt, the critical difference few seem to be commenting upon is that the likes of Goldberg didn't JUST support the war - they have tarred those who opposed it as unpatriotic and, often, unAmerican.

It's one thing to say that I support this war, but I don't believe I have an obligation to go fight it.

It's quite another to say that I support this war and you're a weasel for not doing so, and how dare you not support the troops - but, uh, no thanks, I'm a writer not a fighter.

Posted by: Bgno64 | Feb 9, 2005 4:49:23 PM

"Hey ! Fireman ! Go start, then fight, this fire for me ! "

Posted by: cleek | Feb 9, 2005 4:54:17 PM

Matt, the firefighter analogy would only be applicable if you were an arsonist.

Posted by: foolishmortal | Feb 9, 2005 4:56:53 PM

Wow, Matthew is REALLY reaching with this one.

When the number of volunteers becomes -- as it has become -- insufficient to the task at hand, that changes things.


Yeah - I support increasing the incentives necessary to get more volunteers. Up the signing bonus, up the retention bonuses, increase the pay.

End of story.

But I guess Matthew's got to rehabilitate ad hominem chickenhawk attacks somehow, even if he does resort to this incredibly lame attempt.

Posted by: Al | Feb 9, 2005 5:06:56 PM

Also, all decent people want to see fire put out; not just those who support the firefighters. Not so with wars of choice, like in Iraq: Let those who support an unnecessary war consider fighting in it; let those who oppose the war continue fighting AGAINST it. Sounds like Jonah wants to fight an asymmetrical war of conscience--and he's going in unarmed.

Posted by: jim | Feb 9, 2005 5:09:16 PM

And, BTW, the last recruiting shortage we had like this was in 1995. Remember Bosnia? And yet, all the lefties crying "chickenhawk" didn't up and enlist then. Hypocrites.

Posted by: Al | Feb 9, 2005 5:09:50 PM

One other comment: there are plenty of other analogies that work beside the fireman analogy.

Presuambly Matthew supports an increase in the minimum wage. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, he doesn't give all of the money he earns to minimum wage earners. Hypocrite! Why doesn't Matthew put his money where his mouth is?

Posted by: Al | Feb 9, 2005 5:12:03 PM

Is it just a coincidence that the Army, bogged down in a nasty ground war, can't make its recruiting goals and the Navy and Air Force aren't having any trouble at a time when we face no enemy capable of conducting significant naval or air operations?

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Feb 9, 2005 5:13:17 PM

I have a dream. It's not a big dream, it's just a little dream. My dream - and I hope you don't find this too crazy - is that I would like the people of this community to feel that if, God forbid, there were a fire, calling the fire department would actually be a wise thing to do. You can't have people, if their houses are burning down, saying, "Whatever you do, don't call the fire department!" That would be bad.

- Steve Martin in Roxanne

Posted by: Maureen Hay | Feb 9, 2005 5:14:41 PM

Matt,

The best argument against the chicken hawk blather from the likes of Cole and his sympathisizers is that it is a smoke screen. Are these people really saying you should not write in favor of a war if you don't fight it? Are they saying the only people who are qualified to support wars are the military? In that case we should change the constitution and strip the powers of the president as commander in chief.

Now a far more reasonable point is to say that soldiers who have experienced the horrors of war are in a better position to judge whether new wars are worth it. But when the argument is presented as inelegantly as Cole has made it, then it's really just a glorified way of saying, "shut up. shut up. shut up."

Eli

Posted by: Eli Lake | Feb 9, 2005 5:19:06 PM

Matt,

The best argument against the chicken hawk blather from the likes of Cole and his sympathisizers is that it is a smoke screen. Are these people really saying you should not write in favor of a war if you don't fight it? Are they saying the only people who are qualified to support wars are the military? In that case we should change the constitution and strip the powers of the president as commander in chief.

Now a far more reasonable point is to say that soldiers who have experienced the horrors of war are in a better position to judge whether new wars are worth it. But when the argument is presented as inelegantly as Cole has made it, then it's really just a glorified way of saying, "shut up. shut up. shut up."

Eli

Posted by: Eli Lake | Feb 9, 2005 5:19:25 PM

Matt,

The best argument against the chicken hawk blather from the likes of Cole and his sympathisizers is that it is a smoke screen. Are these people really saying you should not write in favor of a war if you don't fight it? Are they saying the only people who are qualified to support wars are the military? In that case we should change the constitution and strip the powers of the president as commander in chief.

Now a far more reasonable point is to say that soldiers who have experienced the horrors of war are in a better position to judge whether new wars are worth it. But when the argument is presented as inelegantly as Cole has made it, then it's really just a glorified way of saying, "shut up. shut up. shut up."

Eli

Posted by: Eli Lake | Feb 9, 2005 5:20:57 PM

Much as I hate commenting in agreement with Al - the best reason might be that we're just not all good at being soldiers, and some people have other talents that are important here. We need doctors here, not just in Iraq; cops here, not just in Iraq; firemen here, not just in Iraq; lawyers here, not just in Iraq.

Say I have a very low lung capacity, bench 50 pounds, and run a 10:00 mile, but I'm a damn fine pediatrician. Before writing a letter to my local paper to support the war, do I have to join the infantry? Why? What if I'm the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange (a skill the military will never have use for)?

And the Iraq-Vietnam chickenhawk analogy is highly imperfect; in Vietnam, chickenhawks actually took measures to avoid service (possibly blameworthy in itself), while in this case, people are simply not volunteering (not blameworthy in itself).

Don't get me wrong, calling people unpatriotic for good-faith policy judgments is noxious. But calling people chicken is equally ad hominem and fallacious, and it's not fair unless they've actually done something cowardly.

Posted by: Arthur | Feb 9, 2005 5:21:09 PM

It's one thing, in other words, to let others serve in your stead when a sufficient number of others are willing to do so. It's another thing entirely ... to stand aside while it becomes clear that there aren't a sufficient number of volunteers to get the job done.

Wow, that's an terrible slam at every single person in California that didn't sign up to be a Los Angeles firefighter a couple of years back when there was this shortage of firefighters there.

Basically, Matthew is calling people like Kevin Drum chickenhawks for supporting firefighting in California but refusing to sign up to be a firefighter when it was clear there weren't enough volunteers to get the job done.

Harsh.

Posted by: Al | Feb 9, 2005 5:22:45 PM

But do we really want people who cry "treason! treason! Anti-American! French Lover!" joining the military. I mean, troops don't just storm beaches under heavy fire or rush across no man's land trying to avoid being mowed down by machine gun fire. We charge them with acting as a quasi-police force. They are supposed to use judgement under trying circumstances. They are supposed to be able to distinguish between combatants and civilians and they aren't supposed to shoot at the latter. So, if all we need is a bunch of people to run across a field of landmines, then I'm in favor of organizing a pundit brigade led by Col James Lileks or whoever. Otherwise, I'ld rather have them closer to home where they'll do less damage.

Posted by: catfish | Feb 9, 2005 5:28:44 PM

What a joke of an argument. It seems to me that fire fighters can quit if they don't like the job. And I suspect that there is a waiting list for those jobs in every metropolitan area in America. A truly parallel argument would be something along the lines of Jonah and his ilk jingoing up a decade long pre-emptive burn of Baghdad and we send over every volunteer fireman in small town American to fight it.

And Jonah's biggest mistake was his lame-ass reason for not going.

Posted by: Nat | Feb 9, 2005 5:32:24 PM

The Marines don't have a "large" recruiting problem in terms of overall numbers (they only missed by less than 100 people), but the fact that they missed at all is somewhat telling. The Marines normally turn people away.

Part of the Army reserves problem is that a very large number of their 'recruits' come from former Active duty who finish their contract. The combination of stop loss and ironically somewhat higher retention in some specialties and units has dried this pool up.

Someone made some smartass remark about recruiting goals being missed in '95 and they are right, but Bosnia wasn't frightening people away- the good and getting better economy was attracting them instead. One could argue that had our economy been stronger the past few years we may have seen a much worse recruiting and retention situation. If the economy gets better in the next few years and Iraq stays as is we probably will see a worse recruiting and retention picture.

Posted by: Ian | Feb 9, 2005 5:33:08 PM

The underlying philosophical issues are interesting, but the Goldberg debate really can't be analyzed in a vacuum while ignoring the fact that we invaded Iraq for no good reason, without any necessity, based almost entirely on lies. We can support fire departments without joining ourselves because fire departments are necessary. This war, in contrast, was a voluntary and unnecessary flight of fancy that we got ourselves into only because people like Goldberg told a pack of lies to intentionally get us into it. Under those narrow circumstances, the chickenhawk charge is entirely appropriate.

This is similar to the "arsonist" arguments above, which are also good, as you can tell by the fact that Al is too afraid to engage them.

Posted by: JP | Feb 9, 2005 5:37:03 PM

Al and Eli-you people, Goldberg included, have hands soaked in the blood of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, killed in a stupid, useless war, founded on lies, the only discernable purpose of which was to secure your party an advantage in doemstic politics. And you dare--you DARE--question the patriotism of those of us on the left who opposed the war. And you do so from the safety of the chair in front of your computer terminal. And then you get all hurt and upset when somebody calls you on it. Contemptble . . .

Posted by: rea | Feb 9, 2005 5:38:54 PM

Presuambly Matthew supports an increase in the minimum wage. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, he doesn't give all of the money he earns to minimum wage earners. Hypocrite!

You don't think there's a significant qualitative, ideological difference between those who serve their country in IRS offices, say, and those who enlist? As in, not everyone is required to devote their lives to every opinion they have, but if you really believe the defense of your nation - presumably the highest ideal - is at stake and you're reasonably capable, you should put your money where your mouth is.

Posted by: Ruth | Feb 9, 2005 5:39:20 PM

Regarding Al's minimum wage argument: it's not hypocritical to support the minimum wage, and to make the sacrifice needed to do so (basically, paying higher prices or wages). "Giving all your money to the poor" is not necessary, since raising the minimum wage does not call on anyone to make that sacrifice.

Now, if one was in favor of raising the minimum wage to the point where it led to widespread bankruptcies of businesses unable to meet their payroll --- in other words, calling on other people to "give all their money to the poor", then it would be hypocritical to do so yourself.

Others have decried this "chickenhawk" stuff as "ad hominem". But there are valid ad hominem arguments ("George Bush has been mistaken about many things, so when he tells you that Social Security is in crisis, check your wallet"), and the "chicken hawk ad hominem" is one such. The chicken hawk believes that a war is important enough for other people to make sacrifices for.

Posted by: dm | Feb 9, 2005 5:42:44 PM

The problem I see with the "CHICKENHAWK!" argument is that people like Blackfive or Sgt. Stryker or Citizen Smash make arguments damn near identical to the ones being made by Goldberg and others.

The fact that people are only paying attention to Goldberg and others rather than Blackfive or Citizen Smash seems, to me, to speak to the power of the argument being used.

Otherwise they'd use the same counter-argument against Goldberg that they'd use against Blackfive.

Posted by: Jaybird | Feb 9, 2005 5:45:36 PM

Ian, Ian, Ian - no fair being reasonable. In any case, regarding this:

Someone made some smartass remark about recruiting goals being missed in '95 and they are right, but Bosnia wasn't frightening people away- the good and getting better economy was attracting them instead.

If you follow Matthew's logic, it doesn't seem to me to matter the reason that there is a shortfall in recruiting. According to Matthew, if you supported the Bosnia mission in 1995 while there was a shortfall in recruiting, you were obligated to enlist and if you didn't then enlist, you are a chickenhawk.

Posted by: Al | Feb 9, 2005 5:46:10 PM

raising the minimum wage does not call on anyone to make that sacrifice

Tell that to every business owner who pays the minimum wage!

Posted by: Al | Feb 9, 2005 5:47:03 PM

"You say that you oppose the war in Iraq, but I don't see you going over there to act as a human shield!"

"Well, a person can reasonably oppose an action of the government without putting one's own life/limb at risk to do so. Also, I have talents that can better be put to use here in the situation I'm in."

"CHICKENDOVE!!!"

Posted by: Jaybird | Feb 9, 2005 5:49:44 PM

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