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Monday, July 04, 2005

Arlington West, the "chickenhawk" fraud and false individualism in the antiwar argument 


A week ago, in the opening days of the TigerHawk family California vacation, we visited Santa Monica. There I happened across "Arlington West," an anti-war demonstration that purports to honor the American soldiers who have died in Iraq. Arlington West is a project of the Veterans for Peace, but the crosses were built by one Andy Manoff, an "honorary member" (presumably because he is not a veteran, rather than because he is not for peace). The demonstration occupies a huge proportion of the beach, which is public land, only because the city fathers of Santa Monica allow it to.

The signs report that "every cross represents an American soldier killed in Iraq," and that "if we were to acknowledge the number of Iraqi deaths, the crosses would fill the entire beach." It is not clear whether the reference to Iraqi deaths means "Iraqi deaths at the hands of American soldiers," or all Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war. Anti-war activists everywhere try to blur this distinction, refusing to hold the rejectionists and jihadis responsible for those they directly kill, or the innocents who die because they unlawfully use them as shields or camouflage. If we were otherwise to harbor any illusion that the promotors of Arlington West "support the troops," their eagerness to imply or even declare American culpability for the insurgency's victims would dispel that illusion, I think. Arlington West's contempt for the troops is evident and obvious, notwithstanding its endorsement by the government of Santa Monica.

But that's not the central concern of this post. The interesting question is why the Veterans for Peace and their admirers think that a list of casualties is a principled argument against the war. As I will discuss in a bit, it is in fact profoundly unprincipled.

A couple of days after our visit to Santa Monica, I put up this post, which called for a national effort, led by the president, to encourage enlistment in the armed forces. The post attracted a fair amount of attention after Glenn Reynolds linked to it, including some snarky comments from the anti-war left. The very first comment asked, "So, Tigerhawk, when are you enlisting? Care to back up your bluster about bolstering recruitment by joining the army? Or sending your kids?"

This is a variant on the "chickenhawk" argument. In its benign form, the chickenhawk argument says that one cannot appropriately measure the burden of war without subjecting oneself or one's loved ones to its hazards. In its malign form, the argument charges so-called chickenhawks with a cynical willingness to send other people to die to advance their own political fortunes.

The chickenhawk argument is obviously absurd, as Christopher Hitchens made painfully clear last week. Is the point that politicians, citizen hawks, or even anti-war activists forfeit their right to declaim on matters of war and peace simply because they have not served, or have not "sent" their children to serve? Or is it that they lack the credibility and judgment necessary to decide whether a war is worth the cost? If the latter, then doesn't the argument also apply to those who oppose a war? If you cannot judge its worth unless you have served, how can you judge that it is not worthwhile? Indeed, even in his destruction of the chickenhawk argument Hitchens didn't point to its logical end: that only veterans be allowed to vote. This idea, proposed by Robert Heinlein in Starship Troopers and probably by less serious thinkers in non-fiction settings, is the obvious policy solution to the "chickenhawk problem," if there were one. Is this what anti-war activists propose? Somehow, I doubt it.

Or perhaps the people who argue the "chickenhawk" slur believe that the military should decide when we go to war, and when we do not. It would be interesting indeed if the anti-war left were in fact as opposed to civilian control of the military as their arguments imply.

The "chickenhawk" slander and "Arlington West" are two sides of the same argument. Both claim that current American military casualties are ipso facto a reason to oppose the war. Both argue implicitly or explicitly that only those willing to pay the price should decide whether we fight. Both focus on the individual burdens of war -- whether politicians are willing to "send their sons" and the deaths of individual soldiers -- as if that were an argument against steps taken in the collective security.

Since all wars involve some people living and others dying, or even wildly different risks of living and dying, the fact of the disproportionate burdens of war cannot be an argument in and of itself against the war.+ There are all sorts of principled policy and even legal arguments against the war in Iraq,* but the curators of Arlington West and the brainless twits who level the "chickenhawk" accusation forsake those in favor of disingenuous appeals to emotion. They are exploiting our national grief over our own dead and wounded in order to score political points, because they are not persuading enough people with actual argument. They should be ashamed, but won't be. They absolutely should be ignored.

UPDATE: Even yesterday, Atrios was pushing the "chickenhawk" argument. Armed Liberal has a response here.
_______________
+It may be an argument in favor of allocating the burdens of war differently, but whether or not there is a draft, a small war such as Iraq will always impose its burdens on a tiny proportion of the population.

*Regular readers know that I do not believe that these policy and legal arguments against the war carry the day, but there is no denying that there were and remain principled arguments against the war.

23 Comments:

By Blogger Uptown Ruler, at Mon Jul 04, 11:18:00 AM:

happy fourth, tigerhawk!  

By Blogger Fausta, at Mon Jul 04, 12:59:00 PM:

Happy 4th of July!  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Mon Jul 04, 01:01:00 PM:

After echoing uptown ruler's cheerful greeting...

Happy Fourth of July, fellow America Lover!

If something is worth fighting and dying for, then one ought to be willing to fight and die for it. If it's not, then one shouldn't. But, if one is going to argue vociferously for a war and not address one's internal struggle with how best to aid the vital effort, then it seems possible that it's easier to watch other's children fight and die than to consider sending ourselves or our children.

If you're of fighting age and you support the war, then you have a moral obligation to fight it. Atrios suggests that many people who say they support the troops have participated in "Operation Drink a Beer for the Troops, Operation Burn a Dixie Chick CD, or Operation Put a Yellow Ribbon on my SUV". These efforts, as valiant as blogging, fall far short of the sort of conviction our pro-war leaders purport to have.

I'd like to see Bush either instate the draft as our recruitment numbers continue to flag or to come out and look the American people in the eye and tell them that if they support the war, they ought to put their asses on the front lines in the War on Terra.

I don't use the term 'chickenhawk' to describe those people who bravely only use their vocal cords and keyboards to fight the PR battle in the Iraq War. I use the terms 'uncommitted', 'disingenuous', or 'cowardly'.

And, lastly, to all the families who have lost loved ones, I offer my sympathy and vow to do what I can to alter the politics of war.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 04, 10:04:00 PM:

Interesting point, and let me add one.

The Left has a long love affair with "the bold soldier who turned his back on the service." They have generally turned out to be bitter losers who were ushered out in lieu of court martial for the good of the service (Lucian Truscott IV, David Hackworth), or complete phonies.

The VVAW crowd that appeared at Kerry's Winter Soldier hearings. In fact, his Vet Outreach guys are people that grossly misstated their own service.

Google Micah Wright, who was 2003's left wing war hero, until real soldiers exposed him. Like many of these phonies, he has to go all out in his false identity, and Wright, a rather cack-handed and unsubtle satirist whose talent was applying his own lettering to others' war posters, made himself a combat Ranger vet of Panama.

He was actually, like most left-wing war heroes, a vet of nothing. An empty sack of bile and rage who used to use his "Ranger" "experience" to shout ad-hominem Chickenhawk attacks at his detractors.  

By Blogger Cindy, at Tue Jul 05, 09:38:00 AM:

Lets look at the "bright side”, it is nice to see that the left is no longer "threatened or intimidated" at the sight of a religious symbol (the cross) on public property.  

By Anonymous JJr, at Tue Jul 05, 04:51:00 PM:

Anon.,
I find it interesting that you tar David Hackworth with your "phonies" brush. I am an infantry veteran, and Hack had a great reputation among everyone I know or knew for being real. He put his concerns for the troops at the forefront of everything he wrote or put out for comment. He was one of the youngest full colonels in the Army at the time he retired rather than go for general. I may not have always agreed with his positions, but I always knew his positions came from his concern for the soldiers. Read Blackfive's post on Hack's death if you want the real story - from the perspective of a veteran.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 06, 01:38:00 AM:

"if we were to acknowledge the number of Iraqi deaths, the crosses would fill the entire beach." It is not clear whether the reference to Iraqi deaths means "Iraqi deaths at the hands of American soldiers," or all Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war.

This seems to be a moot point based on the pictures you show of the beach. It's a safe bet that either interpretation of "Iraqi deaths" would cause the entire beach to be filled with crosses.

This brings up the point of the documenting Iraqi casualties. No-one is willing to take responsibility for counting, much less putting names to the dead. I don't have an answer as to who should do it, but it needs to be done as a matter of basic human decency.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Jul 06, 07:39:00 AM:

Last Anonymous guy: Sorry, but I omitted a shot of the entire beach, relying on popular culture perhaps a bit too much. The beach in question is Santa Monica's beach, which is vast. The low estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths would not come close to filling it, based at least on my eyeballed measurements. The Lancet "estimate" of 100,000 dead probably would.  

By Blogger Smith, at Wed Jul 06, 08:19:00 AM:

Good point tigerhawk,

Remember also that, if counted, most of the dead won't be accounted for. This country (yes, i'm here) is much different from ours.
We had to do some paperwork with the Iraqi Army soldiers we trained to make them ID cards, and I found out first hand that less than 10% of them actually know their birthday. History isn't too popular. When mauamuud sarila leaves town, no one cares enough to make sure he made it. It's not in their nature.
I think someone will have a tough time counting the dead Iraqi people...

...Let alone the many we are still uncovering from Sadaams reign.  

By Blogger Peg C., at Wed Jul 06, 08:54:00 AM:

Couldn't agree more. And let me just say I lived in West L.A. for 32 years and know Santa Monica intimately. It isn't known as The People's Republic of Santa Monica for nothing, folks. As bad as you can imagine it, it's actually worse.  

By Anonymous DocNeaves, at Wed Jul 06, 09:17:00 AM:

To hoolie, and others who make the same comment......nobody "sends" their kids.....everyone who enlists is a volunteer, and I could no more stop my son from going than I could make him go. People go and fight because they believe in this war, because they believe in what we're doing. Funny. Always, there's someone who says, nonsense, I don't see a wall of rushing water just before it hits. Like you with your head in the sand should be an authority on what's right and what's not when it comes to what to fight for. Hey, genius, let me give you a simple yardstick. If we're on the side of letting people vote for themselves what to do with their own lives, country, resources, etc., I'm in. Got it? And there's millions of us who are willing to enforce OUR version of the nanny state on you. Instead of you telling us what to do and when to do it, we're telling you, keep your mitts off, freedom means FREE from the likes of YOU. If it means YOU deciding ANYTHING, even if they've said casually they want it, but have voted against it, then you're forcing your ideals on them. Got that? Freedom. That's my yardstick.  

By Anonymous DocNeaves, at Wed Jul 06, 09:19:00 AM:

and for the rest.....not every Terror Warrior is in uniform, not all are in Foreign countries, and one of the best is the support of the American people for those who make the decisions, fund the operations. Everyone can do their part by telling these idiots what we think of their anti-war rants, by exposing them to facts, not more hyperbole.  

By Anonymous Mike K, at Wed Jul 06, 10:23:00 AM:

I also object to including Hackworth in the "loser" category. He was very opinionated and I didn't always agree with them but he was a hero and held up his end and then some. His disgust at the Vietnam army was born of frustration and some army policies such as "ticket punching" which led to rotation of officers before they learned their trade. Hack kept volunteering for more tours and turned down C&GS school to stay with his troops. Had the senior officers stayed in place and learned what the WWII guys learned the hard way, things could have turned out differently.

The lefties will try any argument, logical or not, to try to make a point. The draft proposal is an example.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 06, 03:43:00 PM:

Hoolie said: "If you're of fighting age and you support the war, then you have a moral obligation to fight it."

What if you aren't of fighting age? What if you can't meet the physical requirements?

What if the military meets its quotas and doesn't need any more people?

This argument doesn't hold water any way you try to spin it.

Personally, I rather like the idea of limiting the vote to military veterans.

How about you?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 06, 04:42:00 PM:

THe War is over. Bush fought a war for oil and we lost. Those of you who are not jeebus neocon chickenhawks should read this:

http://mattstover.blogspot.com/2005/07/can-i-just-say-here-how-wonderful-it.html

The rest of you who are cowardly white christian believers should not bother, just stick to the Rovian message machine talking points.  

By Blogger protein wisdom, at Wed Jul 06, 05:53:00 PM:

Nice post, Tigerhawk. I addressed this issue myself last week on several occasions, but alas, pointing out flaws in the reasoning of those who wield the chickenhawk argument like a some flabby rhetorical club only seems to strengthen their resolve to repeat it over and over again.

Intellectual bankruptcy coupled with rhetorical desperation, if you ask me.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 06, 09:52:00 PM:

Of course using that same logic, only those paying significant taxes should have a say in how the tax money is spent; if you aren't putting a lot of wealth on the line, you don't have the right to say how it should be spent.  

By Anonymous Aakash, at Wed Jul 06, 10:01:00 PM:

I've been meaning to blog about the "chickenhawk" issue ever since the Oliver Willis controversy regarding this issue...

If someone believes that "you have to be in the military to be pro-war," then that is of course wrong. But I don't know very many people who think that.

Depending on the context the label is used in, its usage can be legitimate and accurate. For instance, I believe that my usage of the label - to help describe a cleavage that existed within the Pentagon and Exective Branch (and to some degree, in Congress) during 2002 - is a fair implementation of this term - Something I expounded upon in this guest blog entry about supporting our brave warriors. When people like General "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf, General Anthony Zinni, senior current and former U.S. Army officials, Colonel Hackworth (thank you so much, JJr, for your comment above - I hadn't seen Blackfive's entry on his passing), U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), or libertarian miliblogger James Landrith express these sentiments, I believe that that is a legitimate - and very valid - usage of the chickenhawk-type "meme."

More on this when the time allows...  

By Blogger Cicero, at Wed Jul 06, 10:06:00 PM:

If serving in the US armed forces is the moral requirement for supporting the war in Iraq, then it is equally a moral imperative for those who oppose the war in Iraq to go to Baghdad, kill people, destabilize the country, and drive the US out.

If war-supporters must fight for Rumsfield, then anti-war activists are equally obligated to fight on behalf of those who blow themselves up in crowded marketplaces.  

By Blogger njoriole, at Thu Jul 07, 02:04:00 AM:

The whole chicken-hawk "argument" is absurd and, frankly, subversive, as well as un-American.

Subversive, because the anti-war left wants to say "Only those who have served in war can decide to take us to war." What that means necessarily is that, after a generation or so of no war, there will be no war veterans; hence, no one left to make the decision to go to war. (The rebirth of the Kellog-Briand pact!)

Un-American, because we have a cherished tradition in our republic of civilian control of the military, i.e., of military subservience to the elected civilians who make policy. I can't believe any one on the left would think it acceptable to turn over military policy to the military itself. Of course they don't; the chicken hawk "argument" is just another of those magic totems that the left throws up in lieu of a cogent debating point. Please, grow up!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 07, 02:41:00 PM:

I don't think liberals are making the chickenhawk argrument as you describe it (although I have only seen the link to Atrios's post). I think Atrios is simply pointing out that it is somewhat hypocritical to be a staunch supporter of the war and say that you believe in this "cause", but be unwilling to volunteer for the military effort that the "cause" entails.

How many liberals (of today) would be willing to enlist during WWII? I think a very high number - and that has everything to do with the justification and potential consequences of the war. Obviously many liberals don't think that the current war is justified or that the consequences will justify it.  

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