The Chicken Hawk, the Most Ignominious Bird of All
The military service records–or lack thereof–of American war-mongering politicians are an excellent place to scrutinize their particular kinds of patriotism. The patriotic sentiments of those lacking in military experience are usually not of the Nathan Hale “I-only-regret-that-I-have-but-one-life-to-give- for-my-country” variety. The most common type of patriotism to be found among your non-combatant militarist politicians is of the vocal variety. Their mouths are admirably patriotic, the rest of their makeup not so much. These reluctant warriors who strongly support military action everywhere, all the time, yet went out of their way to avoid military service when of age are aptly referred to as “Chicken Hawks.” The term has a nice ring to it and an interesting set of connotations.
Note: Not all public figures who prefer sending other people to fight for their beliefs are politicians. There are also dozens of them in the right-wing media.
First and Foremost
The country’s foremost Chicken Hawk, until President Trump earned the crown, was President G.W. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, the rabidly pro-war, multi-deferment politico notorious for his bold “I had other priorities” pronouncement. As if those other 58,000 Americans–eight of whom were women–whose names are engraved on Washington’s black marble wall didn’t also have “other priorities.” Or perhaps they freely chose to die in the Vietnam war.
But Cheney is not alone. The majority of the leading neo-con lights also exempted themselves from national service. They, too, had other priorities. If you google “Chicken Hawks” you will find long lists of shirkers. Though the original best list, published by the New Hampshire Gazette, “The Nation’s Oldest Newspaper,“ and posted on the web for years as the “Chickenhawk Hall of Shame,” has somehow morphed into an error message. Currently the most complete list of Chicken Hawks, both in politics and the media, is at http://www.awolbush.com/whoserved.html. In fairness, this list looks a bit cherry picked, as virtually all of the Republicans are listed as “did not serve,” but nearly all the Democrats are veterans.
What do these Chicken Hawk dudes have to suffer in order to accede to positions of high responsibility–and privilege–in the American government, anyway? Essentially it’s just the exigencies of the campaign trail and countless town meetings, political debates, boring hotels and the occasional impertinent interviewer. Demanding, certainly, but nothing like the Ho Chi Minh Trail nor the Hanoi Hilton.
But let’s look on the bright side. There’s a rich vein of humor running through the Chicken Hawk saga. Here’s a comment from “eastvan” on The Daily Kos in 2007:
And lets not forget Bill Kristol… He managed to dodge one war so succesfully he has no problem encouraging others to die for his beliefs. As an NCO involved in recruit courses ( I’m teaching one now) there is nothing I would like more than to see a platoon full of Yellow Elephants show up. I keep waiting, but it never happens. Love to see Selective Service become so selective it only drafts out of gated communities.
There’s a New Chicken Hawk in Chief in Town
Now President Donald Trump, who evaded military service because of alleged “heel spurs,” has become the new highest-profile Chicken Hawk. It was James Fallows, veteran correspondent for The Atlantic, who first dubbed Trump in his 7 August 2017 article there, as “Chicken Hawk in Chief.” Fallows, who puts his finger on the least endearing trait of the Chicken Hawks–their facile willingness to criticize people who did go to war– sums it up wryly:
Through the murk, though, one line shines bright and clear. Even as the United States becomes more and more a “chickenhawk nation”—always at war, but with only a tiny sliver of the country doing the fighting—it’s the line that individual chickenhawks should respect. No one wants to hear them criticizing others for their war decisions, not even via Twitter from the golf course.
Our fallen heroes have not only written our history they have shaped our destiny. They saved the lives of the men and women with whom they served. They cared for their families more than anything in the world, they loved their families. They inspired their communities…
Trump being Trump, however, he follows this tender eulogy with an oafish advertisement for himself:
Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!
How Low Can You Go?
Perhaps the most glaringly crass example of Chicken Hawk practice came from Donald Trump himself, in 2015 before he was President, when he attacked John McCain’s war record. McCain was a Navy pilot in Vietnam, was shot down, had both arms and a leg broken, was butt stroked and bayonetted and spent five and a half years in North Vietnamese prisoner of war camps being tortured regularly. When his Vietnamese captors learned his father was the commander of the US fleet they offered to release him. McCain refused to be released unless all the other American POWs were also sent home. Trump, who had spent his life, including the Vietnam war years, speculating, going bankrupt and “grabbing pussy,” was reported as boldly saying: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured.”
The Guardian quoted former Texas governor Rick Perry at the time as saying this verbal attack on McCain was “a new low in US politics.” They also quoted other Republican notables:
South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, a friend of McCain, has been a vociferous critic of Trump. On Twitter, he said: “If there was ever any doubt that Donald Trump should not be our commander in chief, this stupid statement should end all doubt.”
The most pointed response came from the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, who tweeted: “After Donald Trump spends six years in a POW camp, he can weigh in on John McCain’s service.”
The John McCain/Chicken Hawks saga has a lugubrious post script. Global News.ca reported on May 10, 2018 that a White House official mocked Sen. John McCain, who is battling brain cancer, a day after McCain voiced his opposition to President Donald Trump‘s decision to nominate Gina Haspel to lead the CIA.
“It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” communications aide Kelly Sadler said during a closed-door meeting, The Hill reported first, citing a source familiar with the meeting.
Who Pays the Tab for Chicken Hawk Militarism?
The casualties pay the tab most directly. The militarists give no thought to the human cost of war, both on the side of their enemies and their own. Much emphasis is placed on civilian dead and wounded, and that’s fair enough. But let’s not forget that soldiers and sailors are also human beings, with all that implies. They’ve got mothers and fathers, wives and children, friends and neighbors, projects and aspirations. In short, they’ve got lives. Most of them participating in wars would rather not be there. Many were draftees, others are economic slaves to war. Some of them are in it to get an education; some of them get a flag-draped casket.
The most serious aspect of all this isn’t necessarily about non-veteran politicians voting for military solutions. It’s about them wrapping themselves in the flag and using “patriotism” as a blunt instrument against more valid opponents who have lived the realities of war in their own flesh and minds. It’s about arrogance, willful ignorance and infirm self satisfaction. It’s about their doubtful legitimacy. It’s about their style-yes, style is important–as truculent dwarves, relying on bluster and fear mongering instead of anything that might pass for thinking, working from dubious foregone conclusions, blind and deaf to human suffering. Of course, the civilian control of the military is an essential component of democracy. The question is, which civilians? Certainly not the mindless, flag-waving, know-nothing civilians who are in charge today.