TCS Daily


The Problem of Chickendoves

By Douglas Kern - February 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Any yammering propeller-headed nitwit can tell the world to make love, not war, and no one can impeach his sincerity in making that plaintive demand. By contrast, anyone who supports the war had better be a card-carrying military veteran, or else be condemned as a "chickenhawk" -- no matter how wise, eloquent, or inspiring their pro-war position might be.

The problem isn't chickenhawks -- people who support the war but never served in the military, and probably never will.

The problem is stateside armchair philosophers who oppose military action and military policy, even though they never served in the military. The problem is anti-war punditry from intellectuals who think that an IED is a contraceptive and couldn't tell the difference between bounding overwatch and watching Baywatch. The problem is intellectuals who think their education and politically-correct ideology lets them know what the military needs -- better than the military knows it.

The problem is chickendoves.

In my fleeting moments of empathy, I can muster some modicum of sympathy for the condemnation of chickenhawks. I watched the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front, the same as everyone else. I remember the grotesque contrast between the enthusiasm of the naïve pro-war schoolteachers and the bloody realities of the World War I trenches. (Pro-war schoolteachers! It sounds like science fiction.) No one smiles at the thought of fat white guys in fezzes and monocles sipping cognac while pushing little men across a map, plotting out wars where poorer, browner men die to support the fantasies of empire.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the peace vigil: the allegedly poorer, allegedly browner men support the war, and the fat guys in fezzes and monocles now inveigh against it. Military support for the war and the Bush administration is exceptionally high. It's the well-to-do in the ritzy suburbs who wring their hands, mumbling "Dulce Et Decorum Est" while listening to dreary reports about the Iraqi quagmire on NPR. To generalize: the closer and more intimate you are with the war in Iraq, the more you support it.

The chickendoves don't care. Heck, what do soldiers know? They're only battle-hardened professionals with unusually high educational achievements and hands-on experience with the occupation of Iraq. That the chickenhawks are on the same side as the real hawks is just a curious accident, one that will not prevent the chickendoves from "defending" the soldiers whose opinions they casually dismiss.

"But shouldn't the burden of proof rest upon those who call for war, instead of peace? Don't the inherent dangers of war compel us to demand that its advocates walk the talk?" In brief: no and no. War is extraordinarily bad. But a bad peace can be worse. The graveyards of the world are filled with the bodies of those who died from a hateful "peace." Given the hideous acts of oppression and injustice that spring from the lack of war, why shouldn't we hold peaceniks to the higher standard of sincerity?

When peace goes awry, soldiers are often the first ones to pay the price. When America appeared irresolute in the early eighties, who suffered: the pampered professors in their cozy collegiate nooks? Or the Marines in their barracks in Lebanon? When Islamic extremists tested America's resolve, did they explode a bomb at Harvard -- or the USS Cole? When peacemongers guess wrong, soldiers die -- not peacemongers. So when will the anti-warriors put their own necks on the line for their beliefs?

Military service would give peace-lovers a chance to prove their pacifistic mettle. You want to stop the fighting in Iraq? Want to prevent American soldiers from executing their imperialistic policies of building schools and sewers and hospitals? Stow the goofy signs, soulpatch. Forget that petition. Don't send that whiny e-mail to Fox News. I have a better way: snip off your ponytail, drop thirty pounds, and enlist. With all of those master's degrees in Folklore Studies, you'll be a shoo-in to make Officer Candidate School. In no time you'll be a Platoon Leader, responsible for the combat readiness of dozens of men. When the moment is right, and the bullets start to fly, you can order your men to stand down and Give Peace a Chance. For that brief, shining moment, you will have brought peace to the Middle East and halted the genocidal policies of George W. McHitler. Admittedly, your platoon sergeant will buttstroke you to the head at the first opportunity. After a quick court-martial, you'll spend the remainder of your adult life making big rocks into little rocks in beautiful, scenic Leavenworth, Kansas. But so what? You gotta walk the talk. If you're willing to send chickenhawks off to die in order to earn the right to support war, surely you're willing to send yourself off to incarceration and dishonor in order to earn the right to support peace.

Military service is also an excellent sincerity check for peaceniks who have belatedly discovered the joys of protecting innocent Muslims. Many of us suspicious-minded pro-war types can't help but notice that many war protestors didn't lose much sleep over the lives of Iraqis and Iranians when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering both. And back when the kum-ba-yah set admitted to resenting our action in Afghanistan, they fretted over the fate of Afghanis whom they were more than happy to entrust to the tender ministrations of the Taliban before 9/11. And what about our defense of Muslims during our Bosnian action? If, chickendove, you've developed a strange new concern for the fate of Muslims worldwide, take notice: the one military in the entire world that has taken up arms in the last fifty years to defend Muslim life is the American military. Feel like enlisting yet? Or is your Ph.D. proof enough of how gosh darn much you care?

To be clear: the entire notion of "Chicken______" is absurd. A free society should act on the assumption that citizens can reason about military issues without personal military experience, just as they can reason about any issue without needing a doctorate degree to do so. If you can't trust citizens to reason intelligently outside of their personal fields of expertise, you've ceded political control to the experts. A strong insight into human nature gives citizens the capacity for reasonably wise decisions on all subjects. And insight into human nature doesn't require military discharge papers.

Moreover, we constantly make political demands on each other that don't affect us personally. We raise taxes that we ourselves don't pay. We pass environmental regulations that don't affect our businesses. We support novel educational policies while we send our own children to private school. So what? Do we demand that leftists form their own multinational conglomerates before protesting at WTC meetings? Do we require conservatives to date within their own sex before opposing same-sex marriages? Why have we singled out a pro-war stance as the one instance in which the mere possession of an opinion isn't good enough?

If you feel compelled to demand that pro-war advocates prove their sincerity, you'd better make the same demand of anti-war advocates, as well. Peace is too important to be left to the chickendoves.

Douglas Kern is a lawyer and frequent TCS contributor.

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