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Of Chickens and Hawks

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"Of Chickens and Hawks"

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I think Kevin Drum is misconstruing the force of the point Lawrence O’Donnel is making here. Kevin’s right to say it doesn’t make sense to say that only veterans are allowed to have opinions about questions of war and peace (democracy and all that) or that only veterans are allowed to favor military deployments (since most people aren’t veterans, this would just mean the military could never be deployed), but I don’t think that’s what’s at issue here. There are two different sound points in the chickenhawk neighborhood.

One is just that it’s a way of calling bullshit on people’s insistence that doing this or that is vitally necessary to the security of the country and the world. If you say “The war in Iraq is going downhill, but it’s not hopeless yet and it’s vitally important for America to succeed — failure is not an option” I think it’s fair to ask in response why you’re not putting any skin in the game. Are you volunteering? Encouraging your son, daughter, or little brother to volunteer? The interns working in your office? The college students you might be invited to address on this or that topic? If you’re not doing any of those things — if you don’t think you could look a 20 year-old kid you care about in the eyes and tell him with a straight face that it’s vitally important for the world that he sign up to fight — that seems like a good indication that you don’t really believe the things you claim to believe. As with any hypocrisy gambit, the reverse might be true — you might just lack the courage of your convictions rather than lacking conviction — but it seems likely to me that you’re probably just fronting convictions you haven’t really thought-through.

The other thing is just the annoying rhetoric of strength, courage, and toughness. Actually punching some dude who hassles you on the street is genuinely tougher and braver (though possibly also dumber) than trying to back down and de-escalate the situation. Advocating that someone else punch some dude who hassles you on the street is not. It’s just an opinion. Maybe a right one, maybe a wrong one, but no braver, tougher, stronger, or more courageous than giving the reverse advice. Similarly, volunteering to fight “Islamofascism” in Iraq requires significantly more toughness than does writing blog posts about how troops should be withdrawn. But blogging about how more troops should be sent to fight “Islamofascism” in Iraq isn’t a tougher, braver thing to do than is blogging the reverse.

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