Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Chicken-Hawk - The Non-Argument to End All Arguments

Almost inevitably at the end of an otherwise legitimate and reasoned debate regarding the relative merits of war and avoiding war, there comes the tired refrain levied at non-soldiers advocating war:

"If you believe in this war...and provided you're able-bodied, etc...why aren't you over there?"

This insidious argument (which isn't really an argument at all) takes on various forms, and has produced several notable villains, the "Chicken-Hawk," the "Armchair General," etc. The concept embodied in the argument is this: Someone who advocates fighting in a war ought to be prepared to fight in that war themselves. The underlying assumption being: Those who have actually seen war are not so keen to urge it.

There are several notable problems with this "argument."

First, this charge is fundamentally misapplied in the current conflict. As witnessed on 9/11, soldiers are no longer the only ones on the front lines. In fact, terrorism is specifically targeted at civilians. One need not be in Bagdhad in order to die at the hands of a suicide bomber. And if one believes that attacking Iraq would reduce terrorism (in the end) by draining the swamp of suicide nihilism, can you blame the "Armchair Pacifists" for the terrorist attacks we know will come in the future?

Second, it's not an argument. It's an insult. And it's an insult that does nothing to further debate. It is, in essence, an attack on a person's status. The unseemly corrolary is that by nature of who a person is, that person's argument is either more credible or less credible, regardless of the inherent worth of that person's argument. The function of status as credibility enabler operates in numerous arenas: Only gay people have legitimate arguments to make about gay marriage. Only black people have legitimate arguments to make about affirmative action. Only women have legitimate arguments to make about abortion. Only religious minorities have legitimate arguments to make about the separation of church and state, etc. It is the last safe harbor of the person with no ideas.

Why should it make a difference whether I am fighting in Iraq anyway? Are the views of the elderly or disabled (who specifically cannot fight in Iraq) any less worthy because they are not facing sniper fire in the Sunni Triangle? If the issue is being able to lodge arguments from a place of relative safety, those people's ideas would conceivably be less valued, because at least there is a chance (no matter how small) that I could be drafted into this fight.

Third, by taking a less extreme example, the absurdity of this "argument" becomes clearer. I also advocate aggressive crime-control policies. In so doing, I think that cops should be more proactive, which consequently makes it more likely that they will be injured. Cops, like soldiers, get killed in the course of their duty. Does that mean that I should not advocate strict law enforcement because I am not a police officer? Or, are my ideas more credible because I was robbed at gunpoint three years ago? Neither. My ideas are what they are, good or bad. My status as a non-cop, former violent crime victim does not make my arguments more or less credible.

Fourth, this "argument" seems to assume that only the military (or former military) should be able to order the military into battle. Surely that would have surprised the drafters of the Constitution, who crafted civilian control of the military in part to avoid military dictatorships.

Fifth, unlike certain conflicts of the past, our current army is all volunteer. This is not a situation where those advocating war are circumventing rules or breaking laws or crossing into Canada to avoid fighting while others are conscripted into fighting against their will. The members of the army signed up to a bargain when they joined, knowing that they may be sent to war based on the decisions of non-military personnel, the President and Congress.

Taking into account the low regard with which I hold such a question regarding my personal military experience in the context of my political views, here's the short answer for your edification since apparently no one has answered it before:

After 9/11, I debated with my family whether to apply to the military or join the FBI in order to fight what I perceived (and still perceive) as the single biggest threat to the nation's security and welfare, international terrorism. Based on my personal skills as a lawyer and former intern of the U.S. Attorney's Violent Crime Division, I decided to apply to the FBI and in addition, the Justice Department's Criminal Department (anti-terrorism division). It should please some of you to learn that I did not get the job, and it certainly pleases me to hope that someone more qualified is protecting our citizens from nihilistic murderers.

The great thing about these blogs is that on the whole, arguments and ideas stand for themselves. You are not persuaded by my unnatural good looks or wide smile. Nor are you turned off by my hairy arms (amongst other things). You like my ideas, fine. You hate them, fine. But let's not allow the pernicious nature of status and standing ruin a good debate.

2 Comments:

At 2:01 AM, Blogger codemorse said...

I predict that this post will result in some fiery discourse.

The suspense is killing me. I hope it lasts.

 
At 2:57 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

So much for laying down the proverbial gauntlet.

 

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