Oh, and I am fully aware that 27% of you will think I'm absolutely fucking mad. We at KFM did quantify the Crazification Factor. You 27% can save us both time by not bothering with comments. Or remember to keep the hate in e-mail form. Address to the right.
There is a term tossed about currently: "chickenhawk." It's understood to be a derogatory term for someone who avidly supports choosing war as an option while simultaneously avoiding any risk of personal harm in the ensuing conflict. It is an admittedly fuzzy invective; particularly now when we have a professional Army. I think that in most applications it's lazy. People who support the Iraq War -- it's often couched in terms of supporting the War on Terror, but let's face it, nobody's chasing Bin Laden in the Pakistani highlands, we're talking Iraq here -- have claimed the phrase is meaningless. The quote that brought this attitude into particular focus for me was, unfortunately, written by a casual friend, Warren Bell, over at the conservative website The Corner:
I am going to save you some time. You no longer need to email me every time I take some position in favor of the War on Terror , the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan, or in fact any pro-military stance. I now am completely and thoroughly informed that I am a chickenhawk, that it is "easy" to support a war when I don't have to put on a uniform and fight, and that I am a coward who would only sacrifice other people's loved ones. And to save you further time, I am going to expose myself even more. I am a hypocrite and chickenhawk in the War on Crime, as I continue to avoid donning a badge and a gun and busting down doors to catch bad guys, even though I support sending in real police to do the job. I am a complete coward in the War on Fire, because I have never put on a yellow slicker and an oxygen mask to go stand on the front line in the battle against a burning building. And that's while completely admitting that I would be great at squirting the big hose. Additionally, and this is a little painful, I am a loser, hypocrite, chickenhawk, and barely half a man in the War on Weeds. I tried digging them out of my yard, but found I didn't have what it takes, so now I sit in my comfy chair and watch while other people's loved ones put themselves at risk. I'm sorry.
That is, to be blunt, a pretty spiffy piece of writing. Warren takes a confessorial tone -- always a nice touch -- links several seemingly similar relationships together, then daisy chains them with a nice bit of rhetorical sleight of hand into an almost inexorable ride into absurdity. No one in their right mind would accuse a man who does not do his own gardening as a coward, and look-at-the-queen that's the same as criticizing a man who does not do his own fighting.
I also like the seamless bit of work converting support for the War on Terror, the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan, and a "pro-military stance" into the exact same thing -- a matched ideological set, if you will, in which rejection of any of the first three immediately disqualifies you from the fourth. Despite Tbogg's constant mocking, that is not the work of a clumsy man.
The fact that Warren took this particular tack (and we can toss Ben Ferguson's "I support the Yankees, doesn't mean I wear their uniform" crack in there), however, finally clarifies for me disconcerting problem exposed by many of the hawks' own arguments. It may be arrogant of me -- it can not help but be arrogant of me, I suppose -- to say that they fundamentally misunderstand what their relationship to the troops should be.
There is truth in the idea that soldiers are our designated warriors. But the accidental revelation in these attitudes is the bizarre concept that by soldiers choosing a life of taking risks on our behalf, these war supporters are somehow absolved of any responsibility to them other than emotional support and approval. There is the stink of ... the troops as employees. Like, say, gardeners. Not that I would ever make such a crude comparison.
But the fact is that soldiers make this choice in a specific context. They are not just entering a job. They are, to pull up my Catholic high school education, entering into a covenant with us. They take an oath to sacrifice their lives, if need be. That is, in my faith anyway, the holiest thing a person can do. In return, the civilian side of the covenant is a deep responsibility, a responsibility far beyond the emotional support one gives a sports team, or the minimal responsibility one has with employees. Our oath is simple:
We will make sure you have the equipment you need.
We will make sure have a clearly defined mission.
We will make sure that such missions are as well-planned as possible.
We will take care of your families while you are gone.
We will take care of you when you come home.
That's not a lot to do for someone who's out there getting shot at for you. Even better, rather than the fuzzy "we will support you" standard set by many, these are actionable, definable terms. Is "supporting the troops" just waving flags, writing supportive essays, and arguing for the nobility of their mission? I say no, those actions are laudable but meaningless if they are not backed by these concrete goals. And concrete, plainly spoken responsibilites are exactly what we need: by measuring ourselves against our progress in these arenas we can, if we are honest, meaningfully judge if we are fulfilling our duty.
Now how do we accomplish our side of the covenant in a representative democracy? We do so through the instrument of our will, the government.
But what happens when the government screws up our side of the covenant? That's where we hit the snag. In that case, it is our job, our responsibility -- not our right, our responsibility -- to hold those civilian administrators accountable. To criticize them when their policies fail to uphold our side of the oath. If need be, to remove them and put people in place who will fulfill our very simple side of the covenant with our men and women in the armed forces. To hold these administrators accountable is literally the least we can do. Their accountability is our accountability, and with people dying in our name, WE MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE.
I set forth, as first principle, that this Administration is failing to do its job in fulfilling our responsibilities to the troops.
We will make sure you have the equipment you need.
It is inarguable that the troops were sent into Iraq without the proper body armor or vehicles. Even now we have reports that Halliburton has been providng the troops with contiminated water. (and so imagine the shit they're getting away with we don't know about) * This is the richest nation in the world, and it's not like Saddam went all Pearl Harbor on our asses. We had a fair chunk of time to figure out there'd be shooting in the sand. Hell, it was on our own timetable. This is inexcusable.
We will make sure you have a clearly defined mission.
"Fighting terror" is not a clearly defined mission -- it is a talking point. A clearly defined mission has goals and timetables, and when those timetables are not met, then strategies are revised. "We will stand down as the Iraquis stand up" is not a strategy. What's the timetable for rebuilding Iraqi troop strength? What will we change in our attempts to build up those troops if those timetables are not met? Is our mission to stay until there's a fully functioning Iraqi Army and fully functioning state security apparatus? If so, what are those numbers? Is the training going as fast as we hope, or should adjustments be made? Is our mission to stay until the Iraq infrastructure has been repaired? To what levels? Is our mission to kill Zarqawi? To defeat the insurgency, or just control it? Numbers, dates, plans, percentages -- this is the way grown-ups plan and fight a war. "Stay the course" is not a strategy. If it were, then Macarthur would be buried on a Phillipino beach, George Washington would never have scarpered back across to Long Island under cover of fog, Lincoln would have let McClellan ride out the rest of the Civil War, and hell, Reagan would have let Dick Cheney talk him into never trusting Gorbachev.
We will make sure these missions are as well-planned as possible.
If you can't agree that post-war planning was a joke , you're not even living on the same planet as I am. Go ahead and disagree with the Joint Chiefs. I'll wait here.
We will take care of your families while you are gone, and Take care of you whe you come home.
There are already homeless Iraq War veterans, the VA is underfunded and VA benefits have been if not cut then, ahem, "stop-lossed" at least three times by this Administration. Add to that the Bankruptcy Bill passed without exemptions for troops ...
You can link-hunt all day. The point is by the broadest, most easily agreed-upon standards our side of the covenant with the troops is not being upheld. We are culpable, we are responsible, were are in fact guilty if we do not rectify this situation. And the only way to rectify this situation, in our form of government, is to go chew the shit out of the guys whose job it is to execute our will.
The problem is, these yahoos have managed an ugly trick. They have turned criticism of the policies of Bastards in Suits into criticism of The People in Uniform Getting Shot At. This, of course, is completely wrong, as one can easily tell the difference between the Bastards in Suits and The People in Uniform Getting Shot At. One group is in Suits, and Not Getting Shot At, while another is in Uniform, and Getting Shot At. Please, try to grasp this. Not the same.
There is a flip side. Some people confuse supporting the Bastards in Suits for supporting The People in Uniform Getting Shot At. This is, again, ridiculous. If the history of modern warfare has taught us anything, it's that the Bastards in Suits spend an awful lot of time working the kinks out of plans involving The People in Uniform dying unpleasantly. They often screw that up. When they do screw up, it is incumbent upon Bastards in Suits to suffer criticism and fix the situation, as by comparison The People in Uniform are suffering shattered skulls, missing limbs and death. Which is, on my scale, exponentially more traumatic than criticism.
Some people even seem confused on how we are criticizing the Bastards in Suits. The Bastards have a job to do. They are not doing it. Period. Tommy Franks recently trotted out the classic bit of misdirection, attacking critics of Donald Rumsfeld.
"I don't care about your politics. I don't. Don Rumsfeld is an American patriot."
Yes, well, that's lovely. But we're not criticizing his patriotism. We're criticizing his job performance. One of the great mysteries of the last six years was how and when the Bush Administration turned public policy into Special Olympics. "Oh, I know Donny knocked over all the hurdles, but HE LOVES THE RACE, so you SHUT YOUR FILTHY, CYNICAL MOUTH." Jesus H. Christ.
The first war I read about extensively was World War I, where I encountered the magnificently British term "Lions led by donkeys." If there's a more apt description of our current thrill-ride, I can't think of it. Here's the thing: you folk on the other side of this particular argumentative aisle may like the Donkeys. You may trust the Donkeys. But never, ever forget the goddam difference.
This discussion, these peoples' attitudes, lead to an even darker place. Our relationship with the troops is based on the idea that we are asking them to risk their life. Implicit in "risk" is a ratio of threat to preparation, a judgement of danger to the possibility of a positive outcome. To expand on Warren's idea, it is not wrong in current society to ask a policeman to risk his life, as we provide him with authority, equipment and an infrastructure necessary to ameliorate those risks. The same with firemen, and in theory the same with soldiers. It is only a risk, however, as long as there is support.
I call bullshit if one refuses to pay for bullets, refuses to pay for bullet-proof vests, and then asks a patrolman to run into a blind alley filled with heavily armed bank robbers. The risk changes into something else when we ask others to face danger with nothing from us in return. Then risk becomes blatant sacrifice, sacrifice on an altar of our comfort.
One of the most heartbreaking things I've ever read was the story of the Worcester fire. An ordinary warehouse fire turned into a deathtrap. Some firemen went missing, two went in after them, two after them ...
... and the really shattering moment was when the fire chief, McNamee, said "No more." He had a dozen men ready to charge into that inferno and keep looking. But he said no. He knew they'd reached the point where risk crossed reward. The men before were a risk, to save their brethren. The men after would have been a waste. The plan had to be changed, new goals had to be set. I cannot even imagine the courage it took to make that decision. I do not think, to be frank, I would have had the character to survive it.
To use Warren's metaphor again -- there is no blot on his character because he doesn't put on a yellow slicker and fight the War on Fire. But to claim the right to stand outside that warehouse in Worcester and argue that they should stay the course and keep sending in rescuers ... that is a different thing entirely. He may be right or wrong. But there is no moral high ground to be had there.
This is what is particularly galling. I understand why one would cling to a worldview wherein this Administration has not screwed up both this war and the fulfillment of our duty to the men and women fighting it. But that worldview is there for your comfort, to make you feel brave in demanding action, or secure in the idea that your government is competent, or noble in pursuit of higher ideals of patriotism or freedom. It is our responsibility to be clear-headed, mature, and frankly ruthless enough to discard our own emotional needs and kick the Bastards when they need kicking.
If you fail to even make that tiny effort -- hold the Bastards accountable -- to insure the troops the material, planning and care they need, then no matter what you say, what you write, or how many flags you wave, you are not supporting the troops. I am sure the pfc. with no body armor, no armored Hummer, on his third of who knows how many tours while his family goes quietly bankrupt appreciates your "support for his mission." But the other shit matters more. You are not holding our representatives accountable for their failures. You are not living up to your responsibility. You have broken the covenant. With this relationship broken, the soldiers are no longer your proxies, they are your instruments. You are treating them as tools. You may not feel that way, that characterization may fill you with rage, but how else to characterize such one-sided relationship?
There is a goddam world of difference between asking a man to risk his life to defend the nation and waste his life proving a point.
That these unquestioning war devotees will not sacrifice their lives, their comfort, their safety: that's hardly a sin in modern society. But they are not even willing to risk emotional discomfort by admitting their faith has been misplaced. That they will not even risk this, this tiny, tiny thing ... that is the sin. It is not that that you're not risking your life. It's that you are risking nothing.
The problem is, there is no single word in English for a man risking absolutely nothing, who demands someone else risk absolutely everything. I'm sure there's a word in German -- they are a whizzer with those kicky compound nouns -- but none in English for that precise combination.
So, for now, we must let "chickenhawk" be its placeholder.
(NOTE: the kossacks have arrived, by literally the thousands. If I may, I would remind you that I am raising money for the Fisher House, housing for military families so they can visit wounded veterans in the hospital. The link's to the right. If you found this post useful or interesting, please toss a single buck into the pot. At the volume we're experiencing now, that would mean thousands. If you hate me and want me to die tasting my own blood under a gas truck -- I match all donations, so the best way to shut me up is by bankrupting me by donating as much as possible! )
* (NOTE: the second. There has been an edit here, and something I wish to address. Please hop to the home page and check for the follow-up. Thanks.)