Time to play a little game of “let’s pretend.” Let’s pretend that people who refer to civilian proponents of a war with Iraq as “chickenhawks” — or “chickenbloggers,” in our little corner of the universe — want to make a point and not just hurl playground taunts. Let’s pretend they are actually interested in the logic of their own position. Hell, let’s go all out and pretend that Philip Shropshire is a serious person.
With me so far? Now let’s construct the actual syllogism of the “chickenblogger” argument. The minor premise (A) is simple: Dr. Weevil (or the warblogger of your choice) is a civilian who supports a war with Iraq. The conclusion (C) is simple: Said warblogger’s opinions are invalid. We just have to get from A to C. What’s our major premise?
Here’s one possibility. Only the opinions of military personnel on military matters (e.g. war with Iraq) are valid. This presents certain difficulties. As Eliot Cohen points out, the question of whether to invade Iraq is strategic, not operational. History does not indicate that soldiers are any better, or even as good, at geopolitics than civilians. And of course this would exclude not only the despised warbloggers, but also Shropshire and company themselves — throwing the bathwater out with the baby, as it were — and leave our foreign policy to be decided by a military junta. That can’t be what they have in mind.
Better try again. The only pro-war opinions that are valid are those of military personnel. This lets Shropshire keep pontificating, but it doesn’t make much sense. Does support for war require experience of war? Why should that be? Does support for flush toilets require taking a job in the sewer? Does support for eating steak require touring the slaughterhouse? This can’t be right either.
The usual answer is that only veterans have the proper “perspective.” Here’s Korean War veteran Woody Powell, the “national administrator of Veterans for Peace,” who sounds long overdue for gainful employment:
I think if they had had the sobering experience of war — they don’t even have to have been in combat, but if they had just walked around and looked at the bodies one time — they might have a little more perspective on the decisions that they are making. If they haven’t smelled the scent of napalm, if they haven’t heard the bullets going by them, they just really aren’t acquainted with what they’re dealing with in a visceral sense. They need to smell it, and it doesn’t smell good.
Powell vacillates on how much perspective is enough. Will looking at bodies suffice, or do you have to smell the napalm and hear the bullets going by as well? Most important, he neglects to tell us how this alleged perspective makes the case against war with Iraq. Apparently to the veteran, no explanation is necessary; to the civilian, none is possible. “Perspective,” in this context, means, “I have no argument.”
In fact there is no logical way to get from A to C. Every conceivable major premise is ad hominem. The arguments for and against war stand or fall on their merits, whether their proponent served in the military, has flat feet and asthma, or murdered his family with an axe. This would suffice to bury “chickenhawk” if the people who employ it wanted to argue instead of call names. Like I said, let’s pretend.