Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chickenhawk Bites Back

[posted by Callimachus]

William M. Arkin, who wrote the column that I execrated here (and needless to say, I wasn't the only one), has written a response. It's interesting, and in part predictable.

He got a lot of negative feedback. Some of it, predictably, was bilious and crude. The typical newspaper columnist response would be to pick out two or three of the crudest responses and hold them up as examples of everyone who disagrees with him and say, "See? See?"

Arkin, to his credit, goes to the edge of that precipice but doesn't jump. Oh, I am sure he was tempted: he goes so far as saying his strident critics "represent the worst of polarized and hate-filled America" and he talks about "the campaign to annihilate me." But he's a blogger first, not a journalist. So mostly he takes it.

It's amusing to see an anti-war left-sider confront the chickenhawk meme, which apparently was dumped on him in industrial quantities. I've said all along that that beast, though now the left's pet, was going to bite more asses on the left than the right.

The argument I read is either that I haven't served (coward, leftist, not real American), or that even if I did wear the uniform (which I did), I had a comfortable and safe existence in Germany while my brethren were fighting and dying in Vietnam. Or, that I was not high-ranking enough to know anything. Or, that I was not low-ranking enough to really experience the truth.

I can see, in the military blogs and in the comments of those who have written about my posts last week, that those who refer to themselves as Vietnam veterans still yearn for the recognition and thanks that they believe they haven't received. There is no question that Vietnam is still an open wound for them, and that they therefore only recognize the worth of fellow veterans, of those who have been through exactly the same experience.

He feels the sting, and he also feel the absurdity of being attacked that way. But so far he really has no answer to it, except an ad hominem on the veterans who abused him. He ought to read this site more often. I could give him a primer on how to artfully get those chicken teeth out of his cheeks.

He comes back to it again in the column:

As this line of argument goes, the soldiers themselves and those who have served in Iraq are the only ones who really know what it is like, what the war is about, and what should be done. The media in general and war opponents in particular intentionally and purposefully provide a negative and discouraging view that doesn't comport with what the soldiers see, so goes this argument. But the bigger point is that any dissenting voices are just those of whores, politicians, tin foil hat liberals, or worse, un-Americans. In this view, there are no actual experts in this world, no one who studies and measures public opinion, no one who studies war or the military, who do not wear the uniform.

Ah, well, I'm sure he was similarly denouncing this view when it was his friends and allies who spouted it. I'm sure.

I think the chickenhawk meme is a logical fallacy and a dangerous argument to make in a free nation. To accept it is to tacitly promote militarism and a marriage of martial and civilian authority. If only military men can make political decisions leading to war, all politicians ultimately will be military men. The alternative is an occasionally pacifist government that could not adequately defend itself in the modern world.

And if you think things in the U.S. military are bad now, imagine a nation where armed service was the doorway to political careers. Imagine every wanna-be legislator trying to get himself slathered in battlefield glory. No, you don't have to imagine it. The annals of 1861 and '62 still are damp with the gore of blood spilled by such politician-generals. Just Google "Ball's Bluff" if you don't believe me.

Back to Arkin. I think his original column was wrong-headed and foolish and insulting -- but not because of his military service or lack of it or the quality thereof.

He called the U.S. military a pack of "mercenaries," and he got an earful in response. He senses the chickenhawk meme is an error -- once it has attacked him -- but not for any of the right reason. No, but because it's "anti-elitist." Seriously:

This is not some post-modern relativism, it is pure anti-elitism. The elite think they know it all, while those who do all of the dirty work, who do all of the suffering, are methodically ignored and dominated.

And that's where he leaves it. Honest to Gods, with a whole toolbox of logical and political ripostes to the chickenhawk meme, the best he can do is say it's mean to the elites. Elites like William M. Arkin, who "strive to see an angle in an event that is different" and "try to be ahead of the curve, and not just reflect conventional wisdom ...." Yes, well, you can't very well be the new Will Rogers if you also want to carry on like Gore Vidal. You'll have to settle for being The Poor Man's Chomsky and take your appropriate lumps.

It seems his editors are sitting on him:

Note: On the advice of my editors, this is the last column I will post for awhile on this subject. My impulse would be to continue to fight back and answer the critics, but I see the wisdom in their observation that nothing new is being said here and the Internet frenzy is adding nothing to the debate or our understanding of our world. I also see that I cannot continue to write about humanity and difficult questions if indeed what I wish is to vanquish those who attack me.

That's a shame. It would be interesting to see this continue, and to see whether he eventually gets it. I know which way I'd bet.