Chickenhawks part 2
I actually agree with the overall gist of Christopher Hitchens' latest column in Slate. He argues that it's absurd to think you've scored some kind of withering putdown of war supporters by pointing out that most of them (and their sons) haven't volunteered for duty. Since I support police, fire, and social welfare programs despite the fact that I'm not a police officer, a firefighter, or a social worker, I think he's right on this.
I half agree with Hitchens & Drum. Hitchens is right that it's sort of weird that we always talk about whether war supporters would 'send' their sons (and daughters) to Iraq:
But when it comes to the confrontation in Iraq, the whole notion of grown-ups volunteering is dismissed or lampooned. Instead, it's people's children getting "sent." Recall Michael Moore asking congressmen whether they would "send" one of their offspring, as if they had the power to do so, or the right? ... Nobody has to join the armed forces, and those who do are old enough to vote, get married, and do almost everything legal except buy themselves a drink. Why infantilize young people who are entitled to every presumption of adulthood?
Iraq war hawks could perhaps encourage their children to sign up for the military, but they obviously can't just 'send' them over, in the sense of forcing them to enlist.
I don't, however, think that it's unreasonable to expect fervent war supporters like Jonah Goldberg (who we all like to pick on) to put their money where their mouth is. One difference between this and Drum's example of police and firefighters is that there is a shortage of soldiers. With things like police work and firefighting, we've managed to set things up so that the benefits conferred on those who do these jobs (the pay, the lifestyle, and in the case of firefighters, the you-know-what) are attractive enough that a sufficient number of people volunteer to do the job.
This is usually the case with the military as well - but not right now. The (real or perceived) danger of fighting in Iraq has reached a level where the risk is not outweighed by the benefits in the minds of a sufficient number of people. So you have a shortage of troops.
But Bush supporters tell us that the war in Iraq is absolutely vital; that the security of the U.S. depends on it. Most of us don't believe that, but they profess to. So you'd think they would be pulling out all the stops, doing whatever is necessary to win the war. But one thing you don't see them doing is volunteering to fight it themselves.
Almost everyone agrees that police and firefighters are necessary, so we ask that some individuals take on these fairly dangerous jobs. But when we do, it is with the understanding that we only ask them to risk their lives because what they are doing is necessary for the continued survival and prosperity of all of us. That is - we only send them into life-threatening situations when it is absolutely necessary. We don't ask them to risk their lives for frivolous reasons.
The same thing, theoretically, is true with regard to soldiers. We ask them to be available to put their lives on the line, with the understanding that they will be called upon to do so only under the direst circumstances.
Obviously, though, things don't usually play out like this. The US has often deployed forces for unnecessary (and sometimes immoral) purposes. So one would have to be quite naive to enlist expecting only to be called upon to fight a war as a last resort. Of course, the military likes to grab 'em young, and 17- and 18-year-olds have a tendency to be naive, and it's hard to blame them for that.
Not only are the jobs of the police and firefighters supposed to be necessary, they are supposed to be necessary to everyone. This is the crucial difference. Wars like Iraq are fought not for the benefit of everyone but for a few. Of all the reasons Iraq was invaded - a show of power, a way to ensure Bush's re-election, strategic advantage, oil - the most implausible is that it was fought for the benefit of the average American. But it is precisely the average American who is being asked to do the fighting.
Thus we get to the root of the 'chickenhawk' slur - the time-honored tradition of the little man fighting the big man's wars.