WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the debate over the fate of Saddam
Hussein moves from a simmer to a boil, perhaps you have noticed that the
Scrupling Few are again employing the term "chicken hawk." The Scrupling Few
are those who at once are negative toward war with Saddam and also
positive -- at least vaguely positive.
This is not to say they are positive for war exactly, but for
good things to come from Washington, despite the evil Republicans. In
describing the Scrupling Few, one cannot be much more concrete. They worry,
they pontificate, they Scruple.
That is about it. Save for one other thing: They apply the term
chicken hawk to those who favor war but have not actually experienced war.
Then they Scruple about having done so. It is fair to say that the Scrupling
Few are on both sides of the issue of war with Iraq. They are also on both
sides of the legitimacy of the term chicken hawk. Some would call them
poseurs -- the less mature would call them chickens.
New York Times columnist Bill Keller employed the term chicken
hawk the other day in a typically mealy-mouthed column whose vaporous point
was that the Scruples of Sen. John Kerry about attacking Baghdad must be
taken very seriously because of his Vietnam War record. On the other hand,
"the current White House warriors" should be taken less seriously because
they are not actually warriors -- neither George W. Bush nor Dick Cheney
served in Vietnam.
On yet another hand, Keller does not mean to say that lack of a
war record disqualifies a statesman from advocating war. And on his third
hand, Keller displays Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, two chicken
hawks whose military decisions he presumably admires. (Incidentally, Keller
must know that chicken hawk Reagan served in the military. He is merely
Scrupling again.) And on the fourth hand, Keller does not approve of the
term chicken hawk, though he does not disapprove -- regular readers of
Keller's New York Times column must be devotees of magic acts.
Continuing his balmy sleight of hand with the term chicken hawk,
Keller raises the key question: "Does that mean that those of us who avoided
combat, including the current White House warriors (and your astigmatic
columnist (self-effacing humor, that!)), are less worthy of trust on the
subject of war?" Well, as you can imagine, Keller believes himself
abundantly worthy of our trust, despite his admission to having "avoided"
combat. He is, however, less confident of investing trust in the president
and vice president. Now is it fair or even accurate for Keller to accuse
them of avoiding combat? Strictly speaking, he is saying that they "shunned"
combat. Has Keller any evidence?
Perhaps it is at this point appropriate to interrupt Keller's
magic act and puncture another of the liberals' many myths about the Vietnam
War. Keller and his confreres would have us believe that any member of the
Vietnam generation (roughly, those men of draft-age between 1964 and 1975)
who did not serve in the military "avoided" the military. That would make
the Vietnam generation the largest cohort of draft dodgers in American
history. It would also make Bill Clinton just one of the guys -- though his
now well-documented efforts in the 1960s to avoid his physical and dupe his
draft board were highly unusual and shameful.
Only about 8 percent of the Vietnam generation ever went to
Southeast Asia, most to Vietnam. Only about 25 percent ever served in any
branch of the military, overseas or stateside. Today, the liberals solemnly
praise the Vietnamese veterans, but during the late 1960s and early 1970s,
they often reviled them as war criminals. Jane Fonda went so far as to call
our POWs "hypocrites and liars," for claiming torture at the hands of the
North Vietnamese. Thus some 75 percent of the Vietnam generation never wore
a uniform. They were not supposed to. The military had no need of them. If
it had needed them, standards would have been lowered and exemptions
tightened. The vast majority of the Vietnam generation's draft records were
perfectly legal and honorable.
Finally, Keller's dismissal of President George W. Bush's
military service is as misleading as his dismissal of President Reagan's.
When the other 75 percent of his generation was following its civilian
pursuits, the future president was flying F-107s in the Air National Guard.
Is this combat avoidance? Tell that to the tens of thousands of National
Guard troops serving abroad in the war on terror.
Bootlegging a person's military record into his presentation of
whether or not to fight a war is another example of the genetic fallacy. The
validity of an idea depends on the coherence of the evidence adduced not on
whether we like or admire those advancing the idea. If the Scrupling Few
come up with a compelling argument for allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in
power, I shall be on their side. But to Scruple is not to convince.