The Neocon Chicken Hawk
Profiles in Courage
August 01, 2002
Executive Summary: Professional soldiers who goad civilian leaders into wars of foreign adventurism are guilty of bringing death and destruction upon the nation they swore to protect. Compared to their civilian counterparts however, they are paragons of virtue. The professional soldier, the combat veteran at least, is a man of uncommon valour willing to sacrifice his life defending his beliefs. The same cannot be said of the Neocon Chicken Hawk, who shrilly demands “War!” even as he evades military service in the very wars he demanded and got. The Neocon Chicken Hawk will not be found on distant battlefields engaged in combat against the “Axis of Evil.” He will be found at Washington insider cocktail parties, engaged in witty repartee with fellow laptop bombardiers, while Americans less privileged fight the Chicken Hawk’s wars and die the Chicken Hawk’s death. The Neocon Chicken Hawk, a warmongering draft-dodger, is the living embodiment of Hypocrisy.
Hollywood War Hawks: Art Imitates Life
“Whether the whites won the land by treaty, by armed conflict, or, as was actually the case, by a mixture of both, mattered comparatively little so long as the land was won. It is, indeed, a warped, perverse, and silly morality which would forbid a course of conquest that has turned whole continents into the seats of mighty and flourishing civilized nations. The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman. The rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him. [It] is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races.”
— Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West: Book IV, 1896
Hollywood often depicts the Pentagon’s brass hats as rabid warmongers, variations on the mentally deranged General Jack D. Ripper portrayed by Sterling Hayden in Stanley Kubrick’s antiwar classic “Dr. Strangelove” (1964, directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Peter George, Terry Southern). Such negative depictions, while obviously hyperbole, are not entirely without factual basis.
Movie characters based on real life individuals are usually too bland, too lackluster to be brought to the silver screen straight, without dramatic embellishment. But not always. In his Academy Award winning film “Patton” (1970, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, written by Ladislas Farago and Omar N. Bradley) director Franklin Shaffner was actually compelled to tone down the shrill militancy of real life warmonger General George S. Patton. The “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” reality of Patton the Man turned out to be too real for Patton the Movie Character. As Patton biographer Charles Province put it, “[Actor George C.] Scott’s rendition of the speech was highly sanitized so as not to offend too many fainthearted Americans.”
Nor was Patton the first. Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, Hero of San Juan Hill, icon of the Neoconservative Chicken Hawks, led a similar life whose truth was stranger than fiction. For Brian Keith’s brilliant, engaging portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt, see John Milius’ rip-roaring, vastly entertaining romantic adventure film, “The Wind and the Lion” (1975, written and directed by John Milius). For the ugly reality of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Fascism with American Characteristics” on the other hand, see “Roosevelt’s Portrait of Roosevelt,” and read TR’s own words in “Theodore Roosevelt Quotations, The Winning of the West.” Rest assured it is not a perspective Thomas Jefferson, who championed the property rights of the American Indian would have endorsed.
Blessed are the Warriors
“It is well that war is so terrible, or we would get too fond of it.”
— Robert E. Lee
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
But soldiers are people too, as complex and as varied as the rest of us. Unregenerate War Hawks such as Teddy Roosevelt and George Patton tell only one side of the story. Professional soldiers know better than most that “War is Hell” and often end their careers as dedicated peacemakers. Professional soldiers have immense wisdom to impart their civilian leaders, if only they would listen. When I say “Blessed are the Warriors,” I am not being ironic. The wisdom of “warriors turned peacemakers” was acquired the hard way, the most costly way imaginable. We who love America owe it to ourselves to heed their wise counsel at this watershed moment in our nation’s history.
Former Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, hero of the Spanish-American War, two time recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, would eventually defy the establishment he had served so ably to expose the ugly truth: War is a racket, waged for the benefit of Washington power brokers and their wealthy cronies. Raised as a Quaker, the prodigal son turned warrior would return to his cultural and spiritual roots to reaffirm the virtues of peace.
Former Five Star General Dwight D. Eisenhower, victorious Supreme Allied Commander of Allied Forces in WWII, upon leaving the White House at the onset of the Cold War, would warn prophetically of the invisible but real threat posed by the “Military-Industrial Complex.”
Former Four Star General Colin Powell, Vietnam War combat veteran, hero of Desert Storm, author of the Powell Doctrine, would solemnly warn America’s civilian leadership not to intervene in international conflicts unless America had vital interests and realistic goals, not to deplete America’s limited resources intervening anywhere and everywhere, because America is not the world’s policeman, nor should it attempt to be. As a furious Powell once lashed back at Madeleine Albright, “American GIs are not toy soldiers to be moved around on some global game board.”
Ron Kovic and Oliver Stone were the author and director of the Academy Award winning 1989 antiwar film, “Born on the Fourth of July.” Kovic and Stone were gung-ho Marines who enlisted in the corps of their own volition. Kovic dreamed of being another Audi Murphy. Stone quit Yale to go to Vietnam when Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton were scrambling for college deferments. Kovic and Stone were so thoroughly disillusioned by the ugly reality of war in general and the Vietnam War in particular, they would become dedicated, high-profile antiwar activists.
The Neocon Chicken Hawk: White Collar Rambo Wannabe
In America today a curious paradox prevails. The peacemakers are soldiers, while the warmongers are civilians. The peacemakers wear military uniforms, while the warmongers wear business suits. The peacemakers’ offices are located along the labyrinthine rings of the Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia, while the warmongers’ offices are located along the corridors of think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Project for the New American Century, and media publications such as the The New Republic, the Washington Times, and the Weekly Standard.
What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of the civilian warmongers, predominantly Neoconservatives or “Neocons,” who inhabit these NGOs and media organizations?
How about craven cowardice, rank hypocrisy, and an utter lack of integrity?
First these Neocon Chicken Hawks insist the wars they demand be fought are vital to “America’s long term strategic security.” They imply that anyone who suggests otherwise, who doesn’t fall in line and get with the program, is at best myopic, at worst chicken-hearted, lily-livered, treasonous.
These same Neocon Chicken Hawks then exert every influence, call in every favor, pull every string to avoid combat duty in the very same wars they so loudly and shrilly insisted were absolutely essential, hence unpatriotic not to fight.
One can only imagine how these Neocon Chicken Hawks reconcile their strident warmongering with their resolute draft-dodging. Perhaps they think if nobody calls attention to the yawning chasm between what they say and what they do, nobody will notice. Sad to say, they’re probably right. But what about at 3:00 AM? Do their consciences nag at them? Do they hold their pillows over their ears? What can one say about such people, really? The sheer chutzpah of their undisguised hypocrisy leaves one speechless with incredulity.
Who are Neocon Chicken Hawks to find Vietnam combat vet Colin Powell lacking? They are among the least qualified people on planet earth to cast aspersions on Colin Powell’s courage or determination. Whatever one thinks of Colin Powell, he was there, in the rice paddies, among the landmines, among the punji sticks. The Neocon Chicken Hawks were not.
Frankly, Neocon Chicken Hawks don’t even rank next to Adolph Hitler. No discussion of warmongers would be complete without mentioning Adolph Hitler. Adolph Hitler was a monster. Adolph Hitler was the personification of evil. But Adolph Hitler was also a highly decorated WW I combat veteran wounded in battle, the recipient of six combat medals, including Germany’s highest military honor, the Iron Cross. Whatever else he was, Adolph Hitler was no REMF. Adolph Hitler was no civilian Chicken Hawk. Adolph Hitler was at least willing to risk his life on the battlefield fighting for his beliefs.
The same was true of Hitler’s closest and most trusted henchmen. Heinrich Himmler and Rudolph Hess served in the Wehrmacht, and Hermann Goering served in the Luftwaffe during Woodrow Wilson’s “War to end all wars,” the “War to make the make the world safe for democracy.” Joseph Goebbels did not evade military service, but was frustrated in his attempt to enlist in the Wehrmacht by a physical handicap, his club foot.
Can the same be said of draft-dodging warmongers George AWOL Bush Jr. and Dick “I had other priorities” Cheney, of “National Greatness Conservatives” William Kristol and David Brooks?
One synonym for integrity is “oneness,” oneness between what one says and what one does. To the extent such oneness equals integrity, then Adolph Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolph Hess, Hermann Goering, even Joseph Goebbels had more oneness, more integrity than the average Necon Chicken Hawk.
Ridley Scott’s retro epic “Gladiator” (2000, directed by Ridley Scott, written by David H. Franzoni) inspired political analysts to revisit analogies of post Cold War America with Imperial Rome.
If America today is the Roman Empire Redux, then Colin Powell is the American counterpart of the war weary Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridus, who dreamed only of returning to his rustic farm in the Spanish countryside to live out his remaining years in peace, while Dubya, aka King George III, is the American counterpart of the pusillanimous, power mad Emperor Commodus, whose combat skills were limited to political infighting in the imperial capitol, far from the frontier. Bush Senior despite being a bona fide hero of WW II, doesn’t quite make it as Marcus Aurelius. In contrast to the wise old Emperor who realized his son “Commodus is not a moral man” and attempted to thwart his succession to the throne, the elder Bush knowingly foisted his idiot son upon the American people.
Send in the Weekly Standard. The Screaming Pundits Assault Corps
The Warrior Class, Bill Kristol and the National Greatness crowd would love to have a war
Hypocritical, Cowardly Chicken-Hawk Armchair Generals
Ex-Clinton official slams Bush and Cheney war records
Hitler in World War One
The American Way vs. the Neocon Chicken Hawk Way
Neocon Chicken Hawks drape themselves in the American flag and declare their undying devotion to the American Way. But what is the American Way? Is the American Way really what Neocon Chicken Hawks are peddling to the American people? As Christian conservative James Nuechterlein astutely notes in his article “Conservative Confusions,”
“Take, for starters, the curious linking of Roosevelt and Reagan, a linking as habitually indulged in by McCain as by Kristol and Brooks… Contra the Weekly Standard and its… “national greatness conservatism,” [Reagan] did believe that, foreign policy aside, government should “just get out of the way.” His conception of national greatness rested on faith in the creative energies of the American people rather than in their government. His favorite Republican presidential predecessor, it should be remembered, was not TR but Calvin Coolidge. And even in foreign policy, his program was not the wholesale interventionism that TR sometimes inclined to and that the Weekly Standard appears to favor.”
The American Way is the individualist way, the capitalist way. The American Way is the “I” Way, as in “I must pay for what I want.” The American Way is eloquently summed up by the libertarian credo, “TANSTAAFL!” For Neoconservatives who find core American values alien to their nature, the acronym made famous by libertarian SF novelist Robert Heinlein stands for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!”
What is the Neocon Chicken Hawk Way?
The Neocon Chicken Hawk Way is the collectivist way, the socialist way, the “We” Way, as in “We American taxpayers must pay for a post Cold War war making capability greater than that of the ten next most powerful militaries combined, because I want an empire, not a republic.” The Neocon Chicken Hawk Way is War Socialism, socialism for the purpose of making war, and as such the diametric opposite of the American Way, which is peaceful capitalism for the purpose of making a buck. The Neocon Chicken Hawk Way is to send other Americans abroad to get their brains splattered by an enemy bullet or their legs vaporized by an enemy land mine, while the civilian Chicken Hawk stays home, posting tough-talking editorials or chest-thumping messages at FreeRepublic.com and WorldNetDaily.com.
A man of integrity, aware of the high price tag attached to his visions of military glory, will do one of two things. One, volunteer for combat. Two, promote international peace. Peacemaking being more morally elevated than warmongering, volunteering for combat is hardly “morally equivalent” to promoting international peace, but it is at least internally consistent and evidence of integrity.
Neocon Chicken Hawks choose neither. They choose instead to foist the human cost of their Walter Mitty day dreams onto hapless strangers. These Profiles in Courage are painfully aware that rather than return from the front line physically intact like the invincible, invulnerable “action figures” portrayed by Sly and Ah-nuld, they would likely return with essential parts of their bodies missing, like wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, assuming they return at all.
The Neocon Chicken Hawk boasts of “Benevolent Global Hegemony” and “The Unipolar Moment,” but scuttles for cover like a cockroach when asked personally to maintain the “unparalleled American military supremacy” he so stridently and self-righteously demands. Is this really the meaning of patriotism? Does this really represent the American Way? No? Then the Neocon Chicken Hawk is not an American patriot, and his way is not the American Way.
Francis Ford Coppola’s classic gangster saga “The Godfather” (1972, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by Mario Puzo) contains an unexpected scene in which the heads of New York’s Five Families attempt to pressure Don Corleone to formally authorize heroine dealing. Don Barzini lays out his position:
“If Don Corleone has all the judges and politicians in New York, then he must share them or let others use them. Certainly he can present a bill for such services, we’re not Communists, after all… “
If only Neocon chicken hawks had as much respect for the principle that you must pay for what you expect to get as organized crime bosses.
How to Smash the War Racket
“War is a racket… always has been… possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious… the only one international in scope… the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives… Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket. We must take the profit out of war. We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war. We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.”
— General Smedley Butler, USMC
Someone coming across Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket” for the first time might confuse Butler with an anti-capitalist, “Progressive Era” reformer. That would be a mistake. Butler does not object to free and fair competition in the open market place. Butler’s righteous anger is directed not at laissez-faire capitalism, but at the corrupt crony capitalism Eisenhower would later identify as the “Military-Industrial Complex.” As Butler explains,
“Another step necessary in this fight to smash the war racket is the limited plebiscite to determine whether a war should be declared. A plebiscite not of all the voters but merely of those who would be called upon to do the fighting and dying… Only those who would be called upon to risk their lives for their country should have the privilege of voting to determine whether the nation should go to war.”
Note the distinctly market-oriented, incentive-based character of Butler’s remedy. Butler understood, implicitly if not explicitly, the economic concept known as “moral hazard.” Moral hazard is a state of affairs in which the costs of implementing a policy are not born by those benefitting from the policy. Moral hazard guarantees complete and utter irresponsibility, in welfare or warfare, because somebody else is footing the bill or doing the dying.
Moral hazard in welfare guarantees that liberal do-gooders will squander the hard-earned wealth of American taxpayers on countless domestic boondoggles. After all, Ralph Nader isn’t going to reach into his own pocket to pay for all those lethal airbags.
Moral hazard in warfare guarantees that Neoconservative Chicken Hawks will squander the precious lives of American soldiers in countless foreign quagmires. After all, William Kristol isn’t going to volunteer to take the point while invading Baghdad. Can you picture the white collar Rambos of the Weekly Standard decked out in boonies, toting M-16s? Neither can I.
Butler understood all this. Butler understood that any real solution would have to target and eliminate this defect in the incentive structure.
Neocon Chicken Hawks who would like to make this columnist eat his words, can do so quite readily. Enlist now at the DOD’s Joint Service Recruiting page, URL listed below.
Be sure to request combat duty.
What, no takers?
Then allow me to follow General Butler’s lead by offering three provisions of my own.
A Modest Proposal
“Wouldn’t it be great if wars could be settled by the assholes who start them?”
— Kevin Costner, in “The Postman” (1997, directed by Kevin Costner, written by David Brin, Eric Roth)
Provision One: Any American President / Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces who demands and subsequently receives an official Declaration of War from Congress, shall be required to fight in that war. Not from a swivel chair in Washington, not from some field office in the rear, but leading one’s troops in combat, on the front lines, the way America’s first and greatest president, General George Washington did at Valley Forge, the way Alexander of Macedon, Hannibal Barca, Julius Caesar, Hua Mulan, Richard the Lion-hearted, Genghis Khan, Jeanne D’Arc, and Napoleon Bonaparte did. You want an empire? Be prepared to lead the charge. You want war? Be prepared to take the point. You want glory? No guts, no glory.
But then who will “run the country” while the Commander in Chief is away at the front? The vice president, of course. (Don’t laugh. Neocons, being Mussolini style corporativists who demand “energetic government,” don’t know about Laozi’s “wu wei” and Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand.” They actually think a country is “run” by its chief executive.) What happens if the president is KIA? The vice president will take his place at the front, and the Speaker of the House will assume the office of president pro tem. Presidential succession, you know? Unless of course the vice president is smarter than the president and negotiates an armistice or signs a peace treaty, in which case he shall no longer be required to serve in combat.
Provision Two: Any congressman or senator who votes for war, shall be required to fight in that war, under the same terms as for the president, in combat, on the front lines. Who will fill in for him at home? The candidate in the previous election with the next most votes shall assume his duties in the interim, until such time as the “patriotic,” pro war congressman or senator is honorably discharged and returns from the front. Returning congressmen and senators wounded in combat shall of course be eligible for all veterans’ benefits, including occupational therapy at VA hospitals. Returning congressmen and senators KIA shall be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Provision Three: The financial cost of any war fought on foreign soil, not in the direct defense of the American homeland, i.e., the 50 states, territories and possessions, shall be underwritten entirely by those citizens who voted in favor of that war in a public referendum. American citizens who vote against such wars shall be exempt from taxes levied for such wars.
In case I failed to make myself clear, in case anyone imagined otherwise, everything I said applies equally to every government on earth, not just the United States. If peace-loving citizens of every nation on earth, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, were to require the civilian Chicken Hawks among them to personally fight the wars they provoked, the human race would be at peace faster than you can say “4F.”