Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chicken Hawks

When I first enlisted there was a draft, and there were draft dodgers. Many people avoided the draft including a large segment who became conscientious objectors or pacifists during the draft and then flipped to become pro-military conservatives during the Reagan presidency and beyond. In the late 80s these past-service-age patriots came to be known as Chicken Hawks. Among their number are some current icons of patriotism like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. I know a lot of people who listen to these guys. It seems to me that a draft dodger's opinion on patriotism should carry the same weight as Gene Simmons views on abstinence.

So I reread my favorite writer CS Lewis. In particular, his essay "Why I am not a Pacifist." Lewis wrote the essay during World War 2. He was a twice wounded veteran of World War 1. He served in the trenches as an infantry lieutenant. Here's the end of his essay (He is speaking to a pacifist):

"Let us make no mistake. All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you form all you love. Like [jail], it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. It threatens every temporal evil--every evil except dishonor and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it.

On the other side, though it may not be your fault, it is certainly a fact that Pacifism threatens you with almost nothing. Some public opprobrium, yes, from people whose opinion you discount and whose society you do not frequent, soon recompensed by the warm mutual approval which exists, inevitably, in any minority group. For the rest it offers you a continuance of the life you know and love, among the people and in the surroundings you know and love. It offers you time to lay the foundations of a career; for whether you will or no, you can hardly getting the jobs for which the discharged soldiers will one day look in vain. You do not even have to fear, as pacifists may have had to fear [during World War 1], that public opinion will punish you when the peace comes."

And in today's America, you can have your own talk show and declare yourself a patriot.

I liked John McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention, but I could not help wondering as the camera swept the crowd how this courageous survivor of five years in communist captivity felt looking out an the audience in front of him. The cameras lingered on veterans and famous people and young people, but that crowd is and has been for a couple of decades, the largest gathering of Chicken Hawks on the planet. So many men in that audience--rich, white, conservative men--between my age (55) and McCain's age (72) thought Viet Nam was the "wrong war." And they avoided it. Because of the draft, that meant a poor man--black, white, or hispanic--served in their place.

My Uncle Jack served from 1958 to 1982 in the Air Force. From the time I was five until the war ended he was flying over Viet Nam in a refueling plane or in an F-4 fighter jet. And when he wasn't in Viet Nam, it seemed like he was either home for a short visit or stuck in another garden spot like Thule, Greenland.

I have nothing against the consistent pacifists I know. They were against Viet Nam and are against the current war on principle. I disagree, but I respect their views.

But I cannot understand why the blustering buffoons of talk radio should be identified as patriots and even admired by conservatives.

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