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A Chicken Hawk Writes. . .

by James Bowman

Posted: Jan 10, 2013 01:23 PM

As is not unusual, The New York Times has rather overdemonstrated its point in enthusiastic approval of President Obama’s nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. Today it’s columnist Nicholas D. Kristof who writes in familiar vein.

“I’m not a pacifist. I believe in using force, but only after a very careful decision- making process,” Hagel. . . told Vietnam magazine. “The night [his brother] Tom and I were medevaced out of that village in April 1968, I told myself: If I ever get out of this and I’m ever in a position to influence policy, I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war.” How refreshing to imagine decisions about war made by brave doves rather than by chicken hawks.

Mr Kristof also has some harsh words for the “bullying and name-calling” of those who accuse the former Senator of anti-Semitism, though he obviously doesn’t see his own animadversions against “chicken hawks” as falling into that category. Or if they do he doesn’t care. Chicken hawks have feelings too, after all.

His point had already been made in yesterday’s Times by Myra MacPherson:

Chuck said that as he lay near death, remembering the squad mates who had been ripped in half by land mines, he vowed “in my whole life, if there is anything I do, it’s going to be to try to stop wars.” At Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies, Chuck was often the lone man who dared to say, “there is no glory in war.”

My own very strong impression is that if anyone ever said that there is glory in war — as, of course, no one ever does anymore — it would be he and not the denier of glory who would be the lone man. It would certainly be a much more daring thing to say, particularly for a chicken hawk.

Yet speaking as one who has been called, not without justice, a chicken hawk myself, I would like timidly to suggest that it might not be the ideal qualification for a Secretary of Defense that he feels himself to have some kind of mission “to try to stop wars.” His job as Secretary, after all, is not to stop but to prosecute wars, however ill-advised they may or may not be. Isn’t there a fatal conflict of interest there? Elisabeth Bumiller, also in yesterday’s Times chimed in with the approving words of former Senator Max Cleland about those who, like himself, “have felt the wounds of war, physically, mentally and emotionally.” She clearly thinks Mr Cleland’s view, that such men “bring to the table all that they need to bring, and that is that wars are disastrous,” also applies to Mr Hagel.

But if wars are disastrous, why do we have a whole government department, and a very expensive one at that, dedicated to preparing for and fighting them? And, given the existence of such a department, why would we ever dream of putting in charge of it someone who believed a priori, that wars are disastrous? Ms Bumiller, for one, sees no reason why not. Taken together with the nomination of another anti-war Vietnam vet, John Kerry, as Secretary of State, the Hagel nomination shows that “President Obama hopes to bring to his administration two veterans with the same sensibility about the futilities of war.” Now why do you suppose he would want to do a thing like that when the job of both men involves making decisions about when and where war is not futile? Luckily, another Times writer has the answer. According to David Brooks, it is “to supervise the beginning” of what he sees as a “generation-long process of defense cutbacks” and, thus, “the beginning of America’s military decline.” The case is pretty compelling, I must say. Funny that none of the “brave doves” in the administration has the guts to say so, however.

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In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.

 

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