Rootin’, Tootin’, Lasso Loopin’, Pop Gun Shootin’ Chickenhawks
by Happy Daze
“It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.” This quote, attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, is one of the cornerstones of leadership. Apparently, someone forgot to tell Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum. These gentlemen are “chickenhawks,” that breed of politician and citizen who are all too willing to send others out to die when they themselves shirked such duty. One of the responsibilities of the President (and it is ONE, not all), is Commander in Chief, the civilian head of the military. It seems that Rick Santorum reminds us every day. I think he has used the term more than that of “President,” and I wish a psychologist would look into that, but that’s another post.
There are several definitions of Chickenhawkery. One is the proverbial draft dodger. On the other end of the spectrum are those that disparage veterans who served in certain capacities. First, the draft dodger. I am against compulsory military service. I believe in the Daniel Webster maxim, “Where is it written in the Constitution…that you may take children from their parents and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly and wickedness of the government may engage itself?” I think this is a powerful check upon authoritarian government. Some have said that if no one will stand for the nation in time of crisis, then conscription is necessary to preserve the state. In my opinion, if a nation ever gets to that point, then it deserves to perish. In fact, it is probably the policies of the advocates of conscription that will have led to the downfall of the country. So, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney taking deferments doesn’t bother me in itself.
What does bother me is that when they had the opportunity to serve, Messrs. Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum chose not to. Whether or not there was a draft, or a war, is irrelevant. A real Patriot says, “here I am, for whatever amount of time is required, do with me what you will. If I serve in peacetime or war, so be it. I have made myself available.” In the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” one of the E/506 vets said he came from a town in which 3 men committed suicide because they were classified 4F. Now, I’m not advocating suicide for someone who isn’t physically able to serve. It isn’t their fault. However, it’s that attitude that I find commendable. I had an uncle, since passed on, who wanted to be a Marine more than anything. He served only one month before the doctors found an inner ear disorder and he was subequently discharged. It broke his heart. Incidentally, when he died the Marines sent 2 NCO’s to perform the burial ceremony. My cousins insist that their dad would have been pleased. I only wish our Presidential candidates felt the same way.
I wouldn’t be so critical of these individuals or even insist upon military service if it weren’t for the fact that they want to bomb and invade so many countries. If it were up to them, we would be not only in Afghanistan, but back in Iraq and at war with Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Venezuala, Cuba, North Korea…hell, pick a spot on the map. The GOP is often the first to talk about supporting the troops. I couldn’t agree more. But I think that the first thing we can do is to give them a C in C who understands service and sacrifice and who won’t squander their lives in unwinnable conflicts that only create more unwinnable conflicts for the future. One who has served and understands that in order to be a leader, you first have to be a subordinate. One who values the service men and women and who will only authorize force as a last resort.
At the other extreme is the criticism of individuals serving in certain capacities. I recently had a little online spat with a guy who claimed to be a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam. He criticized the other services, REMFS, stateside duty, non-wartime service, reasons for serving, etc. First, as a veteran, I can assure you that these are generally the ramblings of non-vets and wannabes. But let’s take him at face value. First, a guy serving in a combat role who actually sees combat…I get it. No one suffers more, physically and psychologically, than the guy who is at the greatest risk of dying. The guy who sees death, not only of his buddies, but of innocents and sometimes even the enemy suffers more and pays a larger price than those who don’t. That said, it still doesn’t diminish anyone else who serves. An individual winding up in combat is usually not there because of choice. That’s the choice of politicians. He might have requested his MOS, but history is full of people who wanted to see combat and didn’t. It is also full of cooks and clerks and truck drivers and MP’s and engineers picking up rifles and defending perimeters at places like Bastogne and Khe Sanh. Or aircraft mechanics dying at the hands of sappers at Da Nang. Or Reservists sitting in a hangar eating chow and killed by a SCUD missile. Once you sign on the dotted line, you have made the last meaningful decision of your life until the end of your enlistment. What you do and where you go is entirely in the hands of others. A non-combat role is still no guarantee against danger. This is understood by everyone who has ever worn the uniform.
That is precisely the point of the significance of military service. Whether your service was active duty or Guard, peacetime or war, stateside or overseas, as a combatant or in a support role, the very first act of your military service was to say that you were willing to put the interests of the country ahead of your own. To put your own ass between the civilian populace and the bad guys. To take personal responsibility for the security of the state. This is why Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum are unfit to be President. Forget about the morale problems inherent in serving under a shirker. Forget about the hypocrisy in sending others to do something you were unwilling to do. Forget for a minute that someone who has never experienced the uncertainty or hopelessness of military service will be more likely to treat our servicemen and women as expendable (the euphemism “boots on the ground” is troubling).
Daniel Webster, again. “There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” The purpose of government is the protection of liberties, in essence, serving the people, not lording over them. Only a veteran has proven, through deeds, not words, that he is willing to serve. When the President takes the oath of office, and promises to protect and defend the Constitution, only a veteran has proven that he has already done it. As citizens, we hand the government a cocked pistol and say, in essence, protect my life and property. In your hands is the instrument necessary to safeguard my freedom. But I understand that it has the potential to be used against me. Please exercise discretion and wisdom. My life is in your hands.
If people don’t want to serve, that is their business. I’m not ready to go Robert Heinlein and insist upon service as a prerequisite for holding office or for voting. But we need a more substantive discussion. One that focuses less on which country to bomb or not bomb, or what the tax rate should be, or who should be married. One that looks at the fundamental purpose of government, its means of enforcing policy, and the question of to whom the franchise should be entrusted. This was the focus of the Founding Fathers, and the reason for our Constitution. Once we ask the right questions, we’ll arrive at the right answers, and make the right choices.