On CNN’s Reliable Sources this weekend, former CBS anchor Dan Rather weighed in on the escalating ISIS situation by reflecting on the 2003 military build-up prior to Iraq (a mistake of “historic proportions”) and reviving one of its most popular and cheap smears: Hawks, he said, should be prepared to send their own kids to battle or shut up.
My first question to anyone who’s on television saying ‘We have to get tough, we have to put boots on the ground, we have to go to war in one of these places’ is: I will hear you out if you tell me you are prepared to send your son, your daughter, your grandson, your granddaughter to that war for which you are beating the drums. If you aren’t I have no patience with you, and don’t even talk to me.
Well, if that’s your first question, you’re not really engaged in any serious thinking about a legitimate humanitarian and national security concern that – whether you believe we need to get “tough” or not – surely deserve our attention. You’re attempting to depict your political opponents as hypocrites and warmongers – which is a pundit’s prerogative, of course. Rather’s comments were gleefully tweeted out by a number of progressives.
Yet, no person is compelled to join the United States military. And the decisions we make on where and how to deploy it are deliberately and clearly vested with civilians –civilians that, for the most part, have absolutely no intimate link to the military. Civilian control is integral to preservation of a liberal state. If the president of the United States has the power to bomb Libya or Iraq without “sending” his daughters to military service, surely other citizens have a similar right to express their views. The consequences and successes of those ventures are shared by everyone in a political establishment put in place by voters.
Judging from the geographical origins of those who have joined the military, one suspects that their families would not be as averse to military interventionism as Rather might imagine. Surely most people agree that it would not be a good idea to rely solely on those who are emotionally vested in the military to make all the decisions regarding the security of the nation. The chickenhawk attack also implies that those fighting or related to someone fighting have a deeper wisdom regarding peace and war because they risk losing someone. Does that mean every women past draft age should be told to shut up? Every disabled person? What about future parents? What if they don’t have children or grandchildren to send to Iraq? Do they shut up, too?
Another irritating aspect of the chickenhawk accusation, is the idea that pundits have the power to do anything other than make an argument. Despite what you’ve heard, neoconservative columnist are not – thankfully – bequeathed with the authority to institute policy. Blaming pundits rather than voters is a coward’s way out of talking about the history of our intervention in Iraq. Moreover, in the end, neoconservative pundits can’t even send their daughter, sons or grandchildren to war, anyway. Young adults make the decision to join one of the branches of the armed forces – either because of patriotism or the promise of benefits (or probably both) — and with the clear understanding that civilians may decide to send them somewhere to fight.