Tuesday, July 24, 2007


From Gracchi:

"I agonised for months about the Afghanistan war and the ethics of supporting a war as an adult whilst not being willing to fight in it. There are circumstances in which it is possible to do that- most of the wars of today are fought with volunteer and not conscript armies- and there are people who whilst being incapable of holding a gun are definitely capable of holding a view. One of my best friends was a strong supporter of the Iraq war, but his coordination is such that if ever handed a gun his own safety would be in more danger than anyone else's! Having said that he is remarkably intelligent- to send him to war would be to endanger his life- whereas to have him say as a foreign office bureacrat would be to save others' lives.

The point though is that within Republican students and Republican commentators is a kind of resurgent masculinity- that going to war proves that you are manly and stand up for your principles- that not supporting a war in another country, like Iraq, is proving you hold 'girly' opinions or that you are a weedy academic. That war is good for its own sake- that all problems can be solved through the use of military force. It isn't in my view incumbent on Republicans to go to war to prove their credentials to advocate war- but I think they lay themselves open to the chicken hawk accusation by using these militaristic arguments- by demeaning those that oppose their justifications as traitors, by saying that support for war is a token of courage."

Many conservatives accused Miliband of political cowardice in not running for the Labour leadership against Gordon Brown. They weren't running themselves; "Chicken-Labourites!"

The chicken-hawk tag is inherently ridiculous. All of us with a mind to doing some service to our community choose how we can best contribute to the society in which we live. It was, and remains, my judgement that I can contribute more through working in politics than through becoming a soldier. If there is a war that will increase the need for soldiers, however, unless I think my choice between researcher and soldier was made near the margin that should not change my decision. Allowing fear to prevent you taking a risk that your community needs you to take can be called ‘cowardice’. Taking an unnecessary risk by following a career you are ill-suited for just to prove your courage should be called 'foolish'. Supporting a war that I do not expect to take part in is about as hypocritical as eating a burger made from a cow that I did not personally slaughter.

Now, on to Gracchi's assertion that the 'chicken-hawk' tag is appropriate for those who accuse ideological opponents of cowardice but are not soldiers:

Accussing a pacifist of physical cowardice is obviously ridiculous. Most pacifists aren't in the army so even if there was a war they wouldn't face any danger in a modern day, assymetrical, conflict. Don't call a non-soldier making an accusation of physical cowardice a 'chicken-hawk'; call them 'ridiculous'. Only when people start making the argument that we need to compromise some value or change some decision in order to appease terrorists does the accusation of a lack of physical courage start to make sense.

However, most people who call their ideological opponents' foreign policy stance cowardly are not accusing them of physical cowardice. Gracchi appears to have over simplified the nature of accusations of cowardice in foreign policy. The accusation is that the pacifist is morally cowardly. That they are unwilling to face the moral risk of war, the risk that the war will turn out poorly and we will be morally implicated in the ensuing problems. That they are saying, in effect, "people may be killed but it's okay so long as we don't have to do any killing".

Now, it may be that those who accuse pacifists of moral cowardice are wrong. It may be that the moral risk of war is not worth taking and the pacifists are right to be wary of it. It may be that many or all with pacifistic views on foreign policy oppose war for some other reason. However, the charge of cowardice in foreign policy, even when that charge is made by a politician or journalist is not necessarily hypocritical. Hawks are evidently quite willing to take the moral risk of war.

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