Time to play a little game of “let’s pretend.” Let’s pretend that people who refer to civilian proponents of a war with Iraq as “chickenhawks” — or “chickenbloggers,” in our little corner of the universe — want to make a point and not just hurl playground taunts. Let’s pretend they are actually interested in the logic of their own position. Hell, let’s go all out and pretend that Philip Shropshire is a serious person.

With me so far? Now let’s construct the actual syllogism of the “chickenblogger” argument. The minor premise (A) is simple: Dr. Weevil (or the warblogger of your choice) is a civilian who supports a war with Iraq. The conclusion (C) is simple: Said warblogger’s opinions are invalid. We just have to get from A to C. What’s our major premise?

Here’s one possibility. Only the opinions of military personnel on military matters (e.g. war with Iraq) are valid. This presents certain difficulties. As Eliot Cohen points out, the question of whether to invade Iraq is strategic, not operational. History does not indicate that soldiers are any better, or even as good, at geopolitics than civilians. And of course this would exclude not only the despised warbloggers, but also Shropshire and company themselves — throwing the bathwater out with the baby, as it were — and leave our foreign policy to be decided by a military junta. That can’t be what they have in mind.

Better try again. The only pro-war opinions that are valid are those of military personnel. This lets Shropshire keep pontificating, but it doesn’t make much sense. Does support for war require experience of war? Why should that be? Does support for flush toilets require taking a job in the sewer? Does support for eating steak require touring the slaughterhouse? This can’t be right either.

The usual answer is that only veterans have the proper “perspective.” Here’s Korean War veteran Woody Powell, the “national administrator of Veterans for Peace,” who sounds long overdue for gainful employment:

I think if they had had the sobering experience of war — they don’t even have to have been in combat, but if they had just walked around and looked at the bodies one time — they might have a little more perspective on the decisions that they are making. If they haven’t smelled the scent of napalm, if they haven’t heard the bullets going by them, they just really aren’t acquainted with what they’re dealing with in a visceral sense. They need to smell it, and it doesn’t smell good.

Powell vacillates on how much perspective is enough. Will looking at bodies suffice, or do you have to smell the napalm and hear the bullets going by as well? Most important, he neglects to tell us how this alleged perspective makes the case against war with Iraq. Apparently to the veteran, no explanation is necessary; to the civilian, none is possible. “Perspective,” in this context, means, “I have no argument.”

In fact there is no logical way to get from A to C. Every conceivable major premise is ad hominem. The arguments for and against war stand or fall on their merits, whether their proponent served in the military, has flat feet and asthma, or murdered his family with an axe. This would suffice to bury “chickenhawk” if the people who employ it wanted to argue instead of call names. Like I said, let’s pretend.

Aaron Haspel | Posted September 8, 2002 @ 4:03 PM | General

11 Responses to “Chickenblogging, or, Where’s My Major Premise?”

  1. 1 1. mark riebling

    Aaron, I would submit this piece at once to NRO. In fact, I will do it for you. You would strenghten your case by referencing Samuel P. Huntington’s THE SOLDIER AND THE STATE, but it’s not necessary. Point is that the Pentagon is quite deliberately put under civilian management: The Secretary of Defense CANNOT be a member of the military. That’s important.


  2. 2 2. Norman Kabir

    But the secretary of defense and the commander in chief *should* be able to put together cogent arguments. Unfortunately, that is not the case. All of the sudden, violating a U.N. resolution is a big no-no?

    Big fat yellow streaks aside–we are talking about schoolyard victims who scour the Internet for straw men and gleefully tear them apart as our 49-year old asthmatic and our gun toting Unix guru so perfectly illustrate–I think it’s the blatant hypocrisy and inconsistency (along with the comforting detachment of the Internet) that undermines the poorly cobbled arguments of our chickenbloggers and their comrades in arms.

    Check this out for a good laugh.
    http://nhgazette.com/chickenhawks.html


  3. 3 3. Hesiod

    Chickenblogging and being a Chickenhawk are not the same thing.

    Your whole premise is flawed.

    Sorry.


  4. 4 4. Aaron Haspel

    Is that supposed to be a rebuttal? How, when my argument applies to any pro-war civilian, could it possibly be consequential if they blog or not?


  5. 5 5. Hesiod

    "Chickenblogging" has NOTHING to do with the Chickenhawk concept.

    Are there Chickenhawks who are ALSO Chickenbloggers? Yes. Lots of them.

    Chickenblogging denotes a style of argument or rhetoric. It has nothing to do with ideology, although it seems to be practiced most frequently by those on the conservative side of the spectrum.

    It involves pickng out minutiae or erecting straw men, and beating them to death without addressing the most powerful or troublesome arguments of your opponent. It also denotes a belittling debate style.

    It advances ad hominem attacks, and irrelevant nitpicking in place of substantive debate.


  6. 6 6. Aaron Haspel

    Since it’s your term, so far as I can tell, you are entitled to define it as you like. A few questions, however.

    First, isn’t the whole point of the "chicken" prefix to draw an analogy with the "chickenhawk" slur? If not, what’s particularly "chicken" about ad hominem attacks and irrelevant nitpicking?

    Second, if this is not confined to the right, and I’m sure it’s not, would you care to cite some examples of left-wing "chickenbloggers"?

    Finally, do you accept my argument that "chickenhawk" is a slur, since you didn’t address it?


  7. 7 7. Hesiod

    "Since it’s your term, so far as I can tell, you are entitled to define it as you like. A few questions, however.

    First, isn’t the whole point of the "chicken" prefix to draw an analogy with the "chickenhawk" slur? If not, what’s particularly "chicken" about ad hominem attacks and irrelevant nitpicking?"

    When you don’t address your opponents arguments, head on, and instead attack peripheral issues in a whiney, smug, self-serving manner, you are displaying cowardice. Hence the "chicken" prefix.

    "Second, if this is not confined to the right, and I’m sure it’s not, would you care to cite some examples of left wing "chickenbloggers"?

    Why? You know the definition. You can find them for yourself.

    "Finally, do you accept my argument that "chickenhawk" is a slur, since you didn’t address it?"

    Sure it’s a slur. Just like "Appeaser," is a slur. In some cases "liberal," or "conservative" are slurs.

    It depends on who’s axe is being gored, doesn’t it?

    Incidentally, while you exhibit a very reasonable tone in your comments section, you expressed a rather "chickenbloggerish" tone in Dr. Weevil’s comments section.

    You doubt the sincerity of my definition?

    As you said, it’s my word. Therefore, doesn’t that mean MY definition of the term is definitive?


  8. 8 8. Bob Leahy

    ‘You doubt the sincerity of my definition’

    Not to put words in Aaron’s mouth, but the sense I got from the comments here and at Weevil’s place is that it is not your sincerlity but your hypocrisy in using the term chickenblogger that is at issue. I have not yet seen you address any issue head on in all the arguments I’ve seen you in on blogs. According to you, every person arguing the other side of an issue is doing so because they are a liar, chickenhawk, chickenblogger, whatever – or their position is not one you can take seriously because of some irrelevant and baseless charge against GWB or his relations.

    Your hypocrisy is constantly illustrated everywhere I see you post. Your posts in every case end up opining in exactly the manner that you decry yourself in the comments you’ve made in this thread.


  9. 9 9. Aaron Haspel

    "Chickenblogger," then, as I understand it, is intended to impute cowardice to bloggers who resort to ad hominem attacks. OK. But isn’t there a certain irony in disparaging ad hominem with a term that is itself ad hominem?

    Or perhaps it’s a sort of joke, and I’m missing it.


  10. 10 10. Hesiod

    Ad hominems, in and of themselves, are not "chickenblogging." It’s the combination of harping on tangential issues or strawmen, COMBINED with a bitchy tone, or ad hominem debating style.

    Weevil’s attack on me over this whole "Theogeny" vs. "Theogony" issue is a CLASSIC example.

    He’s using it to derisively attack me, to belittle my arguments, and to avoid debating on substance.

    When, in reality, no one but his sycophantic followers even CARES about it. And, quite frankly, if I were not someone who had pissed him off, he’d probably not have been so petty.

    In any event, I appreciate that you have engaged in this with some civility [at least on YOUR site, which is interesting]. You apparently don’t want to Sully [that’s capitalized for a reason] your own blog with discourteous arguments.


  11. 11 11. Andrew S.

    Hesiod wrote: ‘Ad hominems, in and of themselves, are not "chickenblogging." It’s the combination of harping on tangential issues or strawmen, COMBINED with a bitchy tone, or ad hominem debating style.’

    Irony– overload!

    Can’t– stand– irony! Must– get– air!


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