Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Yellow Elephant In The Room

My own little contribution to Jesus' General's crusade, which had merits and movement even before gaining steam with recent dispatches that detail the astounding cowardice of the rightwing's war cheerleaders:

Following Dear Leader's latest speech, even such ordinarily congenitally, spontaneously vile hacks such as the NRO crowd are acknowledging that too few of their fellow wingnuts are putting their money, as it were, where their mouth is. Here's John Derbyshire:

"There is no higher calling than service in our armed forces." That would ring a little less hollow if this country's ruling classes were better represented in the military. In fact the military is a lower-middle-class and working-class occupation, which U.S. elites avoid like the plague.

True. Derbyshire's commentary had to have made his colleague Jonah Goldberg more than a little fidgetty.

Goldberg is the most infamous chickenhawk of the chattering classes, the perfect counterpart to Bush's supreme infamy among the ruling class chickenhawks. Apart from his own uniquely pathetic excuse-making for not signing-up for military service, Goldberg also leans on the self-revising defense of "Armchair Generals" served-up by Christopher Hitchens. (Hitchens has recently typed a similar defense of older war-lovers who carefully shield their own children from military service while constantly calling on other people's children to fight and die in their stead.)

Well I, too, can lean on a Hitchens essay, but in this instance for making a case against Goldberg and his fellow chickenhawks:

...On television and in their syndicated columns, leading conservatives like George "Triumph of the" Will excoriate liberals for their reluctance to use force and for their generally bleeding-heart attitude. Meanwhile, the glistening pectorals of Sylvester Stallone have become inescapable as Rambo stalks the land, growling out of the side of his mouth about the stab in the back that "our boys" received from unnamed pointy-heads.

But, as Kipling showed long ago, patriotism and jingoism are not by any means the same thing. Jane Mayer in The Wall Street Journal, and the less surprising Jack Newfield in The Village Voice, decided to take a look... What they found was what social scientists might call an inverse correlation. The louder a man shouts for bombing and strafing, the less likely he is to have felt the weight of a pack. There are pitiful examples of this, like the former Reaganite Congressman Bruce Caputo, who actually fabricated a Vietnam War record, deceived even his own staff, and was finally given the breeze by the electorate he had hoodwinked. And there are grandiose examples, like the President himself, who convinced Yitzhak Shamir that he had personally taken part in the liberation of the concentration camps, and who repeated the story to other auditors until his handlers and speechwriters admitted that he had never left Hollywood between Pearl Harbor and Potsdam. Mostly, though, the proponents of militarism are simply inglorious.

Congressman [Bob] Dornan, for example, turned out to have been rather a cautious reservist throughout the Vietnam War. Congressman [Dan] Lundgren, he of the Contras and the tae kwon do, was eligible for the draft between 1964 and 1970, but now says: "I had a knee injury from football." Newt Gingrich, who last year told Congress, "I am the very tough-minded son of a career soldier," was eligible from 1961 to 1969 but took the prudent course of a student deferment and told The Wall Street Journal: "What difference would I have made? There was a bigger battle in Congress than in Vietnam." Arguably true, but since he took part in neither... Best of all, from the aesthetic point of view, is Sylvester Stallone himself. He dodged the draft in the most agreeable possible way, hiding in Switzerland as coach to a private school for girls...

..And there's nothing wrong in wishing that you had had a good war, but something, well, rum about pretending that you did. Something rummer still about defaming those who opposed the last war or who are unenthusiastic about the next.

The green-eyed monster must be at work somewhere. As it happens, the leading "doves" (ludicrous term) have rather more to show on their chests and sleeves. The new Senator from Massachusetts, for example, John Kerry, was a renowned officer in Vietnam but also helped found Vietnam Veterans Against the War. George McGovern was a decorated bomber pilot in World War II. Congressman Andrew Jacobs, who originated the idea of calling the rightist bluffers "war wimps," was a marine in Korea.

And the coincidences are extraordinary. Look into the past of any rabid patriot of the moment -- and you will find that they wrangled a job at the base. There never was such a collection of bad knees, weak lungs, urgent academic priorities, or, as in the case of Stallone, sheer bloody gall...

...The open secret about the American Armed Forces is that, by rank and file, they are composed of poor blacks, Hispanics, and rural whites... Both sides wage class war on the point: the Right by suggesting that the liberals are out of touch with "grass-roots America" and the liberals by alleging that the Right only fancies the plebians as cannon fodder.

...[E]verybody agrees, somewhere in his heart, that there ought to be some connection between what you believe and how you behave, what you advocate for others and how you live yourself. At the moment, the gap is more conspicuous in the case of the summer soldiers and sunshine patriots...

This was published in late summer 1985 by the Spectator (U.K.).

I should pause to note that in one important aspect, Hitchens has not revised himself. In parts that I excised, he firmly states his opposition to the word he admits is superficially amusing (enough so, it seems, that he used it as the essays's title) but, on reflection, decides is too vulgar and philistine to be used decently: "chickenhawks". All the same, the arguments above against rightwing hypocrisy and cowardice hold up nicely -- which, of course, cannot be said of Hitchens himself.

Still, though, without saying the word, he can continue to call spades spades provided the chickenhawks in question are not the Republican fuckwits who are his new allies. Here's Hitchens reporting on Iran:

But Iran's problem is not a surplus of orphans. It is, rather, that the country is afflicted with a vast population of grieving parents and relatives, whose sons and daughters and nephews and nieces were thrown away in the ghastly eight-year war with Saddam Hussein, and who were forced to applaud the evil "human wave" tactics of shady clergymen who promised heaven to the credulous but never cared to risk martyrdom themselves. [My Emphasis.]

He still knows a chickenhawk when he sees one, and can make the essential point, if loathe to use the actual word. He's just not about to deploy the argument against his own newly sacred cows (to mix zoological metaphors) in Washington.

But then Hitchens himself is not the point. Rather, the point is that the 101st Keyboard Kowards lean on his self-revisionist defences of their current armchair cowardice and boffo hypocrisy without knowing or caring to know that his better arguments condemn them (via their immediate political ancestors) for the same reasons.

It's one thing that wingnuts are such jock-sniffers as well as so bitterly envious of those among their political enemies who have served bravely and with distinction (Kerry, Clark); it's another thing altogether that they affect such martial attitudes from the safety of their parents' basements for the purpose of enabling policies and actions which get other people, and other people's children, killed. Practice what you preach, wingnuts, or shut the fuck up.


Update: See Crooked Timber and Roger Ailes.