Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Brain of the Chickenhawk

I used to wonder how to define cowardice. I don't anymore. Some think cowardice is running away when you're scared. I don't. Everyone has a breaking point. I'd never hold it against anyone if he ran. Under the right circumstances, I'd run. Right time, right place, everyone would.

Cowardice is when people insist that others fight while they won't fight themselves. To use the phrase popular today, they're armchair-warrior chickenhawks. Want some names? Rush Limbaugh, William Kristol, Max Boot, Jonah Goldberg, Dick Cheney. Every one of them went out of his way to avoid military service, yet now urges � no, insists! � others to fight and die.

Limbaugh is one of the more amusing of the chickenhawk cowards, since the persistent rumor is that he declined military service during Vietnam by claiming he had a cyst on his butt, and a bad knee from high school football (his coach said he never hurt his knee). How can he not be embarrassed about this? Yet recently on his program he was calling the generals in Iraq "George McClellans" for not moving fast enough for his taste.

George McClellan was a Civil War general who was reluctant to send his soldiers into battle, claiming he needed more men, training and materiel. Yet the eternal combat virgin Limbaugh, sitting on his former cyst and never-hurt knee, and thousands of miles from the front, possesses the ignorance, arrogance and cowardice to try to direct military operations from behind a microphone.

Then we have Dick Cheney, who avoided Vietnam with five deferments, claiming he had "other priorities." Sounds like he was almost terrifed about not joining the military.

These men are deserving of nothing but contempt. They're cowards, all of them. They think they are so intellectually and morally superior to everyone else that it gives them the right to reduce other people to the status of things. That's why they can so casually send others to die, while they won't fight. They think they're indispensable, but believe those they urge to die are expendable.

The graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable.

If anyone's expendable, it's these armchair-warrior chickenhawk cowards. Removed from power � which will happen someday, when people finally see through them � life in the US, and the world, will improve.

These people's problem, ultimately, is hubris, which I believe is the basis of almost all crime, and is a crime itself. Hubris is one thinking he is so grandiose it gives him the right to run roughshod over the rights of others. People afflicted with hubris believe, to repeat what I just wrote, that "they are so intellectually and morally superior to everyone else it gives them the right to reduce other people to the status of things." Hubris is thinking you're indispensable.

Hubris is an old sin, not only the worst but probably the first. It's the sin of Satan, who thought he should be God and didn't mind killing anyone who got in his way. Do the people in the current administration think they are god-like? If they don't, why are they so hell-bent on sending others to fight and die while they won't go themselves?

How do these people turn out like this? Is this what power and privilege does to the weak? Is this what happens when the foolish and stubborn gain political power? Is it what happens when people don't grow up?

Sometimes I think that Robert Bly had it right. A dozen or so years ago he wrote a book called Iron John, about the lack of modern initiation rights for males. It some ways it's a vague, meandering book written by a much-too-chatty poet, but his main point is right on the mark: these days there are no initiation rites for young men.

In the past, in nearly every culture, these rites were performed at the age of 12, initiating the boy into manhood. Today, we send 12-year-olds to middle school, and then wonder why society and schools have such problems with them.

Is this lack of initiation rites the problem with these armchair-warrior chickenhawk cowards? Are they still in some ways 12 years old? They've never grown up, maybe? They're trying to prove they're men by starting wars? They're trying to overcome their childishness and become men by murdering innocent people?

I recently saw Donald Rumsfeld raise his arms in a cheer when he heard about American victories in Iraq. He looked like a middle-schooler at a football game. What is he, 71 years old � and has never grown up? And he's proud the US demolished a fourth-rate country like Iraq? What sort of childish megalomania is that?

Maybe all these chickenhawks need to taken out in the woods and subjected to the ritual death and rebirth that all cultures visit on their 12-year-old boys. Then maybe they would be transformed into the men they're trying to be, and without starting unnecessary wars.

Maybe one of the purposes of these ancient rites is to overcome childish hubris. Thomas Hobbes made the oh-so-accurate observation, "The evil man is the child grown strong." An adult understands hubris and fights against it in himself. Children don't even know what it is.

I think these rites are a pretty nifty idea. Imagine Limbaugh, Boot, Goldberg, Perle, Wolfowitz...all of them, sitting in the woods, smeared with chicken blood, feathers in their hair, beating tom-toms and dancing around a bonfire. If George Bush had gone through something like this, maybe he wouldn't have graduated college at age 29 (and this from a man who didn't a work a day in his life!). Or maybe, even today, he wouldn't be a little boy still trying to impress Daddy.

Then they can say, "At last, we are men." Then, with their heads on straight, they'll cease to be bullies and cowards, and won't be so eager to send soldiers into quagmires.

It's either that, or we'll continue to be ruled by kids in adult's bodies.

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