by Stephen Schwartz
U.S. Rep. John Murtha, Demagogue, oh sorry, Democrat of Johnstown, Pa., could be called the "Johnstown Flood" in terms of dishonest rhetoric about the Bush administration and the Iraq war. In one of his more ridiculous comments, mirthless Moutha attacked Karl Rove for "sitting in his air-conditioned office on his big, fat backside," when Mr. Rove warned against cutting and running from completion of the tasks in Iraq that should have been concluded in 1991, but were not. This raises a few perhaps-frivolous questions: does Congressman Moutha decline air-conditioning of his office? Does he stand on his head while working in said office instead of sitting on his backside?
Congressman Moutha is among the loudest supporters of the perfidious propaganda labeling supporters of the Iraq liberation effort "chicken hawks" if they did not serve the U.S. in military combat. He has shamelessly exploited his own military record (for which he deserves respect but no special authority) in his jihad against the administration. According to the Congressman, it's "easy" to repudiate the call to cut and run from the horrors of Baghdad while sitting in the safety of Washington. Of course, it's even easier to call for the Iraqis to be abandoned to the tender mercies of the terrorists from Johnstown. From this side of the Atlantic, it's apparently become easy to argue that Islamofascism is simply no threat to America, almost five years after September 11.
Some also called it easy for Franklin Roosevelt to advocate military action against the terror of Hitler and his allies (FDR seldom referred to them as fascists, but preferred calling them terrorists). After all, he never served in the armed forces at all. Nor did Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, or James K. Polk. Was Jefferson a "chicken hawk" when he sent Americans to fight the Barbary pirates? Or Polk, during the Mexican-American War? Jefferson even declared his willingness to defy Congress in the interest of defending the nation, if it should prove necessary.
Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest war presidents (John Moutha should have heard of him, since Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania), joined a state militia for three months but never saw combat. Presidents Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson had no military experience. Was President Wilson a "chicken hawk"? He was reelected in 1916 as the man who "kept us out of war" but soon took the U.S. into World War I. President Warren Harding, who let the antiwar socialist Eugene Debs out of prison, did not serve in the military. Nor did his successors Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. And then there was Bill Clinton. Were they all "chicken hawks?"
Even worse, those who call supporters of the Iraq intervention "chicken hawks" if they are not combat veterans seem to argue that military professionals, rather than the civilian power, should decide whether the U.S. government should commit to the use of armed force. Perhaps Congressman Moutha has learned something about the constitutional dimension of this issue in his legislative tenure; perhaps not. For myself, I will never forget the shock and outrage of certain Washington wonks when, after they verbally assaulted then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz for his criticism of military pusillanimity toward Iraq, I pointed out to them that in the American system, Wolfowitz then held authority over the combat veterans in the services. On the other hand, nobody would presumably call Don Rumsfeld, a naval aviator who never saw action, a "chicken hawk."
But let us look further into the logic behind the "chicken hawk" smear. Who would meet Moutha's standard for wartime responsibilities? Only those who saw front-line combat? Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan entered the armed services but never came near enemy fire. Paul Wolfowitz was highly educated in mathematics and political science. Is it probable that, had he volunteered for the armed forces, he would have been sent into the infantry? No, he probably would have been kept in officer roles, dealing with strategic and tactical decision-making. And what about all those clerks, cooks, communications experts, quartermasters, and other personnel who serve away from the front lines, even in the Marines? Is status as a patriot and veteran appropriate only for those carrying field packs and weapons and watching their comrades getting killed?
What about the U.S. Merchant Marine? Merchant mariners are highly-paid labor union members and were so during World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as in supplying the Iraq operation. Were those seafarers who went back repeatedly to crew ships after their vessels were torpedoed out from under them in the cold waters of the North Atlantic during World War II "chicken hawks" seeking to avoid battle? Some isolationists, Nazi sympathizers, and general grumblers enjoyed making such claims then, just as Congressman Moutha does today. And the charge is as dishonorable now as it was in 1942. Almost 10,000 merchant seamen were killed in U.S. ships or died of their wounds during that war – five times the number of our combat troops killed, so far, in Iraq. Few of them had a chance to learn how to fire a weapon.
What about journalists who have covered wars without being embedded and who have seen their colleagues killed? Are they "chicken hawks" if they did not serve in uniform? Some have been so accused. What about human rights and anti-Communist activists who went into countries like Poland, before the fall of the Soviet empire, to assist in the removal of dictatorships, without carrying any weapons, fancy technology, or other means of protection? Are they "chicken hawks" as well?
The right to criticize the administration's policy in Iraq is what we are fighting to defend, there and elsewhere in the world. Nobody can or should think of taking that right away from anybody who has not been involved with terrorist or subversive activities. But it is time for the "Johnstown Flood" of lies and insults to end. Congressman Moutha should remember his Marine oath as well as his Congressional oath of office and quit serving the interest of the enemy with his defeatist declamations.