Trump, McCain and ‘Chicken-hawk-ism’

The fury over Donald Trump’s slur against Sen. McCain’s time as a Vietnam War POW has obscured a larger point about “chicken-hawk-ism,” how U.S. political/media insiders hail the soldiers for “heroism” but send them into harm’s way with little appreciation of their sacrifice, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The sheer outrageousness of some of Donald Trump’s public utterances invites condemnation that is so justifiably quick and unqualified that it leads us to overlook respects in which what Trump says or stands for reflects larger patterns that many Americans do not condemn and may even support.

There is a reason that Trump moved to the top of the polls of Republican primary voters, and the reason isn’t his hair. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post addressed this phenomenon the other day in a column in which he noted how, when Trump briefly ran for the presidential nomination of the Reform Party in 2000, he distinguished himself from Pat Buchanan by taking relatively progressive positions on immigration and social issues.

Billionaire and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Billionaire and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

That’s quite a contrast with how Trump, now running for the Republican nomination, has called Mexicans a bunch of rapists. Milbank’s persuasive explanation is that what we have heard each time is much less any sincere convictions of Trump but instead the kind of red meat that he has calculated will most excite the constituency to which he happens to be appealing.

Trump’s most recent outrageous comment, his disparaging of John McCain’s military service, leads naturally and appropriately to comparing what those two individuals were doing as young men during the years in question.

Michael Miller and Fred Barbash do a good job in the Post of relating how, while McCain was stoically enduring suffering in captivity in North Vietnam and heroically resisting his captors’ demands for a “confession” in return for his release, Trump was enjoying a life of privilege, partying, and pecuniary pursuits. Student deferments and the luck of a high draft lottery number kept Trump out of the military.

Trump’s story regarding military service was little different, however, from that of many other prominent American men from the same generation who have enjoyed political success. Some of those men did much more gaming of the system than Trump did.

That was true of Bill Clinton, who cleverly worked the creaky draft board system. It was true as well of Dick (“I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service”) Cheney, who may have gone so far as to manipulate his marriage and child-siring schedule to stay out of uniform.

As for the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, he had, with the addition of a couple of years of deferment while a Mormon missionary, the same things going for him as Trump did, student deferments and a high lottery number, and thus was able, like Trump, to embark directly on a career that enriched himself through financial wheeling and dealing.

Amid a culture of American exceptionalism that is one of the most conspicuous examples in the current world of fervent nationalism, many Americans have yet to reconcile in any convincing way this overtly patriotic culture with the pattern just described regarding national service and the leaders they admire and support.

We live in an age of chicken hawks, in which those who have never served in the military tend to be, not coincidentally, some of those most supportive of, and most confident in the success of, the application of military force by the United States.

We also live in a time when collective responsibility and collective pursuits on behalf of the general welfare usually take a back seat to private pursuits. We are at least as likely to treat as heroes people who have conspicuously succeeded in private sector pursuits and sold us a better cell phone, as we would so treat anyone who has endured things while in any form of public service.

As far as the contemporary military’s place is concerned, we deal with the patriotism-vs.-private indulgence disjuncture mainly by ritualistically voicing tribute to those who wear the uniform while keeping their world separate from our world. We salute them at sporting events, we give them priority boarding at airports, and we thank them for their service in other venues. By so doing, we check a box on the patriotism list.

The lack of conscription is, of course, critical for maintaining the separation and keeping the military world from intruding messily on our own. Probably that is one reason those who served in the Vietnam War did not, at the time, get the salutations at ball parks or other shows of appreciation.

The Vietnam War also had come to be perceived, by its last couple of years and by all except a few diehard believers in the wisdom of the expedition, as a losing endeavor. And so it clashed with the American tendency to associate heroism with winning.

That, too, is a chord that Trump struck, in his outrageous way, in his insult against McCain. “He’s a war hero because he was captured,” sneered Trump. “I like people that weren’t captured.”

That brings to mind the aphorism, associated with George S. Patton, that “You don’t win wars by dying for your country. You win wars by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” Although the statement may be apocryphal, George C. Scott said it in a movie, so Americans take it as genuine wisdom.

Trump’s comment about McCain was so despicable that all, Republicans and Democrats alike, can comfortably condemn it. Another box checked. And then Americans can continue with their chicken hawkism, their focus on private pecuniary pursuits, their general disdain for public service and the public sector, their neglect of collective endeavors necessary for the general welfare, and their belief that patriotism and the military aspects of it are all about wins that we assume someone in uniform will get for us without having to discomfort ourselves with thoughts of costs and losses.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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27 comments for “Trump, McCain and ‘Chicken-hawk-ism’

  1. Terry
    July 29, 2015 at 23:59

    Does John McCain have evidence that ISIS execution videos are staged?

    According to a Ukraine hacker group, CyberBerkut, when McCain was in Ukraine in June, they managed to hack his laptop. The group has released a video retrieved from the laptop, which appears to show an ISIS execution being staged and filmed in a green-screen studio.

    Here is the hacker website: http://www.cyber-berkut.ru/en/
    Here as the ZeroHedge post: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-07-29/hackers-claim-john-mccain-knew-isis-execution-videos-were-staged

    If this is true, the damage to McCain will be unfathomable. It also questions the entire ISIS narrative.

  2. Robert
    July 24, 2015 at 21:44

    Perot’s real problem with McCain is that he believes the senator hushed up evidence that live POWs were left behind in Vietnam and even transferred to the Soviet Union for human experimentation, a charge Perot says he heard from a senior Vietnamese official in the 1980s. “There’s evidence, evidence, evidence,” Perot claims. “McCain was adamant about shutting down anything to do with recovering POWs.”

    • dahoit
      July 28, 2015 at 11:02

      No way the SU would take American prisoners.Perot was a paranoid ideologue,our bane.

  3. Mortimer
    July 24, 2015 at 10:22

    The neocon creeps that Swift-Boated Kerry in 04 are bent on defeating the Iran agreement. If they prevail War Hero McCain will achieve his desire to bomb bomb bomb – bomb bomb Iran.

    Then, once again, we’ll hear the likes of Mrs. Barbara Bush saying sick stuff like, “The dead in Iraq? Why should I disturb my beautiful mind..?”

    • Mortimer
      July 24, 2015 at 10:30

      Former First Lady Barbara Bush said of the war in Iraq: “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”

      The former First Lady made this remark on national television shortly before the commencement of the invasion of Iraq.

      The comment arose during a Good Morning America interview with the couple who were formerly President and First Lady, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. The interview was conducted by Diane Sawyer in Houston scant hours before the couple’s son, President George W. Bush, delivered a televised ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to step down from power and leave Iraq or face U.S.-led military action. The chat with the senior Bushes aired the following morning, 18 March 2003.

  4. July 24, 2015 at 03:22

    @ “we thank them for their service”

    The person who makes such utterances does no more than display their utter ignorance of why Uncle Sam fights wars. My most polite response to such a statement has been, “please do not thank me; I am not proud of what I did in the war.” But sometimes, I go beyond that and inflict some education. Recommended reading, in no particular order:

    Gary D. Barnett, Thank You for Your Service? No Thanks, LewRockwell.com (21 April 2012), http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31168.htm

    Elizabeth Samet, War, Guilt and ‘Thank You for Your Service’, Washington Monthly (2 August 2011), http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2011/08/war_guilt_and_thank_you_for_yo031250.php

    Kevin Carson, The Troops Protect Our Freedom, and Other Lies I Learned in School, Center for a Stateless Society (19 December 2009),
    http://c4ss.org/content/1558

    Arnold Oliver, Redefining Heroism, Other Words (6 November 2013), http://otherwords.org/redefining-heroism/

    Anon., The Required Blood Sacrifice, Bionic Mosquito (7 November 2013), http://bionicmosquito.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-required-blood-sacrifice.html

    Tomgram: Rory Fanning, Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175912/tomgram%3A_rory_fanning%2C_why_do_we_keep_thanking_the_troops/

    Christian Appy, Burying Vietnam, Launching Perpetual War: How Thanking the Veteran Meant Ignoring What Happened, TomDispatch (8 February 2015), http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175953/tomgram%3A_christian_appy%2C_%22honor%22_the_vietnam_veteran%2C_forget_the_war_/

    Nan Levinson, The Big Dick School of American Patriotism And What We Make of It, TomDispatch (17 March 2015), http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175969/

  5. VoxPax
    July 23, 2015 at 05:43

    Maybe that is why so many of your leaders are so easy to control?

  6. Kiza
    July 23, 2015 at 05:38

    I am no fan of Trump, but it has been forgotten very quickly that McCain’s was the first shot – he called Trump and his supporters “The crazies”.

    This was like heaven sent to Trump to strengthen his anti-establishment cred. The daddy’s “hero” called ordinary people crazies just for not supporting the “right” candidates, the ones the elite wants.

    I would not expect Trump’s popularity to continue to nomination, but Americans really appear sick and tired of the “looting elite” and their favorite (invented hero) sons.

  7. Bill Bodden
    July 22, 2015 at 20:38

    The negative attacks in this Republican brouhaha is one of the rare occasions when politicians are telling the truth.

  8. Nic Roberts
    July 22, 2015 at 20:21

    Watching sleazy plutocrat The Donald condemn even sleazier Neocon war mongers, McCain and Graham, is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.

  9. Abe
    July 22, 2015 at 15:00

    Republican chickenhawks were urging war with Iran before the 2012 presidential election https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPYfMu4KSWc

  10. Bill Bodden
    July 22, 2015 at 14:53

    As far as the contemporary military’s place is concerned, we deal with the patriotism-vs.-private indulgence disjuncture mainly by ritualistically voicing tribute to those who wear the uniform while keeping their world separate from our world.

    There is another problem with “voicing tribute to those who wear the uniform.” That is, blind allegiance to anything military. Despite My Lai, the collateral murder video, Abu Ghraib and other horrors some people go apoplectic whenever any criticism is leveled at the military, even if it is justified. Another piece of meretricious nonsense is saying that anyone in uniform is a hero. This detracts value from the word when it refers to military personnel who are genuine heroes. Everyone in uniform is a hero? The list of sinners who are not is too long to create, but just for the record are the uniformed rapists and those with higher rank who cover up for them “heroes”?

    • Bill Bodden
      July 22, 2015 at 17:56

      I knew and knew of medical personnel who served in Vietnam. Their service in that benighted country was a history of one heroic act after another. We can say something similar for the medical personnel who served in Iraq. But, I’m appalled when I hear the word “hero” applied to other military personnel whose service mainly consisted of obeying immoral orders despite one of the principles that came out of the Nuremberg Trials specified that obeying an order was no justification for committing an immoral act.

      • Kiza
        July 23, 2015 at 05:53

        Bill, a great and rare observation. One has to wonder how McCain can be a national hero for killing the Vietnamese in their own country, in a completely immoral war, started on a complete lie from the Gulf of Tonkin.

        To take the example of Germany, Nazis were also fighting for the Germany’s interests in a war which they started based on a lie (a Polish attack). Yet, you will not hear Germans now calling the Nazi fighters heros simply because they fought for the interests of Germany. Many Germans are genuinely ashamed of what the German military machines inflicted on the Europeans and others (although the Germans themselves have also been the victims of some major war crimes by the allies).

        Yet, what others nations are ashamed of when the truth comes out, the Americans appear proud of and keep gloryfying.

        • dahoit
          July 26, 2015 at 11:56

          I have a distinct feeling today that modern Germans do respect their former soldiers,and as what Hitler did is copied today by NATO,US and Israel,so I’m sure they see the total hypocrisy of it all.

          • dahoit
            July 26, 2015 at 11:59

            Over at TD they have multiple cartoons defending the warmonger McCain.sheesh,talk about stupidity.
            This is a major problem,the absolute depravity of our poohbahs defending criminals,like that Shillary.

    • dahoit
      July 25, 2015 at 13:19

      Bust the military down to tyhe national guard,put em on the borders,and voila,two problems solved,neolibconservatism and the job market,or at least the job market will rectify itself.

  11. Abe
    July 22, 2015 at 14:52

    Generation Chickenhawk: The College Republican National Convention
    https://vimeo.com/244640

  12. Abe
    July 22, 2015 at 14:48

    “Chickenhawk” from Faulty Intelligence (2004) by Roy Zimmerman
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsktNLgpCs8

  13. Mortimer
    July 22, 2015 at 13:18

    McCain’s stature as “war hero” crawls along the flunky vein of American Exceptionalism, absolutely. We tend to Proudly Hail Bombs Bursting in Air, as stated in the Star Spangled Banner.

    How many of the 88 thousand tons of bombs we unloaded on Southeast Asia were unleashed by pilot McCain? In the hearts&minds of the civilians he bombed, McCain was a War Criminal…

    As compared to “detainees” in Quantanimo, who’ve never been charged with ANYTHING – or those countless numbers of suspects detained and tortured at Black Sites all over the world, Mr. McCain is no “hero”.

    Fact is, John McCain is a huge Creep to many of his peers who know truths about this “hero”.

    Research and decide for yourself — The Horrors of John McCain: War Hero or War Criminal —
    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info
    see also The McCain POW Cover-up report circulating at http://www.lewrockwell.com

    • incontinent reader
      July 22, 2015 at 16:05

      Exactly my sentiments.

      “The Horrors of John McCain….” was originally posted at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/20/the-horrors-of-john-mccain-war-hero-or-war-criminal/

      “John McCain and the POW Cover-Up” can be found at:
      http://www.unz.com/article/mccain-and-the-pow-cover-up/
      though Gareth Porter has written an article in The American Conservative disputing the findings of of Schanberg’s investigation and report. See: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/gareth-porter/

      See also: “re: One McCain POW Lie” at: https://www.lewrockwell.com/lrc-blog/re-one-mccain-pow-lie/ which disputes the claim that McCain on his own refused early release from the North Vietnamese prison where he was interned.

      and: “Republicans Allege McCain Covered Up His Collaboration with the North Vietnamese While a POW” by Steve Rosenfield at:
      http://www.alternet.org/story/99663/republicans_allege_mccain_covered_up_his_collaboration_with_the_north_vietnamese_while_a_pow

      • Terry
        July 24, 2015 at 16:49

        I’m surprised this information eluded Mr Pillar. His suggestion that Trump’s comments are despicable sounds like the MSM apologists that are not interested in actually looking at the historical record. This does not sound like Paul Pillar, ex-CIA analyst. I suggest he follow some of the links provided above and publish an addendum to this piece.

        McCain is no hero. In fact, his actions may even be considered treasonous. He has spent a considerable effort to bury the historical record and the recordings of him, effectively collaborating with the North Vietnamese.

        Trump may be a lot of things, but he is not shy about bluntly stating what everyone is whispers for fear of public scolding. People are clearly tired of the lies of politicians and the media. Trump is turning over these rocks. McCain is one of them.

        • dahoit
          July 25, 2015 at 13:16

          Yeah,McCain is obviously not a hero in any way shape or form,merely a foot soldier of stupidity,as heroes save lives,they don’t take them,or only in defense,not offensively.
          He might be our biggest traitor,sucking on Ziodough to the detriment of America,the chucky cheese of warmongers.
          , Trump is wrong on many issues,but McCain and illegal immigration aint one of em.
          The NYTs said yesterday something about how opposing immigration is wrong;It’s illegals that we protest,not legal immigrants.

  14. Mortimer
    July 22, 2015 at 13:09

    McCain’s stature as “war hero” crawls along the flunky vein of American Exceptionalism, absolutely. We tend to Proudly Hail Bombs Bursting in Air, as stated in the Star Spangled Banner.

    How many of the 88 thousand tons of bombs we unloaded on Southeast Asia were unleashed by pilot McCain? In the hearts&minds of the civilians he bombed, McCain was a War Criminal…

    As compared to “detainees” in Quantanimo, who’ve never been charged with ANYTHING – or those countless numbers of suspects detained and tortured at Black Sites all over the world, Mr. McCain is no “hero”.

    Fact is, John McCain is a huge Creep to many of his peers who know truths about this “hero”.

    Research and decide for yourself — The Horrors of John McCain: War Hero or War Criminal —
    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info
    see also the McCain report circulating at http://www.lewrockwell.com

  15. Aman
    July 22, 2015 at 12:44

    There seems to be huge question of what patriotism is today.

    Where was the bulk of our career Military and intelligence people when the Bush administration cooked up the lies to invade 2003 Iraq on false pretenses — a domestic as well as an international crime?

    Where was the press at that time?

    And yet many of these people intentionally went far out of their way to help mislead the country or “stood by” and said nothing while they knew the truth was something other than what was being presented by either the media or the official government itself.

    How many human lives and trillions of dollars has all of that “heroism” cost US to date?

    No wonder the public is confused — the government and the media networks like them that way!

  16. Joe Tedesky
    July 22, 2015 at 12:43

    The American society has now officially entered the world of ‘Reality TV’. Trump is the go to guy on this one, no doubt about it. What Trump should have brought up is how Senator McCain at every crossroad has stood in the way of releasing Vietnam POW information. Google it, and you will see how McCain has become the POW’s families worst advocate. I won’t judge McCain for whatever happened to him while held prisoner in Vietnam. I am not sure what I, or anyone else would have done under the same conditions. Yet, McCain appears to be hiding something when it comes to us knowing more about the plight of our U.S. POW’s. BTW, most average people I run into are getting a kick out of Trump. They all say the same thing, and that is they like his outspokenness. Did any of you get Lindsey Graham’s phone number?

    • mark
      July 31, 2015 at 08:27

      hiding something? see cyberberkut video they hacked from mccains laptop

Comments are closed.