Friday, October 09, 2009

The Shame and Cowardice of the Chickenhawk

by Bob Wallace

The usual definition of a chickenhawk is someone who supports war but actively avoids fighting. Whenever I think of one, what comes to my mind are Young Republicans, but also leftists, who are just as bad if not worse.

A writer, whose name unfortunately completely escapes me, said the aforementioned definition is not totally accurate. A better one is that a chickenhawk is someone who believes supporting war is a sign of his personal bravery and patriotism, and is convinced that those who oppose war, for whatever principled and thoughtful reasons, are always cowards and traitors.

Still, chickenhawks are cowards. Why, then, can they not see what they are?

There is only one reason: They deceive themselves as to what they truly are. They idealize themselves as proud, brave and patriotic, while others, more clear-sighted, see them for what they are: cowards who will do nothing except stand on the sidelines and yell, "Okay, throw the ball here! Now throw it over there!"

When people refuse to see their bad qualities (what Jung called their Shadows), there is only one thing they can do to protect their self-delusion: project those qualities on other people. Here is an example: when leftists talk about "hate" (which they do all the time), they are projecting their own unacknowledged hate onto other people.

Chickenhawks are the same: They cannot acknowledge their own cowardice, so they must project it onto others. Those Others, to the chickenhawk, are the cowards and traitors, not the chickenhawk.

Yet, the chickenhawk must know, somewhere deep inside, that he is a coward, and so has to be ashamed of himself. How does he cover up his shame? With pride. Pride on top, hiding shame underneath.

The first time I ran across that formulation of pride covering shame was in John le Carre's novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, when he wrote of Leamas' "protective arrogance concealing shame."

Plato once wrote, "The cause of all sins in every case lies in the person's excessive love of self." I wouldn't call what he's writing about "self love." Excessive pride, arrogance, grandiosity, yes, but not self-love.

The social researcher James Gilligan, who spent 35 years dealing with prisoners, wrote, "Shame . . . motivates not confession but concealment of whatever one feels ashamed of." Guilt, he writes, can on the other hand lead to confession and penance.

He also writes, “…people who feel ashamed typically attempt to diminish that painful feeling both by assuming attitudes of arrogance, self-importance, and boastfulness.”

We'll never see confession and penance from chickenhawks, because they have no guilt. And it's a lot easier to admit guilt than shame. And chickenhawks' shame and cowardice is something they will not, cannot, admit. So they project it onto others: “You should be ashamed of yourself for being a coward who’s not supporting our country and its wars.”

I believe the average chickenhawk must be exceptionally narcissistic, which is correctly defined as splitting things into all-good and all-bad – idealization and devaluation. The chickenhawk has to see himself as all good (brave and patriotic), so his own unacknowledged badness (his cowardice) has to be projected onto others.

The late M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist, called this kind of projection “the genesis of human evil.” If he’s correct, and I believe he is, then what chickenhawks are doing, in their self-deception, their unacknowledged cowardice, their arrogance and grandiosity, and their scapegoating of the innocent, is evil.

I sometimes wonder if chickenhawks ever think about how they would handle combat. I think they'd do what a soldier friend of mine saw another soldier do: brag to everyone how tough and brave he was (pride), but when the first shot was fired, he turned and ran (shaming himself).

It's probably a good thing chickenhawks aren't in the military: their cowardice and incompetence would probably get innocent soldiers killed. No, not probably. Would.

There's an old saying -- and I have no idea where it's from -- that the best warriors are the least war-like. I will nod and agree with it.

Why in the world anyone listens to chickenhawks is beyond me. Would anyone in his right mind listen to any coward about anything? All of them should be laughed at and ridiculed into silence -- because the one thing no coward can stand is to be laughed at.