Chickenhawks

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Several hawkish bloggers have embraced the chickenhawk image. Why, you may ask? Because red-tailed hawks, AKA chickenhawks, are pretty vicious predators that eat chickens, rats, and mice. I had to defend my chickens from one when I was in high school. It wasn't a pretty sight. It would have been tough to deal with if it hadn't injured a wing on the barbs at the top of the fence on its way in. It succeeded in killing two hens and turning a third into a skinhead for the rest of her life before we got out there and let the dogs into the fence to chase it out. It didn't get to eat any, at least, but it did get away from the dogs once it was free of the fence that it couldn't fly over with its wing injury.

The first thing that occurred to me when I first heard the term 'chickenhawk' as a pejorative political term (whose first use, by the way, seems to have been long before the war on terrorism in 1986) is that only a sheltered city slicker who doesn't know what a chickenhawk is really like could come up with such an ignorant mismatch. They must have thought it was funny to speak of those who are hawkish on the war on terrorism as if they're really chickens, since chickens often represent cowardice. But choosing one of chickens' most vicious predators doesn't have quite the same effect as calling someone a chicken. It's hard to find a good analogy, but it involves two mistakes. One mistake is analogus to calling someone a sloth-killing jaguar because they're lazy. The other is analogous to using the butterfly as an image of ugliness on the ground that flies are ugly, and the word 'fly' is part of the word 'butterfly'. It sounds pretty stupid in those cases, but somehow when both errors are combined people will find it more plausible, since the two mistakes mask each other.

It never occurred to me to start a movement embracing the chickenhawk as a symbol of hawkishness, but I guess it's fitting given how much more sense it makes to use a vicious predator as a positive symbol of effectiveness in battle.

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Chicken hawks from Uncle Sam's Cabin on May 11, 2006 8:27 AM

I always found it amusing when someone who didn't support the war in Iraq called someone who did support the war a chicken hawk. Regardless of how the term came to be applied to war supporters I always wondered if these people realised that chicken h... Read More

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The sheltered city slickers you refer to may have been thinking of the chickenhawk of Looney Toons/Foghorn Leghorn fame. He was always outsized, talking tough in a squeaky voice, and failing in his attempts.

I don't think he was a coward, though, just an ineffective little punk.

Vietnam war. The original phrase was "chicken-hawk," meaning someone who was all for war, so long as someone else went to fight it -- someone like Dick Cheney who may have set a world record for draft deferments (five times? It was a bunch), all the time claiming to support the war completely.

So the original reference was to a hawk (meaning pro-Vietnam war) who was, really, a chicken.

It was not a reference to chickenhawks.

I didn't say it was a deliberate reference to chickenhawks. Whoever came up with this was ignorant enough not to know what a chickenhawk is, so it may well have been ignorant that there even is such a thing. There is, however, such a thing as a chickenhawk, and that fact alone makes it a really stupid name for people who are supposed to be compared to chickens.

As for Dick Cheney, I don't know what his view was then or what it is now. If he was saying that people who are married ought to go fight and not get a deferment, and then he wasn't doing it himself, then I'd agree that he was a hypocrite. If he had a more nuanced position according to which married men have obligations to their wives that are stronger than their obligations to their country (or even that are stronger in the particular war he was dealing with but maybe not in all wars), then I think it would follow that he should seek a deferment in those circumstances. I'm not sure I see an inconsistency between his stated views and his actions, which means he isn't necessarily a hypocrite.

Jeremy,

getting away from politics: I just googled the name chickenhawks in the hope of finding out about the real bird and came upon your message from May 4th...could you possibly describe the sound such a bird might make?

I read in the local newspaper last summer that chickenhawks were circling my area...tonight a very loud, repetitive sound woke me..it was very close to my front lawn and my window, but didn't sound like it came from an airborn creature...started with a coucou couroo sort...maybe like a huge owl...but then each time turned into a very cat-like almost scream...

Never heard anything like it and worried about my little roaming cat...

Any idea? would much appreciate a reply.

thanks

I think I remember the one that got our chickens sounding a little sick. My wife found that there are three different hawks that are sometimes called chickenhawks: the Cooper's Hawk, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, and the Red-tailed Hawk. Perhaps you might find more information by searching for those.

Thanks for the information, Jeremy, to you and your wife.

Thanks to my cat, my nightlife is now on the 'wild side.' heh - saw a deer in the backyard, too - no end to surprises.

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