Argumentum ad hominem, rather than reasoned debate

In Ben Shapiro, Resisting Jihad, Vox Day on August 29, 2005 at 10:14 AM

Vox Day, a columnist at WorldNetDaily, rather than addressing another columnist’s arguments against the use of the term “chickenhawk,” attacks him personally in The chickenhawk clucks. He begins:

It is entirely possible that my WND colleague has a perfectly good reason for not serving his country in its moment of need.

Day should have stopped there. What follows is completely unnecessary and suggests that Vox has his own issues needing resolution.

Besides that, military service is not the only front on which the War of Self-Defense Against Islam needs to be waged. The moral rectitude of our Cause also must be vigorously defended, especially when so many of those who will also be under Islam’s blade are dishonorably and dishonestly attacking our fighting at all.

For all I know, he may have a weak heart, a wooden leg, a predilection for San Francisco bathhouse sex or some other condition that prevents him from joining the military. But devoting two columns to criticizing a single word strikes me as a lady protesting a bit too much.

If Day’s argument is that Shapiro seems defensive, and that this defensiveness reveals a lack of courage, then that is the argument he should make. But the intimation of physical or moral defect on the part of his target is childish and inconsistent with Christ’s example (Whom Day claims to follow). (When certain self-styled intellectual and moral experts engaged in ad Hominem attacks against Him two millennia past, Jesus encouraged them to testify to what He said that was false. That’s still good advice, even to Day.)

Mr. Shapiro’s first argument against the appellation is that it is nothing more than a leftist attempt to silence debate. This is partially true, but the argument is deceptive because it is incomplete. It is not leftists but the military that has long despised civilians who clamor for war from the safety of their homes. In 1879, Gen. William Sherman said: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

I doubt that Shapiro would argue that members of the military cannot use the term (and anyone who serves on the battlefield deserves the highest honors his or her fellow citizens can bestow); his assertion that the use of “chickenhawk” is “a leftist attempt to silence debate” is in most contexts today true, which is the context in which Shapiro was making it. It is intellectually dishonest of Day to imply otherwise.

His second and third arguments are that the insult is dishonest and “explicitly rejects the Constitution.” But there is nothing dishonest about calling into question the credibility of one who does not practice what he preaches. If a CNBC analyst urges viewers to buy a stock he is secretly shorting, he will rightly be dismissed as a hypocrite unworthy of further regard. The unconstitutional argument is spectacularly silly, since no one in Congress has proposed a federal law barring such hypocrites from office. One can only assume that Mr. Shapiro’s first Constitutional Law class lies ahead of him.

But it is dishonest to personally attack someone rather than expose the fault(s) in their argument. And neither is military service a prerequisite to having a valid opinion on the use of military force. As for the “Constitutional argument,” it appears Mr. Shapiro was arguing that to imply without military service one is disqualified from having a valid opinion on war is inconsistent with the Constitution’s own principle of civilian control of the military. He was not writing of legislation regarding hypocrites that violates the Constitution, as Day jests. Now that’s silly.

His fourth argument, which asserts that use of the term is somehow “un-American,” reveals a similar failure to understand the First Amendment and American history. Mr. Shapiro might wish the Constitution prevented people from calling him names, but it actually protects their right to do so and American political history is littered with an abundance of inventive insults. As for the reference to the Bush daughters, hiding behind the skirts of young women is no way to prove you’re not a coward.

An ad hominem attack is intellectually dishonest and therefore immoral. What is immoral is un-American. And Shapiro’s reference to the President’s daughters was in the context of the Left’s misuse of them. He was not misusing them himself.

His fifth and final argument – that use of the term “chickenhawk” is an attempt to avoid substantive debate – is easily disproved. I have repeatedly criticized numerous aspects of this global struggle, have openly opposed both the Iraqi and Afghani occupations, and am quite willing to debate Mr. Shapiro or anyone else on the issue in the forum of their preference. Yet I – like 62 percent of the soldiers and veterans who frequent Vox Popoli and Blackfive – am in accord with the notion that “chickenhawk” is an appropriate label for a warmongering young columnist who urges others to make sacrifices he has no intention of making himself.

Name-calling is almost always an attempt to silence opposition or avoid debate (or to discredit the opposition in the minds of those who are easily manipulated). That Day has criticized the War is the exception, not the rule, as most who use such terms have no real intellectually-honest argument to make against the War, they just hate President Bush and/or the military (even if it results in our nation “enjoying” the reign of the Religion of Peace).

The genuine flaw in the use of the “chickenhawk” label is that in most cases it is being applied years, even decades, after the fact, and inherently attempts to equate two different historical situations. However, due to Mr. Shapiro’s precocious position in the national media, this common flaw does not apply. While his peers are dodging sniper bullets and IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Shapiro is bravely urging them to invade five more countries in the establishment of global empire from the safety of his Harvard dorm room.

American Empire is immoral; self-defense against Jihad is not. That aside, Day’s argument sounds petty.

The America [sic] Bar Association already boasts more than 896,000 lawyers, America has no desperate need for another one. The U.S. Army, on the other hand, is currently 8,000 men short of its 2005 recruiting goals. I am only one of many non-pacifist, non-leftist Americans who believe that Mr. Shapiro would do well to heed his own words of Aug. 26, 2004. “Now’s the time: Either put up, or shut the hell up.”

The country needs more intelligent, morally-sound young people who can string together a coherent thought. Perhaps he better serves his nation on his current career path.

If Vox Day wants to play with words, he shouldn’t do it at the expense of someone who seems to be a decent kid.

And liberal use of a thesaurus is no substitute for intellect.

  1. TO: Amillennialist
    RE: Poor Substitutes

    “And liberal use of a thesaurus is no substitute for intellect.” — Amillennialist

    I’d put it as the (il)liberal use. And it’s disappointing to see Vox stoop to this sort of presentation.


    P.S. We’ll have to discuss your nom de blog sometime.

  2. Good post. There does not seem to be much of Christ in either that article or the blog he links to.

    I rather suspect “Mr. Shapiro’s precocious position in the national media” is what is setting him off. A 21 year old Harvard law student who is apparently already prominent in the media (at least he is seen to be by Day) must set off a not-so-prominent-older-than-21 man who seems to find it necessary to put down the intelligence of his commenters who disagree with him. This seems to be an ego and attention getting stunt.

  3. Amil,

    You are missing his point. Shapiro has boldly declared that any able bodied man should participate in the establishment and maintenance of a global American military empire, yet his presence in our military is conspicuously lacking.

    He’s not just defending a single campaign, but advocating the establishment of a very real empire in the Middle East. Go read his Shapiro’s own words if you haven’t already. You’ll see that he bluntly calls for it.

  4. Thank you Chuck, Howard, and MikeT for visiting and for your courteous feedback!

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