What is a Chicken Hawk?

Introduction

Chickenhawk (chicken hawk or chicken-hawk) is a political term used in the United States to describe a person who is a war hawk yet actively avoids or avoided military service when of age.

Generally, the implication is that chicken hawks lack the moral character to participate in war themselves, preferring to ask others to support, fight, and perhaps die in an armed conflict.

Refer to War Dove.

Origin of the Term

In political usage, chicken hawk is a compound of chicken (meaning ‘coward’) and hawk (meaning ‘someone who advocates war’, first used to describe “War Hawks” in the War of 1812).

On one episode of the American television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In that aired in 1970, Dan Rowan made the following joke:

“On the Vietnam issue, I have a friend who says he’s a chickenhawk. He wants us to fight on to victory, but to do it without him.”

The 1983 bestselling book Chickenhawk was a memoir by Robert Mason about his service in the Vietnam War, in which he was a helicopter pilot. Mason used the word as a compound oxymoron to describe both his fear of combat (“chicken”) and his attraction to it (“hawk”), a slightly different use of the term which nonetheless might have inspired the current usage.

Previously, the term war wimp was sometimes used, coined during the Vietnam War by Congressman Andrew Jacobs, a Marine veteran of the Korean War. Jacobs defined a war wimp as “someone who is all too willing to send others to war, but never got ’round to going himself”.

Contemporary Attestation/Usage

John Bolton and Donald Trump have been used as modern examples of chicken hawks.

Research

According to a 2014 study, leaders who had military backgrounds but no combat experience were most likely to initiate conflicts and wars (Horowitz & Starn, 2014).

Reference

Horowitz, M.C. & Starn, A.C. (2014) How Prior Military Experience Influences the Future Militarized Behavior of Leaders. International Organisation. 68(3), pp.527-559.

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